Local research into buckwheat is looking at new product possibilities based on the potential health benefits from consuming stone-milled flour, sprouted grain and green leaves.
The Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MAHRN), which began working with grower groups about 18 months ago to explore new ways to market crops in the province, is co-ordinating research efforts backed with a $250,000 grant from the Growing Forward program, according to Lee Anne Murphy, executive director.
Project partners include the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine based at St. Boniface General Hospital, the Richardson Centre, and the Portage Food Development Centre.
MAHRN and the Manitoba Buckwheat Growers Association have formed a numbered company to support the effort, dubbed “Buckwheat Inc.”
“It’s targeted to do health benefit work on the buckwheat that we grow in Manitoba,” said Murphy. “This is just the first of a number of projects that we hope to get going between the growers and the scientists.”
The difference, she added, is to start out with an end product in mind, then apply scientific methods to determine how value-added benefits can be derived from locally grown commodities that were formerly sold cheap into export markets.
Everyone is familiar with alfalfa sprouts, she said, but for buckwheat, the emerging sprouts are dried, ground and then made into nutraceutical tablets which are marketed as providing health benefits.
In Asia, research has documented health benefits from consuming buckwheat sprouts, and researchers here are poring over the data to see if their results can be duplicated using local varieties, she said.
Sprouting the grain could be done indoors on regular production time-lines of 14-20 days.
“It’s all grown inside, so no weather, no bugs,” said Murphy.
Another project is looking at the medicinal value of consuming “biomass” or green buckwheat leaves, in response to numerous inquiries.
Product had been available from offshore producers, she added, but nobody had ever taken a serious look at its nutraceutical applications or whether local varieties would work.
Buckwheat is notoriously susceptible to frost, so the possibility of planting it and harvesting the green material sometime near the flowering stage may appeal to growers, she added.
Two sample lots have been gathered up at the Western Agricultural Research Organization (WADO) farm in Melita, one taken at the flowering stage and one at harvest. The samples have been frozen for analysis this winter.
A third project is examining whether stone milling buckwheat into flour would help to preserve the antioxidants and other compounds better due to the lower temperatures inherent in the process.
“Stone milling is cooler, so the premise is that we’ll be able to keep more of those molecules that we’re interested in,” said Murphy.
Most buckwheat grown in Manitoba is exported to the Japanese market, where it is highly prized for making noodles.
But lately Japanese contracting of buckwheat in the province has fallen off, as have acres in recent years, according to Rejean Picard, a MAFRI farm production advisor based in Somerset.
Since 2000, when some 25,000 acres of buckwheat were planted, the crop’s popularity has plummeted as farmers chase higher returns from other crops.
In the past few years, there have been less than 5,000 acres of buckwheat planted in Manitoba, said Picard, and prices have ranged from $12-$14 per bushel.
“Stonemillingiscooler,so thepremiseisthatwe’ll beabletokeepmore ofthosemoleculesthat we’reinterestedin.”
– LEE ANNE MURPHY