New alternative to wheat? Durum and wild barley combination thrives on nutritional and functional properties

New alternative to wheat? Durum and wild barley combination thrives on nutritional and functional properties

11 Dec 2018 --- A new cereal, coined tritordeum, that derives from the combination of durum wheat and a wild barley native to Chile and Argentina, is touted as being more nutritious and highly sustainable. Tritordeum, developed by Spanish company Agrasys, easily acquired EU regulatory approval as it is non-GMO and developed using traditional breeding techniques.

Agrasys is a spin-off of the CSIC (Spanish High Council for Scientific Investigations). The company’s main activity is the development and commercialization of tritordeum. The company holds the commercial rights of tritordeum and maintains the tritordeum breeding program. 

Promoted as capable of withstanding drought and being heat resistant, tritordeum could mean a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional cereal.

Click to Enlarge“Tritordeum makes efficient use of water and requires less fertilizer. It requires fewer pesticides as it is very resistant to common fungi,” Pilar Barceló, Agrasys Managing Director, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “But it can't be cultivated everywhere in the world. It is a Mediterranean crop. We are cultivating it in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Southern France,” she adds. 

This season alone the production size of tritordeum is estimated to reach 3500 to 4000 tons of grain, according to the company.

There are many places, where it can grow well, like Australia and some Northern African countries, she explains, indicating the potential for this new crop going forward. “Obviously, it is not a crop for climates that are tropical. It can be expanded and our breeding program is selecting varieties that will help us expand the crop around the world. For instance, a better behavior in cold weather, will allow us to expand tritordeum in Northern countries,” says Barceló.

In November, Tritordeum received the first place award in the Best Better-for-You Ingredient of the Year category at the Food Matters Live Awards 2018 in London, UK. This past June it received the first prize in the category Sustainable Ingredient in the Sustainable Food Awards 2018, at the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam, Netherlands. 

Why choose tritordeum?
Tritordeum as a cereal holds all the properties required to have for a really good end product, claims Barceló. “First of all the organoleptic properties are excellent. Among tritordeum bread and wheat bread, tritordeum bread is a better choice. The cereal has bread-making qualities, a characteristic that some alternative cereals do not have since bread making quality is very specific,” she notes.

Tritordeum is nutritionally much more complete, the company says, with ten times more lutein and fiber and a fatty acid composition that resembles that of olive oil. “The gluten it contains is not suitable for those who suffer from celiac disease, so it can serve as a choice for people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” Barceló adds.

Agrasys is continuously carrying out research to unveil the benefits that tritordeum has to offer and its possible uses. The effect of the cereal on the gut microbiome warrants further research, which will be the next avenue of exploration for Agrasys. 

“We want to understand more of the microbiota of the people who consume tritordeum in comparison to those who consume wheat products. We know that the microbiota is different with a tritordeum diet, but we want to analyze that in more detail,” she adds.

Costs and a transparent supply chain
Wheat farmers and millers are struggling to make a living under the existing prices of wheat, says Barceló. This may keep prices low but consumers are increasingly aware of what they consume and how it arrives on their table. Their preference is for options that support responsible farming methods and fair trading prices. Tritordeum products are only slightly more expensive than wheat products and offer a sustainable and transparent supply chain, according to Barceló.Click to Enlarge

“While the cost of tritordeum flour is higher than that of wheat flour, the difference is hardly excessive. For example, in a 400g loaf of bread, the cost will be 20 cents higher. So we are not talking about a premium product that is not for everyone,” she explains.

“The good thing is when we started this project, we had to create a value chain. There would be no farms that grow tritordeum unless there was a market for it. And there would be no tritordeum millers unless there were manufacturers buying it. We had a very clear vision to create a more responsible value chain that starts from the farm.”

Tritordeum farmers are paid well and millers can enjoy a good margin too. “With wheat flour, millers make very little money in Europe. Wheat this year is being paid at the level of the 1970s and farmers cannot make a living at that price. We have a more up to date value chain. Everybody in the value chain has to make a living. While having a really insignificant value increase for the consumer,” Barceló adds.

Politics of expansion
Being non-GMO and sustainable, the company was easily able to acquire regulatory approval for tritordeum. This approval will help the company to further expand the reach of their product.

“When we started the crop we applied to the European Food and Safety Agency (EFSA). The good thing about this is that Europe is a prescriber for many other countries. For example this year we approached the Australia and New Zealand Safety Agency and they took the EFSA ruling as one to follow. So we don't envisage regulatory hurdles in our expansion,” explains Barceló. 

The company is taking small, secure steps and looks to expand steadily by collaborating with suppliers that want to introduce tritordeum to their country.

“We want to use Australia as a hub of distribution to approach the Asian market. At the moment we are still testing different areas to see where tritordeum will perform best. We are building the whole value chain with seed multipliers, grain producers, millers etc. In the future, we are looking into the US market, but we want to approach it through having a partner with us, someone who understands and knows the US market. This is one of our aims for the coming years. What we want now is to really consolidate the European countries where we are in,” continues Barceló.

The Best Better-for-You Ingredient of the Year award at the Food Matters Live Awards 2018 in London, served as a good letter of introduction to the UK market too. “It is a country where we are starting right now and we would like to take the first step,” Communication and Marketing Manager, Veronica Guerra notes.

Challenging aspects
According to the company, the product is not challenging from a production and development aspect. The biggest hurdle, however, will be taking it into the mainstream. Being a company of a moderate size they lack the financial backing to support extensive commercialization. Despite this, they remain positive that these hurdles will soon be overcome.

Click to Enlarge“I think the challenges we faced until now, have been in our efforts to make tritordeum known outside the food sector. So basically in the B2B area, we are quite known. The majority of manufacturers already know about tritordeum. Now we’ve been able to put products in major retailers in different places where consumers can see tritordeum products,” says Barceló. 

“Our challenge now is to make tritordeum known to consumers. That is a very big challenge for us. We are a small company and we need a lot of collaborators to put more products on the market and also make wider publicity and information available.”

For Barceló, the biggest hurdle is that consumers may be skeptical about choosing a cereal that they don’t recognize. “We want to get more products on the shelves so that people become familiar with them. That they see it in the local bread shop and supermarkets, and they hear about it. If they try it we are sure that they will get motivated to consume the product again.”

Applications and taste
Tritordeum can be used in all traditional applications of wheat says Barceló and the end products are just as tasty as what consumers are used to. Nutritionally, it has more to offer and the texture is another parameter to consider as it deviates from that of wheat bread. Ranging from cakes and breads to pasta and even beer, the applications of the cereal are broad.

“Tritordeum is a very powerful new cereal in terms of all the wide applications it has and the organoleptic advantage in all of them,” states Barceló. 

Tritordeum has the pleasant aroma of traditional wheat bread and boasts a more intense taste, according to Barceló, while having a more solid texture. “It has a cake kind of bite to it, rather than the elastic kind that traditional bread has. It has a more wholesome kind of bite,” she adds.

Agrasys’ tritordeum cereal seems to overcome many of the hurdles that more traditional cereals are facing and is additionally a suitable crop for foraging that may benefit animals from a nutritional standpoint. The company hopes that as it progressively becomes better known to consumers, its popularity will rise and tritordeum may claim a spot in the market as a mainstream cereal.

By Kristiana Lalou

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