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The Changing Colours of Wheat

The Changing Colours of Wheat

Ever since I was a child, the colour purple fascinated me no end, be it clothes or stationery. Only later when I started studying nutrition did I understand the true worth of this colour in foods and its significance in well-being.

All of us have grown surrounded by purple coloured foods – brinjal, beetroot, plum and phalsa. About a decade ago, the purple variant of the cabbage also entered the market, and now even wheat is tinging itself purple! If the ICAR approves, we will soon be eating purple rotis, bread and cookies. After eight long years of research by scientists at National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI) in Mohali, three different coloured variants of wheat (purple, blue and black) have been harvested for consumption across 700 acres of land in India.

To set the record straight, coloured wheat is not a genetically modified food, but is the product of plant cross-breeding. Wheat gets its purple colour because of the presence of a powerful antioxidant anthocyanin that is also found in jamun, blueberries and phalsa. But of course, none of these fruits are easy to procure given their seasonal availability and cost. Hence the easy availability of purple wheat could be a powerful food for tackling many health problems. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic conditions have an underlying inflammatory cause and so the presence of an antioxidant in your diet will be a boon.

While the purple variety of wheat has 40 times the anthocyanin of regular wheat, the blue variety has double that amount – 80 times, and the black variety has 140 times the antioxidant (expressed as ppm). Additionally, this coloured wheat is bio-fortified with zinc, a mineral crucial in fighting malnutrition prevalent in children.

The results of feeding coloured wheat to mice have been encouraging, reducing the chance of becoming obese or diabetic. However, popularising coloured wheat may not be easy. Australia, Austria, China and Canada have made progress in accepting coloured wheat. And coloured wheat flour is already popular in Singapore, in the form of a popular brand of noodles.

We are yet to see how the Indian market responds to this wheat and how foods such as pizzas, burgers, cakes and cookies turn out.Totally replacing the wheat that we eat may be tough for many reasons, including low productivity of the coloured variant. So the future of this wheat depends on the kind of appeal it generates and in our acceptance of dark-coloured rotis!

Neelanjana Singh
Nutrition Therapist & Wellness Consultant

Topic: #wheat
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