Are so-called ancient grains healthier than modern varieties selectively bred for efficiency and profit?
One researcher at Charles Sturt University used science to find out.
Like heirloom and organic produce, older varieties of wheat are gaining popularity as gluten-conscious consumers look for less allergenic alternatives to modern foods.
Researcher Chris Florides tested 170 varieties of wheat grown in Australia since the 1800s, including some of the original strains brought from England and bred to suit local conditions.
“If you search the internet or social media, there’s a lot of speculation … that modern genetic techniques have created wheat varieties that are more allergenic,” he says.
“Wheat allergies or gluten intolerance has become a key talking point, not only for people who have diagnosed allergies or consumers who eat gluten-free, but also for wheat breeders and food processors.”
The research confirmed wide variation between the different strains, with some containing significantly higher levels of a protein that can trigger allergic reactions.
However, there was no link between the age of the variety and its allergen content. In fact, one of the most allergenic strains was grown in the 1800s.
While the results may be disappointing for advocates of ancient grains, they do provide valuable information for farmers and food producers trying to create less allergenic products.
“It is not possible to develop completely non-allergenic wheat because the gluten proteins, which are responsible for the immunogenic effects of bread and other wheat products, are necessary for the functionality of the flour used to make these products,” Mr Florides says.
“But I hope that my research will contribute to the development of low-allergenic wheat varieties that could be made into products suitable for people who have mild gluten intolerance.”
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