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Grad student creates healthier cake alternative

  • Article by: JAKE LAXEN
  • Associated Press
  • June 7, 2014 - 12:05 AM

SARTELL, Minn. — It started as a joke — cake that's good for you.

Paul Fenlason made a birthday cake for a classmate at a think tank of North Dakota State University cereal science graduate students. It was playfully suggested that Fenlason should create a healthier cake.

"It was a joke, but I figured, 'Why not run with it?'" said Fenlason, a 2008 graduate of Sartell High School.

Fenlason developed a cake recipe that's 40 percent lower in calories and promotes the growth of beneficial micro-organisms in the large intestine.

It was entered into an innovation contest at North Dakota State. His project took second — earning Fenlason a $1,000 prize and airtime with a Fargo, North Dakota, television station.

"I'm now known as the 'Cake Guy,' " Fenalson told the St. Cloud Times (http://kare11.tv/1kv0LMG ). "I get requests to make it whenever there's a birthday or special occasion."

Fenlason's secret?

Resistant starch. Fenlason used extracted corn instead of flour.

The extract serves as a prebiotic, a nondigestible fiber that can't be absorbed by the small intestine.

The extract is later broken down in the large intestine by different beneficial bacteria. This process also helps the bacteria grow.

It's similar to the biological process featured in Activia yogurt.

"Basically, my program attempts to find low-calorie carbohydrates," said Pushparajah Thavarajah, an assistant professor who served as Fenlason's adviser on the project.

"There's much interest in that with obesity and other issues in the United States."

Thavarajah did advise Fenlason to put an importance on flavor.

Fenlason still used basic cake ingredients: butter, sugar and eggs.

"It has to taste really good if it's going to be a cake that you can market," Thavarajah said.

It took Fenlason about 10 tries to get the recipe he used for the contest. His roommates served as the taste-testers.

"I had to play around," said Fenlason, who also completed his undergrad studies at NDSU in food science. "Sometimes it was too dense. Other times the structural makeup would collapse — it was all about finding the right portions. I worked on it over a couple months whenever I'd have time."

Fenlason hopes to do similar projects for a career. The former Cargill intern is hoping to work in research and development at a food company.

He's currently finishing up his master's degree thesis project on using dried beans to help prevent iron deficiency. He expects to be done with school this summer.

"I like problem-solving," Fenlason said. "I like working with things that have an end product that people get to buy in stores."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by St. Cloud Times

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