The government’s tender documents describe Dr Wood’s Hidden Treasures Healthy Biscuit snack as novel, non-allergenic (no gluten, dairy, egg, nuts, soy, lupin or sesame), vegan, baked, convenient and shelf stable – and “they taste great”.
Taste testing of 53 students found 96 per cent wanted the biscuit in their lunch box, and 78 per cent wanted it twice or more times per week.
It claims a 23 g biscuit contains a third of a serve of vegetables and legumes/beans – such as chick peas, lentils and beans – is low fat and low salt and would earn a Healthy Star Rating of 4.
Compared to some snacks on the market, such as Kellogg’s LCMs Golden Joys, which has 1.5 stars, a 23g Hidden Treasures’ biscuit has two thirds of the sugar, about a fifth of the salt and the fat, and about eight times as much fibre.
The tender documents also detailed a five star baby rusk with only three ingredients and a low fat 4.5 star cracker for adults as well as kids.
Unable to talk directly to the media during the tender process, the scientist has described herself as passionate about pulses (protein rich foods like lentils and chickpea), reducing food waste and the need for children to eat healthier snacks at school.
“Why can’t healthy be tasty?” she said in a presentation. “Our solution was to develop snacks that use pulses and ugly vegetables.”
Jane Martin, executive manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said a shift towards healthier foods, including at sporting venues, and products like Hidden Treasures, was encouraging.
Ms Martin said most heavily advertised school snacks – which parents are buying – are “frankenfoods”. They are “highly processed, high in sugar, high in fat, and it is not a healthy snack for a child at school and bad at teeth”.
She was also concerned about the proliferation of sweet and sticky food targeting parents of toddlers, often establishing a pattern of unhealthy snacking.
Snacks account for about one third of all energy intake by Australian children, exceeding the 25 per cent recorded among American children, found research published in the journal Nutrient last year which compared 1576 children Australian children aged four to 13 with their peers in the United States, Mexico and China.
Researchers at Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Functional Grain Centre are working on ways to increase pulse consumption because they are good for the environment, high in protein and contain phenolic compounds that provide anti-oxidants.
Food scientist Chris Blanchard from CSU in Wagga said the combination of high protein levels – similar to a serve of meat – and phenolic compounds made them a healthy snack.
“People who eat more pulses, tend to have a lower body mass. There are things going on that probably to do with high protein,” said Professor Blanchard, the director of the Functional Grain Centre at CSU. “We can kill cancer cells in the lab with these things.”
Part of the challenge was turning these pulses into the kinds of food Australians were used to eating. For instance, he is working with Uncle Toby’s and Woods’ Foods to make a cornflake-type cereal from chickpea flakes.
Tenders for the Hidden Treasures closed last week. No information is yet available on whether it attracted bidders.
Julie Power is a senior journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.