Our Healthy, Daily Bread
On World Bread Day, We Celebrate Scientific Research and Special Grains
On World Bread Day, which is celebrated together with World Food Day on October 16, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) is drawing attention to the value of domestically produced, healthy, organically harvested grains.
Here in Hungary, we consume an average of 44.5 kg of bread per person per year. To meet this demand, more and more artisanal bakeries now offer baked goods made from organic grains and even ancient grains (spelt, einkorn and emmer) with particular nutritional value. With the expansion of organic research in Hungary, and the strengthening of the farmer–miller–baker community, it is no surprise that more and more people are joining the organic product path of resistant wheat varieties and their many sub-variants. The latest research results conclusively prove that some ancient wheat varieties have an outstanding nutritional value and can be more easily digested by consumers with food intolerances.
Given that Hungarians now consume an average of 44.5 kg of bread per person per year, this approximates almost one kilo of bread per person each week. Those living in Central Hungary eat less than this, 36 kg per year, while inhabitants of the Southern Great Plains eat much more, 58 kg. For this reason alone, bread quality is an extremely important public health issue.
Fortunately, Hungary has an increasing number of artisanal bakeries, where consumers can buy top-quality baked goods. In such establishments, healthy ingredients and the absence of artificial additives play a prominent role, and expert bakers also treat the flour with great care during the preparation phase, to allow the bread to rise. The most delicious bread with a crispy crust and a soft, chewy centre is made with slow-rising sourdough, which must be left to rest for up to 8–12 hours before it can be baked. As spectacular as the difference in quality between different types of bread can be, few people are as yet aware of the diverse properties of the varieties and types of grain that serve as the primary raw ingredient.
ÖMKi has been testing ancient grains for more than eight years. It is our firm conviction that in addition to the production of excellent organic wheat, it is also important that the entire organic product chain, i.e. the milling and processing, should carried out by Hungarian companies, and that Hungarian consumers and the local gastronomic sector should be able to find locally produced organic products. Going beyond the narrow research area, but following the same goals, ÖMKi has created a farmer–miller–baker database so that producers and other actors in the product chain can find each other more easily, and thus healthy organic wheat flour, free of chemical additives, can reach as many bakeries and households as possible.
Wheat varieties and ancient grains in agricultural research
Since 2012, ÖMKi has been conducting operational, so-called ‘on-farm’ experiments, to help Hungarian farmers grow high-yielding grains that are best adapted to their area, with organic quality. As an important step in this research work, in November 2020, on Hungarian Science Day, the launch of a new, nationwide organic spring wheat variety testing network was announced. The results of the first three years of research have recently been published by the specialists leading the project. As part of this research, domestic and international winter wheat and spelt varieties that show promise for organic farming are tested in organic conditions, in small-plot field experiments, at seven locations nationwide (Debrecen, Karcag, Kiszombor, Martonvásár, Szár, Fertőd and Szemely), using a total of more than 20 different wheat varieties. This badly needed research is being carried out in conjunction with the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH), the Seed Association Professional Organization and Product Council (VSZT), as well as seed distribution companies and major domestic grain research and selective breeding centres, as well as farmers.
In these small-plot experiments, the specialists examine, among other things, the winter hardiness of the different varieties, their weed suppression ability, their disease resistance, their yield, their quality, and their stability over time, typically over several years. This research has been expanded through the inclusion of additional species at some locations: varieties and populations of emmer and einkorn ancient grains have also been included in the Szár (Fejér county) location of the grain testing network, on land belonging to Csoroszlya Farm. Unlike spelt, emmer and einkorn are hardly known, even though they can compete with and often even surpass it in terms of several key variables. Scientific research confirms that their favourable fatty acid, starch and protein composition, digestibility, antioxidant level and mineral content make them exceptionally healthy foods. In terms of agricultural production, their advantages include good disease resistance, adaptability, vitality, and weed suppressing ability. The small-plot and on-farm variety tests clearly show the ability of these varieties to adapt to the given growing conditions, and also that different varieties perform best in different growing areas.
Dr Dóra Drexler, director of ÖMKi, summed up the situation as follows: “We trust that our research will further strengthen the successful transition of producers to organic farming, one of the basic preconditions of which is the choice of resistant varieties adapted to the place of cultivation. In addition, the relationship between farmers, millers and bakers is essential to ensuring that as much healthy organic bread as possible, free of chemical additives, end up on consumers’ tables, thus strengthening local food supply chains. What is more, the underlying purpose of the variety tests is to involve domestic seed companies, which usually produce for export, in the development of the Hungarian product chain. We would like some of the quality organic seeds produced in this country to find a home on the domestic market, thus allowing the value chain of organic grain to grow expand to cover the whole process from seed to bread.”
Wheat varieties and scientific research for special needs
Although bread made from wheat is a key part of our diet, more and more people are unfortunately experiencing problems when eating it. In our search for the primary causes of this, alongside the heavy processing of modern food, we should also focus on the proteins found in wheat, to which can be traced many of the negative reactions some people experience (celiac disease, i.e. wheat allergy, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity). That is why scientific research is increasingly focusing on the differences between wheat varieties and their allergenic and intolerance-causing effects. According to a recent publication in the journal Nature, in a test of five different types of wheat, including both ancient and modern wheat varieties (comprising 10 different varieties in total), results showed that at least 2,540 proteins could be identified in each wheat species and that significant differences between the possible allergenic effects of these protein combinations were observed in different types. It was found that the quantity of several wheat proteins that play an important role is primarily determined by genetics and not by environmental factors, which may allow wheat producers and processors to select less allergenic species and varieties in the future. The results also confirmed that einkorn in particular contains smaller quantities of potential allergens than ordinary wheat.
World BREAD Day and World FOOD Day
At its 2001 congress, the Swiss-based World Association of Bakers decided that October 16 would be World Bread Day. The purpose of this important day is to show the importance of bread, the most important food item in the world and an important, energy-rich source of vital minerals.
The purpose of World Food Day is to mobilize governments and the public to address the food problems affecting a large proportion of the world’s population. In 1979, the Rome conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared October 16 to be World Food Day, based on a resolution proposed by the Hungarian delegation. World Food Day is celebrated every year on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of the FAO.