Developing Nutritious and Delicious Organic Barley!

Celebrity chefs have not generally featured prominently in the organic research that OFRF supports. But Kevin Murphy, the principal researcher on one of our most recently funded projects, Developing Nutritious and Delicious Varieties for the Pacific Northwest, is changing that. And his approach could land the results of this research on the table of the First Family! In order to test the “delicious” part of his endeavors, Dr. Murphy has enlisted the support of Chef Bill Yosses, White House Executive Pastry Chef, as well as Chef Dan Barber, renowned executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant in New York; and Chef Chad Robertson, co-owner of Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine in San Francisco.

Barley, which is an important grain crop, is used predominantly for animal feed and malting, but is also an important part of human diets. Barley provides a number of health and nutrition benefits, including beta-glucans, which have been shown to contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations. This led the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow barley to be labeled as a heart-healthy food that reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. However, most of the barley that is grown domestically for human food comes from hulled feed barley varieties. It is then dehulled during pearling, a process that removes the nutritionally rich bran, which contains tocols, phenols, mineral nutrients, and other beneficial compounds. These varieties also generally contain much lower beta-glucan contents. Developing nutritionally dense and hulless varieties will eliminate the need for the aggressive (and not inexpensive) process of dehulling/pearling, and will maximize the tremendous potential nutritional benefits of barley.

In this project, Dr. Murphy and his team of researchers at Washington State University and farmers in Washington and Idaho, are working to identify the advanced breeding lines of barley that are most adapted to organic farmers in the Pacific Northwest. The farmer collaborators are participating in the selection and will help identify best management practices for each location. Researchers will also develop a comprehensive nutritional evaluation, measuring variations in the nutritional composition of the grain. Then, the renowned chef collaborators will lead a team of pastry chefs to test flour from the different barley lines by creating a variety of food products, and evaluating the barley for performance and flavor.

Kevin Murphy, who is an assistant professor and the barley and alternative crop breeder in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Washington State University, has led several other successful OFRF-funded research projects, including Farmer-based evolutionary participatory plant breeding for organic quinoa, buckwheat, and spelt. He was able to use data generated through the OFRF funding to assist Washington State University in obtaining $1.6 million from USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) for long-term quinoa research.

We look forward to sharing the results of this research with you, and hope to get in on some of that taste-testing when the chefs get cooking!