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Developing colourful wheat to boost health and economy

Discovering the true potential of purple or blue wheat as a natural food colourant and antioxidant source is the goal of an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) project, in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan, that could lead to more choices for consumers and new market opportunities for Canada’s farmers and food processors.


June 7, 2013
By Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

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Until now, much research has focused on fruits and vegetables, paying little attention to the development of this coloured grain as a functional food (a modified food that claims to improve health or well-being by providing benefit beyond that of the traditional nutrients it contains).  

Purple or blue wheat bran (495 mg/kg) is more abundant in anthocyanins than, for instance, red cabbage (250 mg/kg) or plums (20-250 mg/kg). Anthocyanins are the phytochemicals responsible for blue, purple or red pigments in highly pigmented grains, fruits and vegetables and have very strong antioxidant activity levels. Antioxidants, for example, vitamin E or vitamin C, are substances thought to protect body cells from the damaging effects of oxidation and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Elsayed Abdelaal, a research scientist at AAFC’s Guelph Food Research Centre, has been instrumental in developing a mechanical-chemical separation process to isolate the anthocyanin pigments from the wheat. Once separated, the anthocyanins, or pigments, can be used to protect and colour foods and cosmetic products, and/or as a natural source of colour and antioxidants in food products.  

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“The demand for anthocyanin-rich foods, such as purple and blue wheat, is steadily increasing due to their role in human health and food colouration,” explains Dr. Abdelaal, “and, although Canada’s spring wheat is usually red or white in colour, it is possible to breed high-anthocyanin blue pigments in these wheat varieties.”

One of the key goals of AAFC research is to promote human health and wellness through scientific innovation in food products and processes. This focus helps provide consumers with a variety of beneficial choices and opens up new marketing opportunities for Canada’s farmers and food processors.