Organic growers also harvest ancient grain varieties
At the beginning of this year's harvest period, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) is drawing attention to the value of locally grown, healthy, organically harvested cereals.
In Hungary, we consume an average of 37 kg of bread per person per year. In order to meet this demand, we can now obtain bakery products made of organic and even ancient grain varieties (spelt, einkorn and emmer) which have a special nutritional content, in more and more artisanal bakeries. With the expansion of Hungarian organic research, farmers also have access to an increasingly broad knowledge base for choosing resistant wheat species and varieties, as well as their organic cultivation methods. ÖMKi's ever-expanding organic variety tests, related events and publications, and even the online farmer-miller-baker database help ensure that the finest domestic bakery products make it to the tables of consumers.
We consume 37 kg of bread a year
Today, one person in Hungary consumes an average of 36-37 kg of bread per year, meaning we eat a kilogram every ten days or so. The inhabitants of Western Transdanubia eat less than this, just 26 kg per year, while those on the Northern Great Plains eat much more, almost 53 kg. For this reason alone, the quality of bread is a key public health issue. Fortunately, among bakeries, we can find more and more artisanal workshops from which we can buy the best quality baked goods. In such places, the use of healthy ingredients and the avoidance of additives are a priority, the flour is treated with great care in the preparation and baking processes, and sufficient time is left for the bread to rise. The finest bread, with a crunchy crust but a soft crumb, is made with slow-maturing sourdough, which should take from eight to twelve hours. Though anyone can appreciate the spectacular difference in bread quality, fewer people appreciate the diverse properties of different grain types and varieties used as raw ingredients.
Breads made from einkorn and emmer flour (Source: ÖMKi)
Wheat and ancient grains involved in agricultural research
The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) has been conducting research since 2012 in order to enable Hungarian farmers to grow those grains which are best adapted to their area, supply the largest yields, and can be grown using organic methods. As an important step in the research work, last November, on Hungarian Science Day, ÖMKi announced the launch of a new, national organic winter wheat variety testing network. Under organic farming conditions, domestic and international wheat varieties showing promise for organic production are tested in small-plot field experiments, in seven locations nationwide, including more than 20 wheat varieties.
Dr. Dóra Drexler, the director of ÖMKi, explains the potential of the ancient grains currently also being researched as follows: “The ancient grains involved in our research – also known as husked grains – can be successfully grown even in less fertile areas, and are particularly valuable due to their high degree of adaptability. Ancient grains have different nutritional profiles compared to modern bread wheat varieties, often with a different protein composition. As such, they are an important market opportunity for environmentally and health-conscious customers, or for those in gastronomy.”
Despite the gluten content of these grains, experience indicates that when it comes to the food allergies which are on the rise these days – for instance gluten intolerance – some cultivars may offer a more digestible alternative for those who are sensitive to gluten.
Exciting, increasingly popular ancient grains: emmer and einkorn
Unlike spelt, the ancient grains emmer and einkorn are hardly known, though they rival the former in many respects and often surpass it. Scientific research confirms that their favourable fatty acid, starch and protein composition, digestibility, antioxidant compounds and mineral content make them exceptionally healthy foods. Their advantages in agricultural production include their good disease resistance, adaptability, vitality, and weed suppressing capacity.
Our colleague Szilvia Bencze, speaking about adavantages of einkorn grains during our Field Day
From healthy wheat to crunchy bread
Although the first important step in the production of really good quality bread is excellent grain, it is also important that the entire organic product chain, i.e. organic wheat cultivation, milling and processing, should also be carried out by local companies, and that locally produced food should be consumed by local customers. The director explains the importance of establishing a complete production chain as follows:
“Going beyond our narrow field of research, we regularly organize farmer-miller-baker meetings, and in connection with this we have created the farmer-miller-baker database to make it easier for producers and other participants in the product chain to find each other and thus get healthy, residue-free organic wheat flour to as many bakeries and households as possible."
Recently, in the spirit of building connections between market players and transferring knowledge, those interested were invited to a professional field day. At the meeting, Ágoston Nobilis, head of the Csoroszlya organic farm at the foot of Vértes Hills in Western Hungary, reported on his experience in growing organic wheat, and the latest developments on the farm: how grain is added to the newly operational mill, and how the flour it produces gets to bakeries.
A video was also made about the experiences and developments: Organic variety tests and product development at Csoroszlya Farm. Video is available with English subtitle too.
In the spirit of product path development, the research institute is working to ensure that those einkorn and emmer landrace varieties which show the best results in the trials conducted by their on-farm partners are made available to customers nationwide. Those who have the most important role – the farmers who grow the raw ingredient at the base of the product chain – are supported in this through cultivation assistance and professional workshops.