What About Waxy Wheat? with Craig Morris


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Contact Information:

For questions or comments, contact Dr. Craig Morris via email at craig.morris@ars.usda.gov or by phone at 509-335-4062.

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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Dr. Craig Morris. Craig is the director of the USDA-ARS Western Wheat Quality Lab in Pullman. The mission of the lab is to conduct cooperative investigations with breeders, geneticists, and pathologists to evaluate the milling and baking-quality characteristics of wheat selections produced each year, to conduct basic research into the biochemical and genetic basis of wheat quality, and to develop new and better means to assess the quality of potential wheat cultivars. Hello Craig.

Craig Morris: Hey Drew.

Drew Lyon: So I think a lot of our listeners are probably familiar with the major classes of wheat that we grow here in Washington. But they may not be aware of some of the minor classes. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about some of these minor classes; what they are and what maybe they’re used for.

Craig Morris: Absolutely. I’ll make everybody grimace if I said commodity wheat is our bread and butter [laughter] but-and that will always be the case, because really to a great extent, Washington state and the PNW needs to help feed the world. And you do that through efficient, low-cost production of very large quantities of wheat. Most of which is exported. But we also like to try to bring some added value to the wheat, I call it portfolio, and one way we do that is by trying to alter either the properties, or the composition, or the sort of almost like the milling and baking are processing properties of wheat. And so what I’d like to tell you today is one type of wheat that we’ve developed and it’s called waxy wheat. Now right at the outset, has nothing to do with wax.

[ Laughter ]

Drew Lyon: Okay. Strange name then!

Craig Morris: It’s a moniker that was picked up from years, and decades, and decades ago when the trait was first observed in corn. And the kernels, the corn kernels, actually had a bit of a waxy, candle wax appearance. And so that’s what it became named as, is waxy. And we can have waxy barley, I think probably some of the listeners out there may have encountered or at least heard of waxy barley. We certainly have waxy corn. It’s a very important ingredient, waxy cornstarch for the food industry. But we can also have waxy wheat. And the short description of waxy cereals, in general, is it has different composition of its starch. And that difference in composition has a profound effect on not only how it processes, but what we can make out of it.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

[ Noise of waxy wheat ]

Craig Morris: That is the sound of waxy wheat.

[ Laughter ]

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Craig Morris: So no, all kidding aside, I brought to the microphone today a sample of waxy wheat that was developed in collaboration with the Kellogg’s company over several decades of research and working together on bringing this very unique type of wheat to the marketplace.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And what’s the niche in the marketplace? I haven’t heard of this. So what do we have here?

Craig Morris: So what you heard was a sort of a small, single-serve container of probably what most people would recognize as a breakfast cereal. Let me just turn this around. And it’s the salient feature of this cereal is that it’s made with completely waxy grains. And not just waxy wheat, but waxy whole-grain barley, whole-grain wheat, whole-grain corn, whole-grain-grain sorghum which we don’t run into very much, certainly out here in the Pacific Northwest. And then a little bit of sweetener and what we now call both prebiotic’s and probiotics. And what you can think of that is, basically yogurt cultures and fiber that makes your lower bowel happy.

[ Laughter ]

Drew Lyon: Okay, so all these different grains have a modified or changed starch composition?

Craig Morris: Exactly.

Drew Lyon: And what quality does that give the product then?

Craig Morris: So if you think about — well, it allows the starch to process and basically puff. And what we mean by puff, if you think about a Cheeto, versus something that’s very dense, and hard, and maybe even flinty or brittle; you don’t have that ability to basically put a lot of air in something, right?

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Craig Morris: And so if you think of that Cheeto analogy, on a somewhat smaller level, in this case, you’ve got individual grains of barley, wheat, corn, sorghum, those all puff, nevertheless. And the nice thing about this is you can use whole grains, so you’ve got all the fiber and nutrients in the whole-grain. And it’s got a delightful texture. And that’s what probably the biggest thing, the puffing and the texture is what waxy cereals, including waxy wheat and barley, will do for you.

Drew Lyon: Okay. [Craig laughs] That’s very interesting. So why should Eastern Washington wheat growers be interested in that? Is there a big market for this? Or is it-you learn something by working with waxy wheat that’s transferable to the commodity wheat you spoke about earlier?

Craig Morris: Yeah, probably not so much the commodity market, but it is something where we would like to bring particularly novel high-value grains, and in this case wheat, both to the food processor and to the consumer. And so there-certainly waxy we is not going to take over Eastern Washington by any means. I can’t even tell you probably how many acres it will end up being. But nevertheless, whether it’s, you know, 100 acres or 10,000 acres, it brings another high-value cereal to the wheat portfolio, as I like to call it. Agronomically, you know, you use the same planter, you use the same production practices, you use the same combine, everything else. And so it’s a way to add on to maybe your low-cost efficient commodity wheat with something that’s actually quite novel and higher value. And so if we can start there and then progressively add more types of novel wheats, if you will, I think it’s healthy for the industry and good for growers, it’s good for consumers, good for everybody.

Drew Lyon: Then Eastern Washington gets recognized in an area where you can come to buy several different things, you’re not just soft, white wheat.

Craig Morris: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah.

Drew Lyon: So do we have some cultivars or varieties available today of waxy wheat? And who’s breeding these wheats? Is it you, or is it one of the breeders here in Washington State University or?

Craig Morris: Sure, sure. And so the waxy wheat variety, in this particular product is a variety called Waxy-Pen. And that was a variety I developed quite a long time ago. It was the first waxy wheat variety registered in the United States.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Craig Morris: And for the listeners that are a little bit long in the tooth, if they remember an old spring wheat variety called Penawawa, it’s actually a waxy derivative of Penawawa.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Craig Morris: Along that theme, a much newer variety maybe more listeners would recognize, is the variety, Alpowa. And I also have a waxy version of Alpowa that was just approved for release and it’s going to be called USDA Lori. And so that’s under a foundation seed increase and so that should be coming out here in the next year or so.

Drew Lyon: What kind of-do you have plans for future work in waxy wheat? Do you have the perfect waxy wheat now? Or is there some other changes that can be made to make it more amenable to what the marketplace is looking for? Or do think you got it now, you know what they want?

Craig Morris: Well, from that standpoint, it’s a lot like breeding commodity wheat. In this case, you need that unique starch. But after that, you still need stripe rust resistance, you still need higher grain yield, you still need all the other things that goes into making a cultivar with growers, you know, popular. And so that’ll be the big leap from going from this Penawawa derivative to this Alpowa derivative. With Dr. Mike Pumphrey, we’ve already started making crosses into his latest Seahawk and Ryan. And so we want to try to keep up with the game. We also recognize that, even though from our standpoint it was somewhat easier to start in spring wheat, really winter wheats dominate Eastern Washington. So several years ago, we started working with Dr. Arron Carter to breed this waxy starch trait into soft white winter varieties. And he’s got some material in advance yield trials that are looking quite good.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so waxy wheat’s one thing you’ve worked on. I know we’ve talked in a previous podcast about your soft durums. Any other fun, unique things you’re working on here in the Western Wheat Quality Lab?

Craig Morris: Well I think one of the ones-one of the subjects that’s getting a lot of attention here in this past year, is the recognition that Dr. Pumphrey’s new spring wheat Ryan is very good for Japanese udon noodles. It was not developed as a quote, noodle wheat, it was developed as a high-quality soft white: cookies, cakes, pastry wheat. But there’s a couple of specific traits that lend themselves to really high-quality udon noodles. And so the-sort of the activities right now are centered around sending samples to East Asia, trying to get feedback from the big flour mills and other noodle processors. And then kind of really figuring out and envisioning how will we be able to segregate that, deliver a high-quality product to the market, capture value for the growers, you know, really throughout the whole supply chain.

Drew Lyon: Okay. [Craig laughs] It’s always something fun to talk about when you come on the podcast, Craig. Thanks for sharing waxy wheat for-with us. I will keep-where did you get this sample? Is it, go down to your local Safeway, or Rosauers, or?

Craig Morris: It is, I noticed it is in Safeway here a couple weeks ago. You can get it on Amazon and you can get it through Costco. And I absolutely should give the USDA disclaimer that we are not promoting or advocating any commercial products.[laughter] So, but anyway, I’m going to leave this with you. You can take it home, and give your listeners a report on it sometime.

Drew Lyon: Thank you very much Craig. Enjoyed having you on today.

Craig Morris: Thanks Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s lyon@wsu.edu –(drew.lyon@wsu.edu). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.