PhD students unearth life-saving properties in global food staples – rice, chickpeas and lentils

1 JUNE 2022

PhD students unearth life-saving properties in global food staples – rice, chickpeas and lentils

Four Charles Sturt University PhD students have graduated in Wagga Wagga after completing life-saving research that could change the face of rice, chickpeas and lentils forever.

Four PhD students have graduated from Charles Sturt University Wagga Wagga with research that could change the face of some of the world’s most staple foods – rice, chickpeas, and lentils, forever.

Dr Nancy Saji is a recent Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) graduate in the field of biomedical science in the Charles Sturt  School of Dentistry and Medical Science.

Her PhD project aimed to investigate the role of rice bran (RB) polyphenols in modulating risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Dr Saji said, “The results obtained from this project revealed that RB polyphenols via its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties alleviated biomarkers associated with disease development and/or progression.

“As RB is a functional food ingredient with therapeutic benefits, this could increase the economic viability and sustainability of the Australian rice industry,” Dr Saji said.

Ms Saji currently works as a scientific evaluator for an Australian government organisation.

Dr Michelle Toutounji was a PhD researcher at The Gulbali Institute of Agriculture, Water and Environment (formerly The Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation). Her thesis project focussed on ‘Factors that influence the starch digestibility of rice’.

“Rice is arguably the most important source of dietary carbohydrate in the world, so understanding how it is digested is warranted, especially for people with Type 2 Diabetes,” Dr Toutounji said.

The study investigated the influence of nitrogen fertiliser application, paddy storage, the degree of milling, and retort processing on the starch digestibility of rice. 

Dr Toutounji said, “The insights from this study may help the rice industry to access premium markets and improve the availability of ‘diabetic friendly’ rice.”

She is now working at The Arnott’s Group.

Dr Stephen Cork’s research looked at ‘The effect of processing on pulse flakes’, with pulses being a staple food on a global scale due to their high protein and dietary fibre.

 “This research looked at the influence of processing conditions on the flaking properties of Australian chickpea and faba bean splits produced,” Dr Cork said.

“Chickpea or faba bean splits were first precooked for six minutes with different steam injection times.”

Dr Cork said the research concluded that shorter processing times and rapid drying are suitable for the formation of pulse flakes while improving flakes’ structural properties.

“Our findings highlight the importance of controlled application of heat and moisture for the production of high-quality chickpea and faba bean flakes,” he said.

Dr Cork is currently working as a sessional academic with the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences and the School of Dentistry and Medical Sciences.

Dr Andrew Portman’s PhD focussed on researching the nutritional benefits of lentil flour when processed in baked goods.

“I focussed on the nutritional benefits of pulse crops, particularly how we could maximise downgraded lentils as part of my research,” Dr Portman said.

“What I found was that after baking lentil flour, the high protein levels remain. There is minimal difference between damaged lentils and well-maintained lentils when it comes to protein and fibre levels. This is a huge opportunity for farmers with damaged crops.” 

The Gulbali Institute of Agriculture, Water and Environment is a strategic investment by Charles Sturt University to drive integrated research to optimise farming systems, enhance freshwater ecosystems and improve environmental management, to deliver benefits across Australia and globally.


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Saji, Dr Toutounji, Dr Cork, or Dr Portman please contact Trease Clarke at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0409 741 789 or via

L-R, Charles Sturt PhD students Mr Stephen Cork, Ms Nancy Saji, Ms Michelle Toutounji and Mr Andrew Portman.

Share this article

Share on Facebook Share
Share on Twitter Tweet
Share by Email Email
Share on LinkedIn Share
Print this page Print

Wagga Wagga Agricultural Science Charles Sturt University Society and Community