Recognizing scholastic excellence

December 2012

Ramesh Murugesan with supervisor Professor Valérie Orsat

Held in late November, the annual Macdonald Scholastic Awards Ceremony recognized the excellence of more than 150 undergraduate and graduate students, distributing over $325,000 in scholarships and bursaries. Awarded for the first time was the Margaret A. Gilliam Fellowship in Food Security, established in 2011 by Margaret A Gilliam, BSc’59, for outstanding graduate students in Food Security in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The inaugural recipient of the Fellowship was Ramesh Murugesan, a PhD candidate in the Department of Bioresource Engineering.

Ramesh is working on the use of millets for partial wheat replacement in bakery products, under the supervision of Professor Valérie Orsat. Ramesh has been working with Orsat since his Master’s days.  “Ramesh has great enthusiasm, which he applies to all his endeavours,” says Orsat. “He is a very hard-working individual who does not get scared easily by a difficult task at hand, but rather puts in the extra effort to bring fruitful results. He is very dedicated to the advancement of science and engineering applied to biological resources and specifically for the delivery of quality foods.”

For his Doctoral research work, Ramesh has been working on the techno-functional properties of minor millets as part of Orsat’s IDRC/CIDA-funded project “Enhancing food security of rural families through production, processing and value addition of regional staple food grains in India”.

Ramesh at the 5th McGill Conference on Global Food Security with Marc Weinstein, Vice-Principal Development and Alumni Relations, Margaret A. Gilliam and Dean Chandra Madramootoo

Receiving the Gilliam Fellowship is a great honour,” says Ramesh. “Not only has it removed the financial burden, but it has given me the encouragement and support to concentrate on my research. It also supports for food security research and development.”

Global food security challenges will persist as a universal concern for the next fifty years and beyond. Achieving food security is an essential target in the global context. To attain food security, it is imperative to shift focus to crops that yield nutritious products with minimal investment and water requirements. Millets and sorghum are the oldest of cereals, used since ancient times, and require much less water and agronomic attention during the cultivation period than wheat and rice. The origins of millets are not precisely known, but millets have been consumed as a food since prehistoric times and millets definitely require a reclassification of their current place in consumption preference. Millets are known for their good taste, very short growing season and ability to grow in very poor soils. With minimal investment and shortage in custom-made post-harvest technologies, millets have shrunk their contribution in the current scenario.

Millets are not only easy to grow and cultivate, they require much less attention during storage than other cereal grains. Due to the increase in world population and decrease in water resources for agricultural purposes, millets are important crops for human consumption in the near future. Millets provide a wide range of health benefits and are a good source of energy, protein, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals and micronutrients.

Nowadays, bakery products account for a major part of the processed food market and this industry is changing rapidly with advancements in nutraceuticals and new product development. Wheat is the most important cereal in the bakery industry and the demand for wheat is growing year by year as the processing of wheat into a variety of products propagates. The main objective behind replacing wheat flour with millets in bakery products is to add more functional and nutritional value to those products. Millet replacements will affect the baking quality and in turn, overall consumer acceptance. Identifying the right proportion of such replacement products in the baking industry has always been a major challenge.

“We are working with three India-grown millet varieties and incorporating them into breads and cakes,” says Ramesh. “Our preliminary sensory evaluation tests show that people actually prefer the millet-incorporated products.”

As a major outcome of this doctoral research, the potential use of millets in general, minor millets in particular, will be promoted in the food industry especially in baking industry. The results of the study would remove the hurdles using millets in the bakery industry by providing an easy to use predictive tool to determine appropriate millet quantity and quality for bakery products. Increase in consumption of millets in the bakery industry will stimulate and encourage farmers to cultivate millets. This would lead to increased production of millets globally. This will have significant impact in resource utilization for agricultural production, as millets are generally highly drought resistant and require minimal care for production, handling and storage. The outcome of this research would also improve the socio-economic status of millet farmers in African and Asian developing countries, as the total market value and demand for millets will increase due to increased demand and consumption.

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