Structural Chemistry

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 291–297 | Cite as

Cell wall polysaccharides in cereals: chemical structures and functional properties

Review Paper


β-Glucans and arabinoxylans are the two primary cell wall structural components in cereals, such as wheat, oat, barley and rye. The relative amounts of the two polysaccharides vary with species and growing environments. The cell walls of barley and oats are generally rich in β-glucan, whereas rye and wheat cell walls contain higher levels of arabinoxylans. Cereal β-glucan is a mix linked (1 → 3) (1 → 4)-β-d-glucan composed of two major building blocks: a trisaccharide and a tetrasaccharide unit: the combination of the two units is over 90%. The ratio of the two building blocks is used as a fingerprint for each β-glucans: it is 4.5, 3.3, 2.2 for wheat, barley and oat β-glucan, respectively. Of the two types of cell wall polysaccharides in cereals, β-glucan received greater attention due to its proved beneficial physiological effect as an excellent source of soluble dietary fibre for significantly attenuating blood glucose and insulin levels and its demonstrated ability to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterols (LDL) in serum. The ability of cereal β-glucan to attenuating blood glucose, insulin levels is linked to the viscosity produced by cereal β-glucans in a linear relationship. It is also demonstrated that the functional properties of cereal β-glucans are determined by their structural features and molecular weight: a higher trisaccharide to tetrasaccharide ratio favours gel formation and faster gelation process, and ultimately, gives stronger gels. Cereal β-glucan also demonstrated an unusual behaviour by forming gel faster and yielding stronger gels at lower molecular weight (above minimum gelation molecular weight). Such a structure–function relationship was established based on rheological, light scattering and computer modelling studies which cover both dilute and concentrated concentration regimes: high tri/tetra ratio gives high proportion of consecutive trisaccharide unit which favours the intermolecular association of β-glucan chains; on the other hand, low molecular weight chains have higher mobility that promotes intermolecular chain–chain interactions, hence, lead to faster gelation process and formation of stronger gels. Research also revealed that processing and storage conditions, such as temperature, pH, extrusion, baking and frozen before eating, have significant effects on the bioavailability of cereal β-glucans, hence, its ability to reduce blood glucose and cholesterol levels.


Cereal β-glucan Polysaccharide Structure Functional properties Physiological effect 



The authors would like to thank Ms. Cathy Wang and Mr. Xiaoqing Huang for their technical support.


  1. 1.
    Talk Paper FDA (1997) FDA allows whole oat foods to make health claim on reducing the risk of heart disease. T97-5Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    FDA News (2006) FDA finalizes health claim associating consumption of barley products with reduction of risk of coronary heart disease. pp 06–70Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Wood PJ (2004) Relationships between solution properties of cereal β-glucans and physiological effects—a review. Trends Food Sci Technol 13:313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wood PJ (1991) Oat β-glucan-physicochemical properties and physiological effects. Trends Food Sci Technol 2:311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Dexter JE, Wood PJ (1996) Recent applications of debranning of wheat before milling. Trends Food Sci Technol 7:35. doi: 10.1016/0924-2244(96)81326-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Cui W, Wood PJ, Blackwell B, Nikiforuk J (2000) Physicochemical properties and structural characterization by 2 dimensional NMR spectroscopy of wheat β-D-glucan-comparison with other cereal β-D-glucans. Carbohydr Polym 41:249. doi: 10.1016/S0144-8617(99)00143-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cui W, Wood PJ (2000) Relationships between structural features, molecular weight and rheological properties of cereal β-D-glucans. In Hydrocolloids: physical chemistry and industrial applications of gels, polysaccharides and proteins. Elsevier Science Publishers, London, pp 159–168Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Wang Q, Wood PJ, Haun X, Cui SW (2003) Preparation and characterization of molecular wight standards of low polydispersity from oat and barley (1 → 3)(1 → 4)-β-D-glucan. Food Hydrocoll 17:845. doi: 10.1016/S0268-005X(03)00105-X CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gomez C, Navarro A, Garnier C, Horta A, Carbonell JV (1997) Physical and structural-properties of barley (1-)3),(1-)4)-beta-D-glucan III—formation of aggregates analyzed through its viscoelastic and flow behavior. Carbohydr Polym 34(3):141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Grimm A, Kruger E, Burchard W (1995) Solution properties of β-D-(1 → 3)(1 → 4)-glucan isolated from beer. Carbohydr Polym 27:205. doi: 10.1016/0144-8617(95)00056-D CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Li W, Cui SW, Wang Q (2006) Solution and conformational properties of wheat β-d-glucan studied by light scattering and viscometry. Biomacromolecules 7:446. doi: 10.1021/bm050625v CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cui SW (2001) Polysaccharide gums from agricultural products: processing, structures and applications. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 103–166Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lazaridou A, Biliaderis CG (2004) Cryogelation of cereal β-glucans: structure and molecular size effects. Food Hydrocoll 18:933. doi: 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2004.03.003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Tosh SM, Wood PJ, Wang Q, Weisz J (2004) Structural characteristics and rheological properties of partially hydrolyzed oat β-glucan: the effects of molecular weight and hydrolysis method. Carbohydr Polym 55:425. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2003.11.004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cui SW, Wang Q (2006) Structure–function relationships of cereal β-glucans. In: Oral presentation at the 8th international hydrocolloids conference, held in Trondheim, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Bohm N, Kulicke WM (1999) Rheological studies of barley (1–3)(1–4)-β-glucan in concentrated solution: investigation of the viscoelastic flow behaviour in the sol-state. Carbohydr Res 315:293. doi: 10.1016/S0008-6215(99)00035-X CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Izawa M, Kano Y, Koshino S (1993) Relationship between structure and solubility of (1–3)(1–4)-β-d-glucan from barley. J Am Soc Brew Chem 51:123Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Doublier JL, Wood PJ (1995) Rheological properties of aqueous-solutions of (1 → 3)(1 → 4)-beta-d-glucan from oats (Avena sativa L.). Cereal Chem 72:335Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Kalra S, Jood S (2000) Effect of dietary barley β-glucan on cholesterol and lipoprotein fractions in rat. J Cereal Sci 31:141. doi: 10.1006/jcrs.1999.0290 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kahlon TS, Chow FI, Knuckles BE, Chiu MM (1993) Cholesterol-lowering effects in hamsters of beta-glucan-enriched barley fraction, dehulled whole barley, rice bran, and oat bran and their combinations. Cereal Chem 70:435Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Bourdon P, Yokoyama W, Davis P, Hudson C, Backus R, Richter D (1999) Postprandial lipid, glucose, insulin, and cholecystokinin responses in men fed barley pasta enriched with β-glucan. Am J Clin Nutr 69:55Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Cavallero A, Empilli S, Brighenti F, Stanca M (2002) High (1 → 3, 1 → 4)-β-glucan barley fractions in bread making and their effects on human glycemic response. J Cereal Sci 36:59. doi: 10.1006/jcrs.2002.0454 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Tappy L, Gugolz E, Wursch P (1996) Effects of breakfast cereals containing various amounts of beta-glucan fibers on plasma-glucose and insulin responses in NIDDM subjects. Diabetes Care 19:831. doi: 10.2337/diacare.19.8.831 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Wood PJ, Braaten JT, Scott FW, Riedel D, Poste LM (1990) Comparisons of viscous properties of oat and guar gum and the effects of these and oat bran on glycemic Index. J Agric Food Chem 38:753. doi: 10.1021/jf00093a036 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Braaten JT, Wood PJ, Scott FW, Wolynetz MS, Lowe MK, Bradleywhite P (1994) Oat beta-glucan reduces blood cholesterol concentration in hypercholesterolemic subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 48:465Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Mälkki Y, Virtanen E (2001) Gastrointestinal effects of oat bran and oat gum: a review. Lebensmittel-Wissehschaft Und-Technologie 34:337. doi: 10.1006/fstl.2001.0795 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Lee S, Kim S, Inglett GE (2005) Effect of shortening replacement with oatrim on the physical and rheological properties of cakes. Cereal Chem 82:120. doi: 10.1094/CC-82-0120 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Morgan KR, Roberts CJ, Tendler SJB, Davies MC, Williams PM (1999) A 13C CP/MAS NMR spectroscopy and AFM study of the structure of GlucagelTM, a gelling β-glucan from barley. Carbohydr Res 315:169. doi: 10.1016/S0008-6215(99)00005-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Vasanthan T (2005) Grain fiber compositions and methods of use. US Patent Application No. 20050208145Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Guelph Food Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaGuelphCanada

Personalised recommendations