Food market offers opportunity, hurdle for triticale

Researchers around the world lobby governments and universities to fund efforts to develop varieties for use as food

LETHBRIDGE — Triticale is considered a good livestock feed but if growers want to expand the grain’s reach, it needs to join the human food market.

“The next logical place for triticale is into food,” said Ron Kershen, a consultant with Watley Seeds in the United States.

“It is extremely expensive to develop a new food product. Investors are leery about going into the market for food but this is the logical place for triticale to go and make it a major grain,” he said at a triticale symposium held in Lethbridge.

He has been working with the crop for more than 50 years and sees opportunities in the craft beer, distilling and bread market. Another possibility is methane gas production where triticale is combined with manure in a digester to make energy.

Kath Cooper, a retired triticale breeder formerly with the University of Adelaide in Australia, is a believer in the crop as a food product.

The University of Sydney has a small program where triticale is included in some disease trials with other grains, but there is no direct funding from industry or government for triticale research in Australia.

“I am forever lobbying the University of Sidney group to keep some sort of triticale work going,” she said.

“There is virtually no funding for triticale research at all,” she said.

She and her husband, Mike Elleway, have grown triticale for the last 16 years and she donates seed to the University of Sydney. She continues to develop varieties on her farm and wants to see the crop used for artisan bread production or craft brewing.

Some millers and bakers have experimented with it and some have provided funds to continue working with it on a small scale.

Wheat flour colour is expected to be bright and white. Brightness varies in triticale strains but it may not matter for the type of baked goods it is used for.

“If it is to be a healthy, whole food type product, maybe a darker colour would be more attractive for that side of the food industry,” she said.

She also supports employing nutritionists to test the glycemic index and other value properties to show the public where triticale can fit into a healthy diet because it needs less salt and sugar in the baking process.

Researcher Joshua Hegarty, a post-doctoral fellow at University of California, Davis, has received federal government support for a two-year program breeding triticale for food.

“We want to get triticale to the point of a fully realized crop for humans and animals,” he said.

His goal is to develop bakery quality triticale that could be grown in the Pacific Northwest, northern Plains and California. The products might include pasta, bread, tortillas and cake. His lab has tried different varieties with varying results.

“Some could be used as doorstops and some turned out to be pretty good,” he said.

“Hopefully, after a bit more work with triticale and grain quality, hopefully we will have bread baking triticale,” he said.

Much of his work is at the molecular level where he is looking for specific chromosomes to improve varieties. That includes gene sequencing hundreds of lines of plants to test for a number of traits.

At this point he is working with germplasm and the resulting crops are analyzed for grain yield, grain hardness, protein content, loaf volume as well as stability when mixing. Improvements have been made in mixing the dough so it is less sticky and easier to handle. Some varieties were almost equal to wheat flours.

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