Quantity and quality food production is a key component of well-being in its most modern and complete meaning with a significant impact on all aspects of social, cultural, environmental and economic development. The great challenge of agri-food sector is to carry out production systems that simultaneously adapt agriculture to territory, ensuring food supply, and significantly affect the health of consumers.
An opportunity is offered by the use of underutilized minor crops (UMC) as their cultivation is characterized by a scarce requirement of inputs, a low environmental impact and may represent an interesting source of income and rewarding alternative for the growers.
Additionally the grain of such species can be used as ingredient for the production of safe and healthy foods, offering consumers the tools to take care of their health in a simple and cost-effective way, respecting consumers' needs and preferences while minimizing the related impact on the environment.
Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development - ItalyLead applicant
ENEA is one of the largest scientific and technological state-owned Italian Institutions, whose main activities are: to carry out basic and applied research, to promote innovation technology activities, to disseminate and transfer technologies encouraging their use in productive and social sectors; to provide high-tech services to public and private bodies and enterprises. Activities include research to advance the knowledge, development and transfer of multi-sector enabling technologies aimed at strengthening the industrial production process. In particular, following is a list of the most relevant RT&D activities linked to this project: management of crop resources; conduction of field experimental trials with minor crops, biodiversity and soil fertility studies, dissemination of project results via set up of website, press releases, e-newsletters, leaflets, innovation of the agro-industrial production system for competitive and sustainable food products; studies of energy-efficient processes and the exploitation of new raw materials, ingredients, and foodstuff in the area of "functional foods".
Corvinus University of Budapest, Faculty of Horticultural Sciences - HungaryInitiative partner
Corvinus University is the result of the merging of the Budapest University of Economic Sciences and the College of Public Administration. The faculties of the former University of Horticulture and Food Industry (established 1853), joined this Institution in Sept. 2003. The scholars of the three predecessor institutions joined forces for shaping our knowledge-based society and - due to the different approaches - may lead to new research results and provide a unique offer on the educational palette. Excellent infrastructure in information technology has to keep up with the fast-developing technology. We want to further expand our traditionally excellent cooperation with the business sector through joint research and development projects and by involving external experts and executives in education even more intensively and on a larger scale
Corsini biscotti S.r.l. - ItalyInitiative partner
The society follows the business of fresh bread and pastry production started a century ago by Corrado e Solidea Corsini into the little Bakery in Castel del piano (Gr). Today the production is still based on respecting traditional rules and recipes, the selection of the best ingredients and the care of the mother yeast, but into a modern and efficient factory that follows the request of the market. The products range is made by different types of Tuscan bread and other savory products, fresh cakes, biscuits and pastries made fresh every day with the best care.
Nowadays, the public opinion is particularly attentive to the so-called “green” topics. In this scenario scientific research is required to make a significant contribution towards biodiversity and environmental safeguard, sustainable use of resources, peoples’ health and wellbeing. To provide an answer to the above issues, an opportunity is offered by the use of underutilized minor crops (UMC). Indeed, the cultivation of these crops is characterized by a scarce requirement of inputs, a low environmental impact and may represent an interesting source of income and rewarding alternative for the growers. Additionally the grain of such species can be used as ingredient for the production of safe and healthy foods, offering the consumers tools to take care of their health in a simple and cost-effective way.
The multiplicity of the issues addressed during the implementation of the present best practice experience allows mentioning the achievement of several goals. The multidisciplinary nature of the research activities carried out favoured the development of a not usual close collaboration between scientists in possess of different skills and background and agro-food SMEs experts. The performance of agronomic field trials led to the identification of the best husbandry practice for the cultivation of some of the UMC under investigation, including in marginal areas. Advanced technological studies determined the realization of innovative primary processing equipment. The introduction of UMC grain rich in bioactive compounds in the recipe of traditional food products (biscuits, bread, pasta) allowed the processing of innovative foodstuff potentially capable to mitigate health diseases.
Environmentally sound production methods and land management, sustainable use of resources, protection of environment and maintenance of biodiversity are key issues highlighted within a recent report (EASAC policy report 17) explaining that “sustainable agriculture will have to ensure higher, more stable and more eco-efficient production, more nutritious food and better quality final products while using less land, fewer chemicals and other inputs”. Hence, the promotion of UMC is desirable since their potential use in the expanding market of functional and healthy ingredients suggests good prospects in the near future, respecting consumers' needs and preferences while minimizing the related impact on the environment, in accordance with the topic “Food & Healthy Diet” reported in Horizon 2020.
During the lifespan of the present best practice experience, research activities covered the whole production chain from field to fork. Among the most relevant results achieved can be listed:
• Collection of data on best husbandry practice and yield performance expressed by buckwheat cultivated in high hills and mountains of Central and South Italy and millet grown in central Italy;
• Identification and quantification of bioactive compounds (poliphenols tocopherols, fatty acids) contained in UMC grain;
• Information on the behaviour of rutin (flavonoid with known health beneficial properties) during food processing following different heat treatments applied to UMC flours and meant to favour its preservation;
• Realization of a conical decorticator designed for dehulling buckwheat grain;
• Formulation and processing of a range of innovative food products;
• Setting up of a European network including SMEs, universities and research institutes focused on the topic of UMC exploitation.
Different groups of people (including some of the participants) and social issues may benefit from the results achieved during the lifespan of the present best practice experience:
• thanks to the networking activity researchers and food industry SMEs experts were enabled to define an integrated strategy to promote the cultivation of UMC as healthy ingredients;
• through the cultivation of UMC, growers are offered an economically sustainable alternative accompanied with information regarding the best crop husbandry practice;
• the introduction of alternative low input crops will promote environmental safeguard;
• agro-food industry can develop a novel class of healthy foods through the introduction of UMC flour among the ingredients of traditional wheat based staple foods;
• UMC based foods represent a potential tool for the consumers to take care of their own health.
ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable economic Development)
Corsini Biscotti Srl
University of Molise
ARSIAM (Regional Agency for Agriculture Development and Innovation in Molise)
PST (Scientific and Tecnological Park MOLISEINNOVATION)
Corvinus University of Budapest
Paste Tipiche Regionali
L.C.M. Industrial plants Srl
Mac System s.r.l.
Gluten Free Foods s.r.l.
A detailed organisation chart is attached.
The variety of the partnership coming from distant environments as those of research and industry created as an outcome some obstacles in the early stages of development of the present best practice appearing as a drawback, but later proved to be a strong point when the commitment of the individual participants merged in a shared common effort that generated a significant synergistic effect.
Additionally specific difficulties encountered were the following:
• At times adverse climatic conditions caused either a reduction of productivity or a complete loss of the yield of the UMC. The diminished availability of grain put at risk the food preparation activities. This issue was tackled by increasing the number and size of the cultivation;
• Difficulties in the formulation of the innovative food products. The best recipes were identified through a series of consecutives experiments carried out until a satisfactory level was obtained both from the organoleptic and rheological point of view.
Environmentally sound production methods and land management, sustainable use of resources, protection of environment and maintenance of biodiversity are key issues that inspired our network and were applied during the development of the research activities. The cultivation of UMC, as an alternative to major cereals, brings along a double benefit in terms of energy saving, thanks to the lower request of inputs, and in terms of biodiversity preservation, because it provides a way of ensuring diversification and germplasm preservation.
Large part of the activities carried out during the early stages of our best practice experience occurred between September 2006 and August 2009 within the VALGRASAR project - “Enhancement of buckwheat through process and product innovation” funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research. The research carried out and the results achieved during the lifespan of VALGRASAR created the base that gave birth to a newly designed project, named BUCKFOOD, centred on the use of UMC grain to enhance the quality of different traditional staple foods. The BUCKFOOD project – “Development of functional food products made from buckwheat”, funded by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, was implemented in the period between May 2010 and April 2013
Throughout the lifespan of the present best practice experience, in parallel with the development of research activities, continuous dissemination actions were deployed, be it through direct contacts, participation to events or specific publications (newsletters, articles, promotion material). A full list of the publications is available as an attachment. Additionally a selection of innovative bakery products containing buckwheat flour was displayed and offered for tasting in occasion of the 12th International Symposium on Buckwheat held at Lasko – Slovenia in August 2013. The above activities were carried out with the intention to foster a strategy aiming at increasing the knowledge and awareness among research, industrial and policy related communities and to make available solutions to improve the cultivation and use as healthy ingredients of UMC.