In Search Of The Barley Sandwich

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The barley sandwich may soon be more than a nickname for beer.

Western Canadian farmers, through the CWB, are supporting ongoing research to help develop niche markets for their barley as food for health-conscious consumers. The University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC) has received $50,000 as one-year interim support to continue breeding improved barley varieties suitable for the fledgling food-barley industry.

Use of Prairie barley for food like bread, doughnuts, pizza crust, tortillas, nutrition bars and cookies has attracted great interest among food giants in Canada, Japan and Britain. National Canadian bread and doughnut makers are exploring barley’s added health properties, while the Mitake corporation in Japan has launched a high-fibre barley flour for use in baked goods.

“Increasing demand for barley through this new food industry will mean greater returns for western Canadian farmers,” said Ian White, CWB president and CEO.

A number of groups, including the CWB, are pursuing Health Canada approval for a health-statement for barley that could be included on product labels, similar to the one approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006. Barley is an excellent source of beta-glucan soluble fibre, containing antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which may reduce risk of heart attack, diabetes and certain cancers.

The CWB also supports work by the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) in Winnipeg and the Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc to develop nutritional barley flour and prototype food products. In addition to $35,000 in funding, the CWB has purchased specialized equipment and attracted Canadian and Japanese food-industry participants for several food barley demonstration programs at CIGI.

Core funding comes from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Alberta Agriculture and Food Council. Other partners include the Alberta Barley Commission and food corporations.

The research by the University of Saskatchewan CDC barley research and development team is conducted under the direction of plant breeder Dr. Brian Rossnagel. The team has been working for over 25 years to develop varieties of hulless barley for a number of uses. In addition to Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture core funding, this work is supported by the Western Grains Research Foundation barley checkoff and several industry partners.

“Recent interest has renewed the focus on plant research that can help increase consumer demand for barley as food,” Rossnagel said. “To maximize marketability, we are working on barley varieties with increased dietary fibre, among other desirable properties.”

Located within the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, the CDC is Saskatchewan’s plant breeding institute. It develops varieties of spring wheat, durum, canary seed, barley, oats, flax, peas, lentils, chickpeas and dry beans for the benefit of farmers and the agricultural industry. Since its inception, the centre has released over 300 new plant varieties.

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