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Unlocking a new market opportunity for Canadian farmers, food processors and retailers isn’t a process that happens overnight. Turning the potential into reality can take months, even years, of carefully nurturing ideas, conducting tests and building value-chain relationships. However, it’s the hope of real results that keeps many of the players working towards the goal.

Recent research completed by the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) demonstrates a commitment to that potential.

Elaine Sopiwnyk, Cigi’s director of grain quality, said recent research into co-milling of barley and wheat provided early insight into optimum milling performance and nutritional quality in the flour. That research, which was led by Ashok Sarkar, the senior advisor in milling technology, has produced results that will help Cigi develop guidelines to mill hulless food barley for the industry.

CDC varieties Rattan, McGwire and Fibar were co-milled with Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat in the trials, each at three different blend levels—80 per cent wheat/20 per cent barley, 70/30 and 60/40. Each blend was tested for protein and beta-glucan content. Sopiwnyk said researchers want further evaluation of even higher blends of barley with wheat, but were unable to do so in the scope of the recent project.

“Based on the results we observed using a level of 40 per cent barley and 60 per cent CWRS, we felt we could increase the barley 10 per cent higher and we would still have acceptable milling performance and flour quality,” she said.

While the study looked at milling, Cigi also did some baking and evaluated the resulting pan bread. Sopiwnyk said the small amount of research conducted showed the need for more study in that area. Barley flour absorbs more water than wheat flour due to its high fibre content. As a result of greater water absorption, additional mixing time would also be required.

Sopiwnyk said the concept for the research was drawn from another study Sarkar participated in at Cigi that examined whole-grain barley flour in different food products. Towards the end of the project, there was an opportunity to evaluate what would happen when food barley was co-milled with wheat. At that time, the study looked at 15 per cent food barley and CWRS wheat. Funding ended, but the idea sat at the back of Sarkar’s mind as a potential way to improve barley milling.

Then, after attending a food barley research industry-sharing event two-and-a-half years ago, there was another mention of the co-milling potential. As a result, the opportunity opened up to work with Alberta Barley. This most recent project ran from April 2014 to March 2015.

The potential of milling hulless barley for flour is multi-levelled.


Hulless barley means there’s no need for pre-processing to remove hulls, thus eliminating a step for millers.

Garson Law, Alberta Barley’s research manager, pointed out that eliminating the need to temper the barley prior to milling makes the job easier for processing.

The fact that there’s less processing creates a flour considered “whole” by industry, Sopiwnyk said, which is also an advantage. Research results showed that, with some baking of the barley/wheat flour, the bread satisfied the Health Canada nutritional claims for barley beta-glucan. “This will help (processors) develop more healthy products without the added costs of new equipment,” she said.

Meeting those health claims is critical in the food industry, as consumer awareness and interest in functional foods grows. Health Canada’s health claim states that consuming food barley can reduce the risk of heart disease and regulate blood glucose levels.

Law is encouraged by the results and the potential they hold. “We scratched the surface of what would need to be done. We’re still deciding where we want to go next with this. A lot of that has to do with interest from the value chain,” he said.

Locking in that value chain before heading down the path of production is key, he said, but the research lays the foundation for future success. “We’ve shown the potential with this project.”

One challenge that Cigi researchers faced was having enough sample barley to do a full round of testing, Law said. However, he acknowledged the difficulty of getting a crop into the ground that doesn’t yet have an established market.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. The farmers are not going to grow it unless they can see a market, and the processors aren’t going to commit to products unless they have a steady, reliable supply,” he said.

For Alberta Barley, it’s all part of building the foundation in order to realize the potential. The GoBarley campaign, administered through the Barley Council of Canada, targets consumers and helps foster interest among the general public. Law said the commission works in part to create consumer and food manufacturer awareness of the benefits of consuming barley products. Still, moving a new product from inception of an idea to the grocery store shelves requires a concerted effort by the entire value chain, he said.

“No one group can do everything. The trick is to bring those entities together,” Law said, and be ready with the products as consumer interest—and therefore demand—begins to grow. Alberta Barley creates the platform for discussion between members of the value chain.

So, is the potential reality of commercialization close enough for farmers to plant hulless barley this spring for milling flour? Not quite, Law said. It goes back to the need for more research into flour mixes and baking in order to get the barley into the ground. And for that to happen, more hulless barley samples are needed. That means Alberta Barley is seeking acreage where samples can be planted.

Although timelines can vary greatly—from a few months to a dozen years—when all of the players are in place and motivated, commercialization can happen quickly. Law referred to one foreign trade mission that arrived in Alberta with a team made up of the entire value chain. Eighteen months later, Duga Barley had product on the grocery shelves in Norway.

“They were all ready to go. They had identified the market and were willing to work together to develop products that consumers wanted,” he said.

That’s possible in Canada, too, he added.

“We’ve got all the pieces that one would need to have success with barley bread and other products. What remains to be seen is how much consumer interest is out there, and identifying a food processor to work with. A lot of work is going into creating the interest.”


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