Oman Daily Observer
SQU to develop low fat, low sugar Omani halwa
ARESEARCH project to develop low fat halwa was initiated by Prof Mohammad Shafiur Rahman of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Sultan Qaboos University. Though Omani halwa is famous at home and abroad as a symbol of traditional Omani hospitality, considering the type and amount of fat and sugar content, halwa may be categorised as an unhealthy food, especially if consumed in high quantities. This is the factor that prompted SQU team to develop a healthier variety of Omani halwa, an idea which is likely to be welcomed by the local sweet industry. According to the research team, healthy halwa could be developed with reduced input of fat and sugar and addition of other functional compounds beneficial to health.
Halwa is a traditional candy in the Sultanate of Oman consumed on a day-to-day basis and at formal social occasions. It is usually served in Omani homes before drinking Arabic coffee. The people of Oman have passed on the technology of making halwa through generation of artisans and pride themselves in being able to make one of the best halwa in the Gulf Region.
Halwa is a jelly sweet, mainly made up of starch, sugar, water, ghee, and aromatized with saffron, nuts and/ or rose water. Omani halwa is usually made with sugar (50 per cent), water (25 per cent), mill flour (10 per cent) and ghee (ie saturated fat) (15 per cent).
Elaborating on their research, Prof Rahman said that the first phase of the project involves studying consumer preferences by exploring the important quality attributes considered by the halwa consumers.
“A structured survey questionnaire was used to determine consumers’ preferences and their behaviour with regard to halwa. Five types of consumer groups were identified through hierarchical cluster analysis and the preferred key attributes were explored for each group”, he said. Colour was ranked within top 3 attributes for all the groups. In general colour, sweetness, appearance, mouth feel and solubility in saliva were found to be the most important attributes for selecting a halwa.
The second part of the project will consider studying the physicochemical, sensory and textural characteristics of different types of halwa available in the market, so that different formulated low fat halwa could be matched with the specific types in the market. Third phase of the project involves developing low fat halwa by substituting fat-mimic natural ingredients. The natural fat-mimic ingredients expected to provide similar mouth feel as high fat halwa. Scientifically the structure building mechanisms of the natural fat-mimic ingredients and its behaviour inside mouth during consumption will be explored.
Qassim al Shamsi, a PhD student from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) jointly supervised by Professors Aminah Abdullah and Rahman, has been working on developing low fat halwa. He conducted part of his research at the Sultan Qaboos University as a visiting graduate student. Based on his work at SQU, he won the Young Scientist Award at the International Islamic University Malaysia (International Conference and Advancement in Science and Technology, ICAST 2010) for his paper “Consumers’ Preference Mapping and their Behaviour with Regard to Traditional Halwa using a Structure Survey Questionnaire” by Q Al Shamsi, M S Rahman, A Abdullah and M Clarereboudt.
This paper identified five types of Omani consumers and their characteristics regarding halwa preferences; and accepted for publications in the Journal of Food Products Marketing published by Taylor and Francis, New York. This would be a pioneering work regarding Omani consumers. Dr Michel Claereboudt of the Department of Marine Sciences and Fisheries guided Al Shamsi for performing complex cluster and principal component analyses for classifying consumers and products.
Prof Rahman and visiting PhD student Al Shamsi are also working with the Al Amri Omani Halwa Company in Al Seeb in order to formulate low fat and low sugar halwa by mimic the similar sensory perceptions of the available high fat and high sugar halwa. A project proposal is being prepared for possible funding from Industrial Innovation Center (IIC).