savory muffins

(Credit: Openverse)

TRONDHEIM, Norway — Love muffins but wish they were healthier or had a longer shelf life? Good news! A new study reveals adding one natural ingredient to your muffin mix creates a treat that’s full of vitamins, antioxidants, and doesn’t need all those unhealthy preservatives. Researchers in Norway and India say adding extracts from hibiscus flowers leads to a more nutritious muffin. Moreover, these muffins stay fresh for nearly a week without artificial additives.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology call them Roselle muffins because they contain the calyx extract from the tropical plant Hibiscus sabdariffa — which also goes by that name. Roselle is a flowering plant in the genus Hibiscus. It’s a native of Africa, but it also grows in India. The calyx extract contains many beneficial bioactive compounds, including polyphenols, flavonoids, betaine, and hibiscus acid.

freeze-dried roselle flowers
Freeze-dried roselle flowers in a petri dish. The dish is being held in blue gloved hands. CREDIT: RMIT University

Food scientists commonly use these components to create new products that may have positive health benefits and may even reduce the risk of chronic disease.

In a study that experimented with 17 different recipes and involved 30 taste testers, researchers worked on finding the best version of Roselle muffins that met three important criteria:

  • Muffins should have a taste and texture people like
  • They should have valuable nutritional properties
  • They muffin should have the longest possible shelf life without using preservatives
roselle muffins
Researchers tested different formulations of muffins containing a plant extract to see which variety appealed most. CREDIT: Nutritionally Enriched Muffins from Roselle Calyx Extract Using Response Surface Methodology. Foods. 2022; 11(24):3982.

Making breakfast healthy again

Results show the best Roselle muffin recipes stay fresh for up to six days at room temperature. However, the study authors joke that it’s likely these healthy treats wouldn’t last that long in most homes.

Professor Nutan Kaushik at Amity University says that adding an extract full of antioxidants to muffin recipes helps them to neutralize free radicals, which play an important role in the development of serious illnesses. Roselle is also rich in anthocyanins. This natural dye dissolves in water, creating colors ranging from red to pink, purple, blue, blue-violet, or violet. Although artificial dyes tend to create more vibrant colors, consuming them can be harmful to your health.

“Roselle calyx extract is an underutilized resource, and the study primarily shows the potential of the plant extract. The researchers use the muffin as a model to say something about how ingredients and steps in the manufacturing process affect and change the properties of the final product,” says Eva Falch, an associate professor at NTNU’s Department of Biotechnology and Food Science, in a university release.

“In food cultures where baked goods like this are part of the daily diet, Roselle muffins can contribute to increased nutritional value. To make a healthy version, the whole composition should be as good as possible, with little sugar, salt, saturated fat, and so on,” Falch adds.

The team’s findings are published in the journal Foods.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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