The U. S. Department of Agriculture is widely known for operating as a food regulatory agency, but you might be surprised to learn that it houses a small research team uncovering answers to some of the biggest questions about food.
The Processed Foods Research Unit works to enhance the marketability and healthfulness of agricultural commodities like cereal grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, so that food producers and consumers can benefit. The unit's research leader Tara McHugh explains that part of the unit's mission is to "improve American food and the American diet," and the unit has worked with businesses to develop new technology and even new food, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
In past years, the unit has tackled a variety of challenges. It has worked with the Mushroom Council and Monterey Mushrooms, the world's largest producer, to develop a technique involving ultraviolet lights to improve the vitamin D content in mushrooms. When foul-tasting olives were passing inspection and hurting sales for table olives, the unit's scientists worked with the olive industry to refine inspection tools for stricter standards. One of the unit's scientists Ron Buttery famously discovered the mystery compound in aromatic rice that made it taste so good.
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