Xin Huang, a young doctor of food sciences from China, is the newest member of Fazer’s research team at Fazer’s innovation and research unit Fazer Lab. He completed his doctorate at the University of Helsinki and is currently working on his post-doctoral research with Fazer as a part of the Finnish matchmaking program called PoDoCo. PoDoCo aims to support the long-term competitiveness and strategic renewal of private sector companies, as well as the employment of young professionals with a doctoral degree.

As winter greyness falls over Finland, one easily wonders what brings foreigners to this Northern land. As for Xin Huang, the answer is clear: “Finland, and more precisely the University of Helsinki and Fazer’s head of research, Jussi Loponen - are internationally respected for their research and expertise on specific aspects of grains and their relation to gut well-being.”

So when the opportunity came to join Fazer’s research team and work on a post-doctoral research on wheat sensitivity with Fazer, Xin moved his office to Vaarala in September. And recently he decided to pack his bags and travel to University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada for November and December 2018 to do laboratory level research experiments.

”For Fazer, this is the first time we participate in the PoDoCo matchmaking program, and we are very excited about these kinds of  new ways of cooperation with the academia, and happy to have Xin working with us on this research topic that is very relevant to Fazer’s businesses,” says Jussi Loponen.

The science of wheat, sensitive guts and sourdough baking

Wheat sensitivity is currently a hot topic that affects many lives. Many avoid wheat products because they experience various symptoms, and many may have chosen to follow gluten-free diet even though they have not been diagnosed with celiac disease.

While it is already known that many of the symptoms caused by wheat to people with no celiac disease may have nothing to do with gluten, it is less known what may cause these symptoms: “The various aspects of wheat sensitivity are not very well known or studied. So, there is a lot of research to be done,” explains Xin, whose research focuses on what is called non-celiac wheat sensitivity, which is not related to a diagnosed celiac disease.

While the celiac disease is relatively easy to diagnose and the diagnosis is quite clear, the causes of non-celiac wheat sensitivity differ from person to person and may be more complicated to diagnose. Possible causes can be Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and the FODMAP carbohydrates of wheat, but other explanations can include reasons such as an upset gut microbiota: If the stomach microbiota is not healthy, the gut is more vulnerable to inflammation and can more easily “be attacked”.

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Xin Huang is working on his research at Fazer Lab

And now to Xin’s research focus: In cases where gluten is not the main cause of wheat sensitivity, the culprit causing the symptoms may be the Amylase Trypsin Inhibitors - or ATI proteins – of wheat.  And since ATIs are the potential cause of various symptoms, Xin’s research aims to shed light on how their amount in bread could be decreased during the baking process, particularly in the making of sourdough bread.

As with the new Fazer LOFO™ innovation that provides a solution to reduce the amount of FODMAPs in bread, the solution for wheat sensitivity may lie in the mysteries of sourdough.