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Khorasan wheat or Oriental wheat (Triticum turgidum ssp. turanicum also called Triticum turanicum) is a tetraploid wheat species. It is an ancient grain type; "Khorasan" refers to a historical region in modern-day Afghanistan and the northeast of Iran. This grain is twice the size of modern-day wheat and is known for its rich nutty flavor. 
- 1 Taxonomy
- 2 Life form
- 3 History
- 4 Trademark Kamut
- 5 Region of cultivation
- 6 Yield
- 7 Distribution
- 8 Product use
- 9 Special compound and nutritive values
- 10 Requirements for climate and soil
- 11 Cultivation management, harvest and post-harvest treatment
- 12 Growth, development, physiology
- 13 Diseases
- 14 Aspects of breeding
- 15 See also
- 16 References
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
Original botanical identifications were uncertain. The variety is a form of Triticum turgidum subsp. turanicum (also known as Triticum turanicum), usually called Khorasan wheat. Identifications sometimes seen as T. polonicum are incorrect as the variety, although long-grained, lacks the long glumes of this species. Recent genetic evidence from DNA fingerprinting suggests that the variety is perhaps derived from a natural hybrid between T. durum and T. polonicum, which would explain past difficulties in arriving at a certain classification.
As an annual, self-fertilized grass that is cultivated for its grains, Khorasan wheat looks very similar to common wheat. However, its grains are twice the size of modern wheat kernel, with a Thousand-kernel Weight up to 60g. They contain more proteins, lipids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals than modern wheat. The grain has an amber colour and a high vitreousness.
The exact origin of Khorasan wheat remains unknown. Described for the first time by Percival in 1921, this ancient grain likely originates from the Fertile Crescent and derives its common name from the Persian province of Khorasan. However, some scientists suggested that it rather germinated in western Anatolia, where the botanical diversity is greater than in Iran. One commonly affirms that Khorasan wheat was reintroduced in modern times thanks to an American airman, who sent grains from Egypt to his family in Montana (USA) in 1949. According to a legend, those grains were found in the tomb of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, hence the nickname "King Tut's Wheat." It is not known when and how Khorasan wheat was introduced to Egypt. Another legend relates that Noah brings the grain on his ark resulting in the nickname "Prophet’s wheat." Other legends surmise that it was brought into Egypt by invading armies. Finally, in Turkey, it is nicknamed "Camel's Tooth" due to its hump back shape or, more probably, because it resembles a camel's tooth.
Khorasan wheat was probably continuously cultivated at small scales and for personal use in Near East and Central Asia and in Northern Africa. However, it has not been commercially produced in modern times. In 1949, as the grain reached the USA, it did not raise a lot of interest and therefore fell in disuse. In 1977, Mack and Bob Quinn, two farmers from Montana (USA), decided to cultivate this ancient grain. In 1990, they registered the protected cultivated turanicum variety QK-77 as the trademark Kamut ®.
The trademark Kamut® and the attention it is now getting on the health food market have resulted in a growing interest from both wheat scientists and producers.
After having cultivated a specific variety of Khorasan wheat for more than ten years, Mack and Bob Quinn decided to register it, in order to preserve its integrity in its original form. According to An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary by E. A. Wallis Budge the word "Kamut" meant “wheat, grain and wheaten bread”. The word “Kamut” could be registered as a trademark because it belongs to a dead language. Since 1990 KAMUT has been registered as a trademark by Kamut International, Ltd. with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the wheat variety QK-77 of this species.
The philosophy behind the trademark consists of the guarantee that Kamut® products meet certain standards. In order to sell a grain under the trademark Kamut®, it must fulfil several conditions: 1. It must belong to the ancient Khorasan variety of wheat: i.e. no breeding, no genetic manipulation; 2. It must only be grown as a certified organic grain; 3. It must contain a protein range of 12 – 18%; 4. It must be 99% free of modern wheat’s contaminating varieties; 5. It must be 98% free of all signs of disease; 6. It must contain between 400 and 1000 ppb of selenium; 7. It must not be used in products in which the name is deceptive or misleading as to the content; 8. It must not be mixed with modern wheat in pasta; 9. It should not be mixed with more than 50% of modern wheat in bread, and if mixed, it must be clearly labelled as such; 10. Products that are labelled Kamut® must contain more than 50% Kamut® brand grain or flour.
Kamut International, the company that holds the same named brand has also set up a research program in order to continually invest the properties of Kamut® Khorasan wheat.
Region of cultivation
Nowadays, Kamut® brand production is the only existing commercial production of Khorasan wheat worldwide. However, Khorasan wheat is still cultivated as food for camels in the Iranian province of Khorasan. It is also probably cultivated in small acreage and for personal use in some other regions of the Middle East.
So far, Kamut® wheat is exclusively grown in the USA and Western Canada. Approximately 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) were cultivated in 2006 in north-central Montana, southern Saskatchewan and southeast Alberta. Experimental production has been made in Europe and in Australia.
The actual average yield of Kamut® Khorasan wheat is 1.1-1.3 t/ha. In drier years, Khorasan wheat can sometimes yield even more than durum wheat. However, in normal or wet years, it yields approximately 1/3 less than the durum wheat. Certain environmental conditions are essential to a stable yield.
Although Kamut® Khorasan wheat is only produced in the USA and Western Canada, it is exported to Asia and Europe. Europe represents almost 70% of the 2006 sales and Italy was the greater consumer. With only 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) cultivated worldwide, Khorasan wheat does not play an important role in the world food system. It nonetheless has a great influence on the organic and healthy food market. By capturing this niche market, Khorasan wheat counterbalances its weak agronomic traits. Between 1998 and 2006 total sales of Kamut® wheat increased by 72%.
Khorasan wheat is used similarly as modern wheat. Its grains can be either directly consumed or milled into flour. It can be found in breads, bread mixes, breakfast cereals, cookies, waffles, pancakes, bulgur, baked goods, pastas, drinks, beer and snacks. Apart from its nutritional qualities, Khorasan wheat is well known for its smooth texture and its nutty, buttery flavour. Its content in tannin is lower than modern wheat’s. Hence, it is less bitter. Consumers generally like Khorasan wheat products for their visual appeal, their texture and their moistness.
Special compound and nutritive values
All available researches focus on the Kamut® brand of Khorasan wheat, as it is the only one to be commercially produced.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,411 kJ (337 kcal)|
|- Starch||52.41 g|
|- Dietary fibre||9.1 g|
|- saturated||0.192 g|
|- monounsaturated||0.214 g|
|- polyunsaturated||0.616 g|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.591 mg (51%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.178 mg (15%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||6.35 mg (42%)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||0.9 mg (18%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.255 mg (20%)|
|Vitamin E||0.6 mg (4%)|
|Iron||4.41 mg (34%)|
|Magnesium||134 mg (38%)|
|Manganese||2.86 mg (136%)|
|Phosphorus||386 mg (55%)|
|Potassium||446 mg (9%)|
|Zinc||3.68 mg (39%)|
|Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
The chemical composition of Khorasan wheat has a clear advantage compared to modern wheat. It contains up to 40% more protein, which improves its vitreousness. Indeed, a significant positive correlation exists between the protein content and the vitreousness degree. Khorasan wheat is also richer in magnesium, zinc,selenium, as well as many polyphenols and fatty acids. It comprises up to 65% more amino acids and up to 30% more vitamin E than common bread wheat. One can describe Khorasan wheat as a “high energy grain” since it has a high percentage of lipids, which provides more energy than carbohydrates. Khorasan wheat contains more gluten than regular durum wheat. Its high amount of gluten coupled with its high protein content ensures a good cooking quality and therefore influences the quality of the end product.
Selenium and Zinc are both crucial cofactors of antioxidant enzymes, while polyphenols and vitamin E are essential antioxidants. The high presence of those elements in Khorasan wheat increases antioxidant protection. A study conducted on rats has shown that the Kamut® wheat-made bread better protects from oxidative stress than bread made from whole-grain durum wheat.
Like every other Triticum, Khorasan is not suitable for people with coeliac diseases. Some studies nonetheless show that people with low allergy to wheat products better tolerate Kamut ® than traditional wheat. Moreover Kamut® may constitute an alternative for people suffering from diabetes, due its low glycaemic index.
Studies emphasize that the same variety of wheat may have different nutritive components and thus different impacts on health, if grown in different places or at different times. Consequently, Kamut International encourages its customers to refer to the individual packaging of each product for the most accurate information on the level of nutrients. One also notices that milling, fermentation, germination and cooking have important impacts on the availability of nutrients.
Requirements for climate and soil
As Khorasan wheat is an ancient cereal species, the climatic requirements still correspond very well with the region of origin, i.e. the fertile crescent in the Middle East. A temperate continental climate with cold nights in the early spring (see vernalisation), low to moderate precipitation rates (500–1000 mm per year), and a sunny warm summer for optimal ripening are therefore the typical preferred climatic conditions of Khorasan wheat. That’s very similar to the durum wheat, which originates in the same region. But, because breeding efforts for Khorasan wheat have been very little (see chapter below), the adaptation to other climatic conditions is still limited. In general Khorasan wheat seems to be less susceptible to environmental stress, than common wheat. That characteristic is similar for most of the ancient grains. Especially the drought tolerance is well known for Khorasan wheat, which is even better than the one of durum. Too much precipitation especially in the end of the season usually even leads to dramatic disease problems (see chapter below).
Cultivation management, harvest and post-harvest treatment
The cultivation practices are quite similar to other wheat species, especially durum. As most of the Khorasan wheat is organically produced, the nutrient supply (especially nitrogen) should be granted by using an appropriate crop rotation, such as previous pasture legumes. The nutritional content of Khorasan wheat is the most important characteristic of this crop and the reason why it is cultivated. Therefore the nutrition supply is one of the critical aspects of this production. Harvest in general follows the same procedure as in the other wheat species. As soon as the grains are mature, a combine harvester threshes the Khorasan wheat. But contrary to common wheat, the seeds of Khorasan wheat are very brittle and crack in half very easily, which leads to a necessarily more gentle harvest and post-harvest treatment. Thinking of post-harvest treatments, the special physical properties of the Khorasan grain may cause difficulties (literature on that topic is still scarce). Storage may be more difficult because of a higher water capacity of the grains, the milling has to be adapted because of the big grains (should not be a problem in modern mills, in general) and the whole transportation machinery must deal with higher weight, because the Thousand Kernel Weight (TKW) is very high.
Growth, development, physiology
Khorasan wheat is a tetraploid wheat subspecies, which means that the general biological properties resemble more or less the one of durum wheat. To just summarize the most important things about wheat in general: wheat is a cereal and therefore biologically a grass plant. Their strategy of reproduction focuses on the production of a huge amount of pollen, which is then spread by wind. The pollen is located in the typical anthers. As wheat is self-fertilizing the production of grains within a field of wheat is usually granted without any further managing intervention.
The range of diseases in Khorasan wheat is more or less the same as in all other wheat species. Main diseases are typically caused by fungi, such as the Fusarium Head Blight or the "black tip". Khorasan wheat has been found very susceptible to Fusarium Head Blight. The big problem of Fusarium is the toxicity to animals and humans. Because of the high susceptibility to fungi, crop rotation is quite important, especially under organic production conditions. The rotation requirements resemble more or less the ones of durum wheat. Depending on the specific production setting, Khorasan production after maize or other cereals should be avoided. Typical robust rotations would contain some of the following crops: canola, sunflower, pulses, sorghum and pasture legumes.
Aspects of breeding
The traditional aim of plant breeding is to improve the agronomic or nutritional qualities of a crop. Typical goals are improved yield, reduced susceptibility to diseases and pests, homogeneous maturation (to optimize harvest) and increased tolerance to environmental stresses, i.e. drought, acid soil, high or cold temperature etc. Most of the known wheat species today are polyploid. The polyploidy is a result of breeding procedures in the second half of the 20th century. The reason to create polyploid species was (and still is) overcoming the sterility of many plants after the breeding process. Whereas common bread wheat is hexaploid, Khorasan wheat is tetraploid. To do further breeding with this tetraploid Khorasan wheat, the genetic pool to use is a little bit limited to the tetraploid subspecies of triticum turgidum such as Durum(subsp. durum), Polish (subsp. polonicum),Persian (subsp. carthlicum), Emmer (subsp. dicoccum and Poulard (subsp. turgidum) wheat. Especially to develop resistances against common fungi (e.g. Fusarium Head Blight), this genomic pool is interesting. Problematic in this case, is the economic unimportance of most of the tetraploid subspecies of wheat (except Durum), which limits the investment to do intensive breeding, especially compared to the highly important common bread wheat.
As mentioned above, until now the only commercial production of Khorasan wheat is done under the label of Kamut®. Breeding is therefore not allowed, as the label requires remaining original. As the agronomic potential of Khorasan wheat still is quite low, breeding would be very interesting or even necessary. Probably, Khorasan wheat has to be pushed by Kamut® first to become more interesting for other producers, which may then go into further breeding with other Khorasan cultivars.
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