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The latest releases from the Crop Development Centre at the U of S bring back something long gone from most wheat varieties

When most of us think of a wheat kernel, we think of the familiar smooth seed with an indentation on one side.

But this is actually a relatively recent development, coinciding with the introduction of high-yielding bread and durum varieties that we’re all familiar with, roughly in the early 1900s.

The earliest wheats were hulled, like barley is today, and some popular ‘ancient wheats’ like einkorn, emmer and spelt still are. While the more common hulless wheats are free-threshing and combining removes the hull, in these heritage wheats it stubbornly clings to the inside of the kernel.

Now the latest releases from the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan are turning back the clock, with four hulled wheat varieties.

Two are einkorn (CDC Aixe and CDC Marval) and two are emmer (CDC Tatra and CDC Yon). These four varieties are the first spring growth habit einkorn and emmer wheat cultivars from planned crosses bred and released in Canada.

Hulled wheats aren’t common because they will require further processing to remove the hull and they generally don’t yield as well as the more common hulless varieties — so why the interest from the CDC breeders?

Generally it’s because there’s been a re-emergence of consumer demand for them as interest in novel breads and food products, and more health food options, have grown, the organization wrote in a background information document on its website.

Hulled wheats can be used to make various kinds of leavened and unleavened breads, hot cereals, cracked wheat and boutique beers.

For farmers the advantage is hulled wheats often do very well on poor soil conditions, and are tolerant to a range of fungal diseases.

In the negative column, for growers, is the fact that hulled wheats haven’t undergone more than 100 years of intensive breeding like common bread and durum wheats have. That means they’re more genetically variable than their tamer cousins, and that can equate to relatively poor and highly variable yields.

The breeder seed will be available for sale in the form of a public release on the CDC’s website. The descriptions for these varieties are posted on the CDC breeder seed order form.

For the full fact sheets on hulled wheats, two CDC fact sheets are available online at the University of Saskatchewan website in their entirety.

A fifth variety released at the same time is a hard white special purpose variety (SP market class) which can be used for baking or malting purposes. CDC Kinley is a high-yielding semi-dwarf variety.

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