In 2011, the Extensive Crops team of the IRTA (Institute of Food and Agricultural Research and Technology), of the Department of Agriculture of the Government of Catalonia, has coordinated the implementation of the project ‘Model for the recovery and use of cultivated biodiversity for the preparation of food products with high added value.
Application to the case of wheat-flour-bread chain, an innovative experience under the National Rural Network, which involved the regions of Catalonia and Navarra.
The project was conceived as a pilot study to develop a standard applicable to the recovery of agricultural biodiversity of cultivated species using, as a model for the recovery,old varieties and / or traditional bread making grain. Operational objectives were to identify initiatives in production, processing and marketing involving old varieties and / or traditional grain for bread, the collection of information on the sector, determining the technological and nutritional quality of samples provided by the producers and manufacturers, the study of the commercial viability of more frequent production models and dissemination of the results.
The collection of information has been done through personal interviews to farmers, flour manufacturers and bakers that work with this material. Twenty two initiatives have been identified in Catalonia: 9 in the province of Lleida, 4 in Girona, 5 in Barcelona and 4 in Tarragona.
In search of greater profitability of farms, farmers resort to planting traditional varieties to which they attach great agronomic value, bread-flour quality, and bread flavour and health benefits. Farmers also consider these varieties valuable agronomic assets for being well-adapted to the environment. Most common farms are 20 to 50 ha, normally diversifying their agricultural production, and often complementing it with other activities. Crops are mostly organic.
The most frequently cultivated species is bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L. ssp. Aestivum), cultivated as a single variety or as a mixture of several ancient varieties, such as the trio ‘Aragón03, Candeal and Xeixa Osona. Among the improved ancient varieties we have Florence Aurora and Moncada. The production of emmer (Triticum aestivum L. ssp. Spelta) is also very significant. Other species used by farmers are the so called ‘small emmer or ‘einkorn’ (Triticum monococcum L.), rye (Secale cereale) and tetraploid wheat (Triticum turdigum L.) as Kamuti and Forment. Among the agronomic factors such mentioned by wheat farmers as constraints to production of ancient wheat there are: tendency to lodge, poor performance of traditional varieties compared to modern and improved varieties and risk of varietal degeneration in the absence of seed conservation programs but for one of the varieties.
The study identified several flour manufacturers operating in Catalonia with traditional varieties. They are usually small businesses, using stone mills and selling their flour mostly to local craft workshops. Several bakeries of various kinds and types of operation have been located as well, and some Catalan organizations, throughout the territory, that promote the recovery, preservation and promotion of the biodiversity of bread making grain.
The project has provided valuable information on the plant material that is being recovered, its agronomic characteristics and its suitability for the preparation of bakery products. The results show that despite the scientific and heritage value of many of these varieties, their quality is generally inferior to those of modern varieties obtained from breeding programs.
Both technical analysis and testing of bakery conducted have shown very little strength of the flour from the most traditional wheat and emmer and that it is not suitable for baking, unless mixed with flour from improved cereals. Some samples with high content of arabinoxylans, Fe or Zn have been identified. The results of the technology analysis, nutrition and sensory perception indicate that the quality, taste and beneficial effects of the product on health is based more on the traditional procedures used in the preparation of the final product than on the raw material that has been used.
Traditional varieties meet the finality of preparing a product with greater added value, but this is due not to the variety quality so much as to heritage value and to the fact of being produced by organic farming techniques as well as to the traceability of the process.
Strategic analysis shows that the future offers many opportunities in this sector, such as: i) the prospect of increased consumption of homemade breads and organic products in a sector of the population with sufficient purchasing power, ii) the growing interest in learning about cultivated biodiversity and iii) the presence in Catalonia of a public research program to improve wheat varieties, performed by IRTA, which can provide important support to the sector both for varietal conservation and development of adapted germplasm.