The benefits of breeding: Sweeter strawberries and healthier starch

By Emma Jane Cash

- Last updated on GMT

© Agri-Tech East
© Agri-Tech East

Related tags Nutrition

English organisation improving the sustainability of plant based agriculture and horticulture, Agri-Tech East, says the benefits of breeding plants can be seen in strawberries and wheat-derived starch.

The Malling Centenary breed of strawberry, launched by National Institute of Agricultural Botany East Malling Researchers (NIAB EMR) in Kent, is larger in size and offers a 20% saving in labour due to easier picking.

Likewise, revolutions in wheat-based products can tackle health issues of obesity and diabetes, it says.

Sweet Strawberries

The strawberry market in the UK is worth €349 million (£300 million), and the fruit is the biggest seller, in terms of value, in leading UK supermarkets.

Due to the decreased amount of waste with the Malling Centenary breed, one Kent grower has saved £3,500 per hectare in one season, according to NIAB EMR.

Abi Johnson from NIAB EMR said “the new strawberry provides the same yield per hectare as the industry stalward Elsanta, but it has a sweeter flavour and is larger. It is easier and faster to pick, is more consistent in quality and has a longer shelf life”​.

The research undertaken at NIAB EMR since 1983 has increased the strawberry season from four weeks to ten months, making the fruit more desirable to supermarkets.

No weight gain wheat

Agri-Tech East’s Nutritious and Delicious event will also showcase the research being conducted on redesigning starch in wheat-based products.

The Institute of Food Research in Norwich is looking to tackle the problems associated with wheat-based products and health challenges by making starches healthier and more nutritious.

Dr Brittany Hazard from the institute said the health problem with starch is it is digested very rapidly, causing a spike in blood sugar with no sustained energy levels.

“We are interested in making foods that have a lower glycaemic index by designing wheat starch that is slowly digested or resistant to digestion in the upper gut. This can lead to better blood glucose control and any undigested starch can move on to the colon and feed gut bacteria that also produce by-products with potential health benefits,”​ Hazard added.

Dr Hazard is looking at crop improvement, food and health in order to achieve her goal.

“By targeting wheat genes involved in starch synthesis you can change the starch structure; for example you can make the glucose chains shorter or longer, or change the number of branch points. This is important because starch structure influences its digestibility,”​ she explained.

However, Dr Hazard said that this type of wheat could have a higher price compared to ordinary wheat products.

“Many food companies are interested in developing healthier food products to meet consumer demand and this project has potential to add value to the grain used to make those foods. If growers take on new wheat varieties with improved nutritional properties they could potentially command a higher price from the food industry”.

It could take several years for a new variety of starch to be developed and each new variety has to go through a process of testing in the fields, yield trials and quality analyses.

The Nutritious and Delicious event ​will be held on 22 February 2017 at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich.

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1 comment

Better to eat less refined starch than tamper with the genes

Posted by chris aylmer,

In a world where many are starving and malnourished, it's a strange sign of our own affluent, overfed times, when we feel compelled to make our starch more indigestable and tamper around with the genes to make it release sugar more slowly. Food is meant to provide energy after all. Products made from highly refined starch, lacking in minerals, vitamins and fibre, like white wheat flour and white cornflour should be avoided anyway, as should eating foods high in added sugar. Healthful whole grains and and also potatoes, dried beans and lentils etc. are valuable natural sources of starchy carbohydrate that need not be tampered with. Those wishing to avoid all starchy foods can easily eat more vegetables and fruit.

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