Reintroduction Of Ancient Wheats May Come From Demand For Health Foods

Thursday, July 7th, 2016 | 1372 Views

Researchers believe there are untapped consumer markets for ancient foods such as einkorn, emmer, and spelt, which were popular before the rise of industrial farming and the green revolution in the 20th century.

Two plant breeders in an Opinion published in Trends in Plant Science observed that the consumer demand in the US and Europe for high quality, healthy food specialties provided an opportunity to reintroduce these ancient wheat varieties and other plant species by creating “farm to fork” supply chains. This would not only satisfy consumer demand, but also provide niche markets for small farmers, millers and bakers whilst increasing agricultural biodiversity.

“People are interested in diversity, in getting something with more taste, with healthier ingredients, and ancient grains deliver interesting things,” said Friedrich Longin, co-author of the paper.

He and Tobias Würschum, both at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, argued that consumer preferences in the US and Europe, driven more by a desire for novel products and healthy ingredients than a demand for low prices, would create markets that ancient wheat species can fill. By testing and analysing the thousands of varieties found in gene banks, which store seeds from lineages of ancient species, agronomists and cereal scientists can select those best suited for modern farming needs and consumer preferences.

Currently, multigrain breads and baked goods containing ingredients such as oats, barley and millet are widely available, but the wheat flour in them comes almost exclusively from bread wheat, which is just one of the three species, 20 subspecies and thousands of varieties of wheat cultivated and consumed across the globe.

Industrial agriculture and the green revolution had focused on developing cultivars that produce a high yield and have short stalks, which are less likely to collapse in the field and expose the grains to pests and mould. Other varieties have ceased to be commercially viable. As they fell out of favour, traditional dishes and regional food diversity also begin to disappear.

Both the authors of the paper said a holistic approach was necessary to see which varieties should be introduced in the market. These include agronomic properties like disease tolerance and yield potential as well nutritional and taste profiles.

To successfully reintroduce other ancient grain varieties, interdisciplinary cooperation all along the supply chain, from plant breeding to nutritional analysis to marketing, is needed, according to the authors, but they believe the end results can create a self-financing strategy for providing high-quality foods and preserving ancient species.

They also pointed to the sizable and growing market for spelt products as an example of how ancient grains can be successfully reintroduced in modern markets. Spelt was recently reintroduced into the market as a health food after almost disappearing in the early 20th century.