Since the days of the Green Revolution, the country's agricultural scientists and plant breeders have put their energies into giving farmers high-yielding wheat varieties, ignoring the latter's food utility after processing.
Now, with the union government allowing private traders to export wheat from Punjab and Haryana so as to ease the storage problem, wheat research will have to be based on developing varieties which when processed can yield quality products.
Reacting to the government's decision to allow exports, Dr Narpinder Singh, a leading food scientist and dean, food sciences, at Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), said exporters must know the purpose for which the wheat is being imported by a country and which variety will be best suited.
Narpinder has researched and evaluated the food and processing qualities of 50 wheat varieties. The studies conducted by him in collaboration with researchers of the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) found that a majority of the wheat varieties grown in the northern region or the wheat belt of the country have less dough strength and are suitable for making chapattis and biscuits, but not for plain white/brown/multi-grain bread. These varieties may produce plain or multi-grain bread, but these will not be of good quality.
For these studies, Rs 70 lakh were made available by the union ministry of food processing to evaluate the suitability of varieties to different products and how this suitability can be enhanced. Another sum of Rs 20 lakh has of late been made available by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to the research team of GNDU's department of food sciences and technology, which includes Dr Amritpal Kaur, an assistant professor in the department.
"Under such conditions, a majority of our varieties may not find acceptability in most European nations, where wheat is basically processed into bread. So, to enhance exports to such nations, we need to grow varieties which are suitable for bread-making," said Narpinder, while mentioning the case of Italy, where Durram wheat is only used for making various food items, including pasta and noodles.
He pointed out that to make flour fit for baked products such as bread, extra vital gluten had to be added and this increased the processing cost. The quality of gluten depends on the quality of the wheat variety, but most of the Indian varieties lack quality gluten content, he added.
The studies also covered wheat which got affected due to abnormal rain in winter and high minimum temperatures which affected the ripening process. This shrunken grain was found to have less endosperm/bran ratio, hence it was of poor milling and baking quality.
The studies pointed out that PBW-550, HD-2987 and some DPW varieties were not suitable for biscuit and chapatti-making due to high gluten strength, but were adequate for brown/multi-grain bread. Varieties such as PBW-343 with weak gluten strength were not good for bread-making, while HD-2733, with medium gluten strength, was good for pastries and cakes.
"One of the best chapatti-making variety is C-306, which is grown in Madhya Pradesh and was once grown in Punjab and Haryana. However, its acreage is limited and the demand is very high," he added.
The studies have suggested the need for adopting area-wise segregation of wheat varieties and the need to educate farmers about wheat qualities.
"For paddy, the government pays more for superfine varieties than for the coarse ones. A similar pattern of MSP (minimum support price) needs to be followed for wheat varieties, taking into consideration their processing qualities," the studies have suggested.