Blends can improve nutrition, maintain other characteristics

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

Idaho Barley Commission representatives will be looking for new customers interested in using barley to enhance the value of wheat flour-based products during an 11-day trip to Asia.

The goal is to get food companies to contract Idaho farmers to grow barley they can blend into wheat products to improve their nutritional content. This is an emerging opportunity for Idaho growers but one that holds a lot of promise, Idaho farmer and IBC board member Tim Dillin said.

"It's not going to be immediate. There aren't going to be thousands of acres planted next year," he said. "But I think there's a good future for it."

During the visit, which begins Oct. 27, Dillin and others will talk with representatives of major food companies that attended a commission-sponsored technical short course in March.

During that five-day course, industry experts discussed the benefits of barley flour milling with representatives of food companies from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

They also showed them how barley can be cost-effectively formulated into their existing products.

IBC Administrator Kelly Olson said all the participants, including those in an August workshop held for Latin American countries, asked for further training in the area of barley flour milling.

Sam White, chief operations officer for the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative, attended the Latin American workshop as a speaker and possible supplier, and said there was considerable interest.

"Trying to determine how much this is going to grow is very hard to tell at this time," said White, who will participate in the Asian trip because PNFC has established relationships with several companies there. "But I think there is potential for it to grow into a much, much bigger thing."

The barley commission achieved its initial goal of educating companies about the benefits of barley milling, Olson said. But the bigger challenge is proving that it can be done cost-effectively and not disrupt their existing products.

That is a big challenge, she said, because those companies have to do quite a bit of work to make barley, which makes a darker flour, fit into their products without affecting consumer acceptance.

During the March workshop, Asian companies that prefer a bright white noodle found that a 30 percent barley blend altered the color too much, which would impact consumer acceptance. However, they were more positive about a 20 percent blend.

A major challenge is "showing them it can be done without affecting the functionality of their existing products," Dillin said.

About 90 percent of Idaho's barley is contracted by major brewing companies, but Olson said there are good opportunities for barley to be used in a more significant way as a nutritional ingredient in wheat flour products and Idaho's barley industry has committed to pursuing those.

"It will take a lot of hard work and commitment on our part," she said. "We're bullish on food barley and we're rolling up our sleeves and going to work on it."

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