Healthier Pizza Passes Taste Test

CHICAGO—Pizza could be made healthier through a few simple preparation tricks if consumers are willing to eat whole wheat crust, a new study suggests.

Preparing and cooking whole-wheat pizza dough certain ways boosted antioxidant levels, scientists found. The researchers served some of their test pizza to reporters here today, and despite the reputation for some whole wheat products having less than desirable flavors, the extra cheese version and the pepperoni variety were very tasty, with an intriguing texture to the crust.

Some of the same tricks also might be applied to other foods such as bread. And beer "as a future direction would be nice," researcher Jeffrey Moore, a food scientist at the University of Maryland at College Park, told LiveScience.

The recipe

Moore and his colleagues investigated ways to boost antioxidant levels in pizza dough. Antioxidants are compounds widely believed to help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease by counteracting DNA-damaging molecules in the body known as free radicals. Still, whether antioxidants help improve health is currently under debate and how exactly they might do so is under fierce investigation.

The researchers conducted their experiments with two commercial varieties of whole-wheat flour dough. (Moore noted that the ways his team found to boost antioxidant levels in whole-wheat pizzas might also hold true with pizzas made from refined flour, although to a lesser degree. Most of the antioxidants in wheat are in components such as bran that are largely removed when flour is refined.)

Whether whole wheat or refined, pizza dough is often allowed to ferment before it's baked. After the scientists tested whole-wheat dough fermented from zero to 48 hours, they found that longer fermentation times boosted antioxidant levels, in some cases by as much as 100 percent, Moore said. He explained prolonging fermentation time likely helped liberate antioxidants bound within the dough that the body normally could not absorb.

Baking tips

The researchers also tested antioxidant levels in whole-wheat pizza dough baked under a range of durations, from 7 to 14 minutes, and temperatures, from 400 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Longer baking times or higher baking temperatures usually led to improved antioxidant action, boosting the removal of free radicals by as much as 60 percent after longer baking times and by as much as 82 percent after higher baking temperatures.

Exactly why longer baking times or higher baking temperatures increased the antioxidant properties in the dough remains uncertain. Moore suggested such baking changes might liberate antioxidants normally bound within the dough or even manufacture new antioxidants. Both baking time and temperature can be increased together without burning pizzas if bakers monitor them carefully, he added.

Moore, a doctoral student, and his graduate advisor Liangli Lucy Yu presented their findings here Monday at the American Chemical Society annual meeting.