Agricultural wastes, such as plant dry matter left over after harvest, have become increasingly important sources of valuable products, while helping to preserve limited natural resources. Hence, the EU-funded project LIGNOFOOD (Ingredients for food and beverage industry from a lignocellulosic source) was established to produce health-enhancing dietary additives from lignocellulosic hemp waste. The aim was to extract xylan, a sugar-based component of hemp cell walls, which can be used to produce the low-caloric sweetener xylitol and prebiotics called xylooligosaccharides (XOS). Thus, the project set out to produce two useful products from one waste source. Having first identified suitable enzymes for producing XOS from hemp-derived xylan, researchers analysed different XOS structures to determine which had the greatest health benefits. Since XOS stimulates beneficial gut bacteria to grow, these benefits included improved gut health and decreased growth of opportunistic pathogens. The xylan derived material was hydrolysed to xylose. Xylose was used to produce xylitol by yeast biocatalysts, which were developed for high reactivity and specific co-substrate selectivity. Finally, the processes for the production of XOS and xylitol from hemp were scaled up and food products enriched in XOS and/or xylitol were developed as proof of concept. Producing XOS and xylitol from pest-resistant hemp rather than from crops such as maize that are chemically treated will benefit both human health and the environment. LIGNOFOOD will also benefit participating small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through improved know-how, patenting and licensing, and the commercialisation of XOS and xylitol for use in the food industry. Consequently, SMEs will improve their competitiveness by gaining access to the rapidly growing market for functional foods and food ingredients.
Health products, hemp, LIGNOFOOD, lignocellulosic, xylitol, xylooligosaccharides