April 22, 2016

When thinking about environmental sustainability, the Department of Food Science and Nutrition may not be one of the first things to come to mind. 

However, a group of professors in FSCN are working to change that, as they partner with the Forever Green Initiative to conduct research on intermediate wheatgrass.  

Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium), is a perennial grass looked at positively for its environmental benefits. According to Forever Green, the development of perennial crops across Minnesota can help create “high-efficiency agriculture” that best uses the land and water resources available in our state.   

And while agronomy researchers at the University of Minnesota are working on developing highly productive lines, the FSCN team is taking research one step further. Aside from its biofuel, forage and environmental usage, professors Dr. Pam Ismail, Dr. Tonya Schonefuss and Dr. Devin Peterson are collaborating to find a commercial end use for the product for human consumption. 

Dr. Ismail began the conversation in 2011, and has continually grown research efforts with Forever Green.

“My interaction with [Forever Green’s] Don Wyse started in 2011 by serendipity while our flight back from a meeting got canceled,” said Dr. Ismail. “He introduced to me the Forever Green concept and we discussed how the food science group can get involved to help with the development of perennial crops for end use, specifically food products.” 

From that meeting, Dr. Ismail and former professor Dr. Mirko Bunzel began the process or working with CFANS’ agronomy group to develop a strategy of how to move the research forward with the inclusion of FSCN. Eventually, Dr. Schoenfuss and Dr. Peterson were added, bringing their own expertise.

“Our team now supports three post docs, a research fellow, three graduate students and several undergraduate researchers,” noted Dr. Ismail. 

Research efforts thus far have focused on characterizing the chemical, functional and flavor attributes of selected intermediate wheatgrass lines. So far the group has discovered that the grain provides high fiber and protein contents; however, that protein varies from the protein found in hard red winter wheat. The combination affects functionality and product quality of food items made with the grain. 

But with continued research, the group is hopeful that it can optimize utilization of the grain in order to expand its market potential as a stand-alone flour or as a replacement for wheat in commercial applications. 

Learn more about Forever Green here

Learn more about intermediate wheatgrass research in the department (and other research happening in FSCN) here