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Johnson, D.L. 1990. New grains and pseudograins. p. 122-127. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

New Grains and Pseudograins

Duane L. Johnson

  2. TRITICALE (xTriticosecale Widdmark)
  3. QUINOA (Chenopodium quinoa Willd)
    1. Nutritional Value
    2. Development of the Quinoa Industry
  4. BLUE CORN (Zea mays L.)
    1. Marketing
    2. Research and Development
  7. Table 1
  8. Table 2
  9. Table 3
  10. Table 4
  11. Fig 1
  12. Fig 2
  13. Fig 3


While developing a new crops program at the University of Arizona, it became apparent that a coordinated effort was necessary for successful introduction. In contrast to conventional crops, this effort required not only development of production efficiencies but also potential new markets and stability provided by local processing to maintain production. To accomplish this, a Production, Processing and Marketing System (or PPM) was developed by the Office of Arid Land Studies at the University of Arizona (OALS). This system was based upon one already developed by the University of Missouri called the Production-Marketing-Consumption Concept (Blase and Minor 1987) or PMC. The PPM and PMC systems are similar in that a decision matrix is built and differ primarily in the focus on marketing. Further, we have attempted to account for development of new products in the PPM system.

In this paper I will focus on three crops which typify examples of "new grain" development. Triticale, the product of new crop research in the 1950s; quinoa, a new gourmet food in the mid-1980s; and blue corn, a potential new crop for the 1990s. In each case, I will emphasize the value of planning and organization in the execution of new crop development.

TRITICALE (xTriticosecale Widdmark)

Triticale, the derivative of wheat and rye hybridization, provided the world with a glimpse of the future of agricultural technology in the 1950s. Triticale represented the first serious effort at synthesizing a new crop and received acclaim in the form of an endowed chair at the University of Manitoba in 1954. Trials initiated at Obregon, Mexico in 1963 were being jointly conducted at CIMMYT and the University of Manitoba by 1965.

At the outset of the program, triticale was intended to "compliment rather than replace other cereals" (Jenkins 1988). But inevitably, perhaps, triticale took on new meaning. Early literature indicated the grain to be high in protein and of excellent biological value. Boldajaj (1986) found no difference in metabolized energy values between maize, triticale, wheat, or barley when fed to white leghorn chickens. Hardness of the kernel is important for milling. Williams (1986) found hexaploid wheats and triticales to be similar in hardness. Protein ash, and fat levels are frequently found to be higher than wheat (Vaidehi 1984). Because the world viewed triticale as a cereal grain it was immediately thrown in with wheat and barley in the marketplace. Charles Jenkins (1974) wrote, "There are those who look upon hexaploid triticale as another wheat. Since it does not behave like wheat it is often at a disadvantage when treated like wheat. As a grain, triticale had been thrust upon a marketplace in which it was in adapted to compete."

Alternative markets for triticale began to rapidly develop. In the 1970s triticale expanded as a fodder crop and as a supplement to bread flour. As a fodder, triticale has had good success both in North America and in Europe with over 400,000 ha (one million acres) planted in just the southern U.S. in 1988. Vigor and standability have been good to excellent when compared to wheat used as forage. As a flour, triticale has some disadvantages when compared to wheat. Lorenz et al. (1972) found the flour to be deficient in gluten quality and quantity with a high proteolytic activity. Such enzyme activity weakens the dough by protein hydrolysis.

Triticale flour was also found to be weak in gluten strength. This could be remedied by dough conditioning with paddles rather than hooks. Triticale also had a high sulphydryl content which further weakened the dough. Sulphydryl content varied from 1.2-16 ~moles/g for seven triticales while three wheats tested contained only 0.9 to 1.0 ~moles/g (Tsen 1974).

Regardless of the warnings of Dr. Jenkins and others that triticale was not wheat and should not be compared to wheat, comparisons continued. The yields of triticale in the 1970s and 1980s continued to be less than wheat. Without its own market structure, triticale has foundered as a new grain crop.

The interest in triticale did not die with its seemingly poor entrance into world markets. Improved cultivars and a renewed market interest in whole grain and multigrain breads have continued to provide interest in triticale. Lorenz and Welch (1974) found certain triticale cultivars useful for breads, white rye rolls, and noodles. Extrusion produced acceptable breakfast cereals and pancake mixes.

Triticale provided a significant example of development without a comprehensive action plan to include production, processing, and marketing. Despite this, triticale is finding its market niche based upon its adaptability as a forage crop and its use in specially bakery products. Its adaptability to marginal environments has led to the expansion of its production in Eastern Europe with the greatest concentration being in Poland.

The response to triticale's slow growth is best summarized by John Hawthorne (1974): "When a major development in world food supply appears in the offering, the time required for its development and evaluation can be quite long. While the experiments continue, there is a danger that over-optimistic rumors may exaggerate its potential and precipitate (by reaction) criticism based on misunderstanding of the real claims of the situation."

The development of triticale will continue. Its place in the market may eventually rival the other common bulk grains but until that time, triticale has taken on the aspect of a specialized use crop.

QUINOA (Chenopodium quinoa Willd)

In the development of new crops, especially for human consumption, we tend to find a tremendous competition for lower priced raw products. Several factors must be considered before such a new crop endeavor is instigated. A new crop program initiated at Colorado State University in 1982 involved an advisory panel consisting of growers, bankers, industrialists, extension and research personnel. The function of this panel was to determine the key objective and sequence of approach to a new crop. The consensus of this panel was that before development begins, a market evaluation should be made (Johnson et al. 1983). Markets for edible oils, industrial oils, pharmaceuticals, natural rubber, paper pulp, gourmet foods and others were evaluated. Even in 1983, at the completion of this phase of the project, it had become evident that industrial crops for oil and other raw products appeared to have good growth potential. Other areas of growth included gourmet foods and bulk grains.

The development of new low-cost replacement grains did not appear feasible because of the lack of market channel development, the presence of farm support programs for existing crops, and a lack of sufficient research, in general, to compete with common grains. Limitations in industrial crops came not from marketing or production but from an inability to process the crops within an economically feasible distance from the sources of production. A similar scenario developed for edible oilseed crops. Lack of processing of the raw, product limited the development potential of these crops.

The development of specialized or gourmet foods was not as limited by the lack of industrial processing as industrial crops nor was it as hampered by preexisting market channels in common grains. The development of specialized foods then became the focus of the Colorado new crop research.

We were able to identify a growing interest in the desire of upwardly-mobile consumers to experience new tastes and textures, in foods. In the United States, the best example is wild rice (Zizania aquatica L.) but there are others including: canola (being used as a salad topping), cherimoya, kiwifruit, and pistachio. A common feature of all of these crops is a small market in comparison to staples such as maize, wheat, or soybeans. A second common feature is the relatively higher gross return per unit of cultivated land.

Gourmet foods, being small, specialized markets, have a built-in production limit. This limit is set by the products in which the crops can be utilized. However, as processing of gourmet crops increases, new products can be formed which increase market size. Production could then be responsive to the need for new markets.

Quinoa, as a food grain, has been recognized for centuries as an important food crop in the high Andes of South America. The very name quinoa in the Quechua and Aymara languages means "Mother Grain." Within South and Central America, two closely-related species, Canihua (Chenopodium pallidacuale) and huazontle (C. nuttaliae) are also utilized for food. The descendants of the Inca Empire, 8 to 10 million Quechua and Aymara Indians, still use quinoa as an important component of their diet.

Nutritional Value

Quinoa's food value in the developed world lies primarily with its seed. The seed is small (2-4 mm), circular and flattened on two surfaces. The pericarp (Fig. 1) contains a resin with 2 to 6% saponin (Cusack, 1984) which must be removed prior to consumption.

Nutritionally, quinoa is high in protein. In trials at Colorado State University seed protein content varied from 12 to 18% (Johnson and Croissant 1985), relatively high compared to conventional cereal grains. A more complete proximate analysis was obtained by Johnson and Aguilera (1979) (Table 1). Of greater interest to individuals in the United States was the quality of that protein. Johnson and Aguilera (1979) completed a pattern of amino acid composition comparing the amino acid profiles of quinoa, wheat, soy and the FAO standards for human nutrition. Quinoa met or exceeded nutritional requirements for all essential amino acids except leucine, lysine and valine, which were slightly below that of FAO standards (Table 2).

Quinoa's mineral content was scrutinized by Ballon (1987) who observed some additional health benefits. In comparison with wheat, barley and yellow corn, quinoa was found to be higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese and, zinc and was lower in sodium than the other grains (Table 3). Preliminary data from Colorado trials has shown trends similar to those of Ballon but lacked the dramatic differences of quinoa and comparative grains.

Quinoa is versatile. As a whole pseudograin, it is cooked like rice after removal of the pericarp. Its flavor is generally regarded as nutty with a texture similar to North American wild rice. The grain has been used in soups, pasta, as puffed cereals, in extruded foods (in blends with corn and with oats), as desserts and side dishes. Its flour works well with wheat flour or grain or corn meal for breads and biscuits.

Development of the Quinoa Industry

Colorado's successful entry in development of quinoa took an odd twist. Based upon the philosophy of the PPM system, marketing strategies were given the highest priorities. The difficulties of developing a market for a crop virtually unknown outside of the high Andes was felt to be too large a project either for a Colorado State University project under my direction or for the non-profit association, Sierra Blanca Associates. As a result, a joint venture was established. Sierra Blanca's President, David Cusack, joined with two other individuals Steven Gorad and Don McKinley to form Quinoa Corporation in 1983 to do market testing. Quinoa Corporation imported quinoa from individual farmers in Peru and Bolivia to initiate test marketing in 1983. Steven Gorad went to South America and literally went from farmer to farmer purchasing quinoa for export to the United States. In addition to difficulties in obtaining salable quantities of seed, Quinoa Corporation also needed to initiate an educational program to educate consumers, to develop marketing strategies and to persuade retailers to surrender precious shelf space. Test markets were established in the Denver-Boulder area of Colorado.

Quinoa's relationship to the Inca Empire and its extraordinary food value in a limited health food market were emphasized. The health food market place was an ideal market because of the esteem given to nutritional quality and the willingness of patrons to try new foods and to pay higher prices. Sales of quinoa have shown continued growth from 1984 to the present (Fig. 2).

In 1983, 48 random samples of Quinoa ecotypes originating in Equador, Peru, Boliva, and Chile were evaluated by Colorado State University. Few of the southern Bolivian and Chilean types survived in the short season environment of Colorado. Virtually none of the Peruvian or Equadorian types produced seed either due to daylength requirements or temperature stress. The Chilean ecotypes have received a high priority since that time. Trials established in 1983 included three sites on the High Plains of Colorado (Akron, Walsh, and Ft. Collins), three sites in the San Luis Valley (Alamosa, La Jara and Center), one site at Fairplay, Colorado and one site at Olathe Colorado. Successful yields were only obtained at elevations between 2121 m (7000 feet) and 3030 m (10,000 feet) in elevation. Of the 48 entries, successful seed production and harvest were accomplished only in the San Luis Valley and Fairplay sites and only with four ecotypes. Tetrazolium analysis of pollen for viability in 1984, concluded that elevations in Colorado below 2,000 meters resulted in complete pollen sterility under field conditions. With the major environmental limits defined, production practices became the next priority. Planting density studies, irrigation requirements, nitrogen requirements, and germplasm evaluation culminated in an extension publication by Johnson and Croissant (1985). Additional germplasm development continued with the release of a Chilean germplasm identified as 'CO407' in 1987. Preliminary on-farm yield trials were initiated by growers in 1984 with commercialization beginning in 1987. Commercialization was delayed because of the lack of a processing facility to remove the saponin-laden pericarp. Such a facility was provided by the Pillsbury Company and the growers in 1987. In 1988, a quinoa growers association was formed and a small processing facility developed for Colorado quinoa. Quinoa production costs have been reduced dramatically as producers have become familiar with the crop (Table 4). Currently, the North American Quinoa Producers Association is selling quinoa domestically as well as exporting to European markets. Colorado State University is assisting in the development of new, extruded quinoa products under the direction of Drs. Klaus Lorenz and Joe Maga. New product marketing is under the direction of Dr. Harry Kruekeberg.

BLUE CORN (Zea mays L.)

Blue corn is another ancient crop which was developed primarily by the Indians of the North American Southwest. The amylase and soft starch found in blue corn and a rather unique flavor has opened markets for this specialty crop. These markets currently include blue corn tortillas, blue corn chips, pancake mixes, cornbread mixes and blue cornflakes cereals. Mexican restaurants and grocery stores are currently utilizing these products.


Blue corn sales are showing continued growth. Additional product lines as well as increasing consumer acceptance have increased sales dramatically. The predictions of one miller in Colorado are presented in Fig. 3. Contracts in 1987 were 15 to 16 cents per pound for blue corn as opposed to 3 cents for field corn. Blue corn yields averaged less than half that of field corn at 4,234 kg/ha. The danger here (as in triticale) is in considering blue corn to be another corn rather than a unique product.

Research and Development

Preliminary observations on blue corn were initiated in 1987 in on-farm trials. Optimum blue corn production practices were estimated based upon conventional irrigated farm practices in Northern Colorado and dryland farm practices in Southern Colorado. In 1988, small scale commercial fields were developed with USDA funding via the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Commercial cultivars being used are two open-pollinated cultivars developed in Northwestern New Mexico by the Navajo and Hopi Indians and one hybrid developed in Hawaii.

Adaptation of such a dryland crop to the cultural practices of a High Plains corn grower resulted in substantial agronomic problems. To satisfy producers, additional research and development will be directed to reduce lodging, increase stalk rot resistance and provide higher yields.


Development of new grains and pseudograins requires a coordinated effort of individuals involved in marketing, processing and production. Market development includes educating consumers and retailers as well as dealing with higher sales prices because of production risks and high costs. Processing has shown the ability to increase sales by providing new product lines as well as value-added primary products. Finally, increased production efficiency can be achieved given suitable cultivars and reasonably defined production methods. The experience in Colorado indicates growers are not willing to expend money on a "risky" crop which is poorly defined as to practices and expected yields.

The greatest difficulty is the coordination of efforts so that one component does not overtax the others. We have attempted to learn from the early marketing mistakes of triticale the potential to market a product incorrectly. In quinoa and blue corn, we have attempted to coordinate efforts to achieve successful commercialization. It is our experience that a successful marketer of new crops must be cautious but confident and deal directly with producers and processors. False product claims for any of the components could be disastrous for such a fledgling industry.

There appears to be a strong market potential for many "new" grains in the marketplace. Cereals such as tell, naked barley, sticky millets, and spelt wheat are showing promise in the developing marketplace. Their successful entry may depend on the coordination of various aspects in the development process.


Table 1. Proximate analysis of Chenopodium quinoa.

Component Percent of seed
Protein (N x 6.25) 15.8
Starch 65.5
Sugars 3.2
Oil 7.1
Ash 4.3
Crude fiber 2.5
Saponin 3.7

Table 2. Essential amino acid pattern of quinoa compared to wheat, soy, and FAO reference pattern (1973) for evaluating proteins.

Amino acid content (g/16 g N)
Amino acid Quinoa Wheat Soy FAO
Isoleucine 4.0 3.8 4.7 4.0
Leucine 6.8 6.6 7.0 7.0
Lysine 5.1 2.5 6.3 5.5
Phenylalanine 4.6 4.5 4.6
Tyrosine 3.8 3.0 3.6
Cystine 2.4 2.2 1.4
Methionine 2.2 1.7 1.4
Threonine 3.7 2.9 3.9 4.0
Tryptophan 1.2 1.3 1.2 1.0
Valine 4.8 4.7 4.9 5.0
Source: Johnson and Aguilera (1979).

Table 3. Comparison of mineral content in barley, yellow corn, wheat and quinoa. The quinoa statistics are an average of 15 cultivars analyzed. Source: E. Ballon, pers. commun., 1987.

Crop Ca (%) P (%) Mg (%) K (%) Na (ppm) Fe (ppm) Cu (ppm) Mn (ppm) Zn (ppm)
Barley 0.08 0.42 0.12 0.56 200 50 8 16 15
Yellow Corn 0.07 0.36 0.14 0.39 900 21
Wheat 0.05 0.36 0.16 0.52 900 50 7 14
Quinoa 0.19 0.47 0.26 0.87 115 205 67 128 50

Table 4. Production and production costs to Colorado Quinoa growers.

Year Yield (kg/ha) Cost per kg
1984 286 $2.20
1985 515 $1.87
1986 1120 $1.43
1987 1680 $0.77

Fig. 1. Section through quinoa seed.

Fig. 2. Quinoa sales in Colorado.

Fig. 3. Sales of bluecorn.

Last update August 26, 1997 by aw