“People are going to say ‘what is it?’ That’s going to be the biggest hurdle.”
Hulless oats are good feed for pigs and poultry. They help racehorses run better too.
But do they taste good? The pig, chicken or horse will never tell, but judges at a food competition later this month might.
They’ll be judging entries at the Great Manitoba Food Fight in Brandon and among them will be Scott Sigvaldason’s hulless oats.
Actually, this is Rice of the Prairies, the Arborg-area farmer says. He’s more than happy to let anyone judge for themselves how good they taste.
QUEST FOR GOOD OAT SEED
Sigvaldason’s trip to the Food Fight really began several years ago, during field trials and equipment development in a quest for good hulless oat seed for his feed business. He’d discovered a variety, which in his words, “had way more potential than pig feed.”
This is AC Gehl, a value-added hulless oat variety developed by Vern Burrows, a research scientist emeritus at Agriculture Canada. Sigvaldason was so impressed with it, and keen to explore its potential uses, he bought the variety last year. He’s also started a separate company from his own farm, Wedge Farms Nutrition Inc., and trademarked the name Cavena Nuda, or Canadian Naked Oats to develop it as a premium human food product.
“Nutritionally, it’s oats, but other than that, it’s very different,” says Sigvaldason.
His interest in AC Gehl is due to its agronomic and processing advantages. It’s proven a very high-yielding variety in his field trials. Last year growers he contracted to seed 1,200 acres of it produced 60 bushels an acre at 60 lbs. per bushel. He’s also found it yields well even in wet conditions.
Farmers find at harvest it isn’t an itchy affair either. AC Gehl doesn’t have those tiny surface hairs, or trichomes, unlike older varieties of hulless oats. Those made growers itch so bad they refused to grow them.
Plus, the hulls just fall off this one, making it easy to combine and process.
COOKS LIKE RICE
Sigvaldason might still be strictly in a feed business, were it not for the way this variety’s dehulled groats also so closely resemble rice. That intrigued him. On a whim he cooked some up one day. Lo and behold, if they didn’t cook and taste like rice too, he says. Actually, better than rice, he adds. “They have a nice nutty taste.”
He’s been in product development ever since.
Nutritional analysis done at the Food Development Centre at Portage la Prairie shows a quarter-cup of Cavena Nuda contains 20 per cent of daily fibre requirement including two g of soluble and three g of insoluble fibre. It also contains 20 per cent of daily value of iron plus small amounts of calcium (two per cent), and carbohydrate (nine per cent.)
More recently, he’s begun to see what appetite may be out there for a grown-in-Manitoba “rice-like” product. Chefs he’s given promotional samples really like it, he said. Food shows like the Great Manitoba Food Fight also help with getting product exposure.
The most likely use of Cavena Nuda will be as a rice extender, says Sigvaldason.
“It substitutes into the rice diet,” he says. “If you cook it 20 to 25 minutes with your long grain white rice it’s ready. You can cook it for two hours and it doesn’t turn to mush which a lot of rice will.”
A LONG SHOT
Sigvaldason is eyeing specialty markets in which to launch it. He’s realistic about what to expect. Launching any new food product is a major gamble, let alone one as unfamiliar as this.
“People are going to say ‘what is it?’ That’s going to be the biggest hurdle,” he said. “We’re trying to sell what we’re calling rice grown in Manitoba, but people will be asking ‘is it wild rice? Or is it oats?’”
It may also be a stretch that these are oats for supper, not breakfast.
Rice of the Prairies is not yet available in stores. Sigvaldason hopes to start selling it this month.