Riverina organic grain-grower Bettina Walker has gone back in time to secure the future of an ancient grain variety.
- Ancient grains, such as Khorasan wheat, are in demand from consumers seeking health benefits
- Khorasan wheat is much larger in size than modern wheat varieties
- It is similar to brown rice but needs to be soaked and highly hydrated before milling into flour
The southern New South Wales grower bartered her rye grain for some hard-to-come-by Khorasan wheat seed to grow on her farm at Barellan in Southern NSW.
Ancient grains are a rarity on Riverina farms, where modern varieties of wheat, canola and barley dominate paddocks.
This season Mrs Walker and her husband, Robert, were growing two ancient grain varieties — Khorasan wheat and spelt — alongside a mix of traditional rye, oats and modern wheat.
A different-looking grain
But it was the addition of Khorasan wheat that was a standout.
“We’ve always liked heritage grains, and it’s very hard to get them,” Mrs Walker said.
“We trialled growing just 20 acres and, after its success, we are growing a lot more this year,” Mrs Walker said.
The Walkers found Khorasan wheat looked more unusual at harvest time when compared to modern wheat.
“The yield was better than spelt, but not as good as a modern wheat.
“It was still a good crop to grow, and competed very well with the weeds.”
Mrs Walker said Khorasan wheat did not require any special care and was planted and harvested at the same time as their other crops.
Everything done on farm
The couple has been running their certified organic farm, Whispering Pines, for 18 years and retain all the grain they grow for processing in their on-farm mill.
Mrs Walker said Khorasan wheat was a much larger grain than modern wheat and was also a hard grain — similar in appearance to brown rice.
“We have to leave it for another 24 hours after it’s been hydrated and then it’s is soft enough for us to mill it into flour,” she said.
The Walkers sell their flour and oats direct to customers online and through distributors in Melbourne and Sydney.
“We also find heritage grains produce a better-quality flour than what modern wheat does,” she said.
So far, Mrs Walker’s own experience baking with Khorasan wheat has been positive.
“We produce a white Khorasan and a wholemeal Khorasan flour and, when I cooked with it, it was really bright yellow,” she said.
“All I’ve been able to make with it is pancakes as we have been so busy, [but] the taste was phenomenal.”
Mrs Walker said she believed there was a future for more farmers to grow ancient grains.
Ancient grain on shelves
There are some easy ways to taste ancient grains.
There are well-known bakeries in Sydney making bread from ancient grains, including Sonoma, the Brasserie and Bourke Street Bakery and, in Newcastle, Bill’s Organic Certified Bakery.
Bill Roberts — a former draftsman, who started a bread shop 40 years ago — went into ancient grains and sourdough because customers wanted something healthier.
His wife, Lyn, runs the bakery’s office and says that Khorasan wheat is generally recognised as being better for gut health,.
Their company is “proudly organic” now employs 16 people and has been supplying Coles and Woolworths for more than a decade.
“No pesticides, no preservatives, none of the nasties,” Mrs Roberts said.
The bakery sells about 16,000 loaves of spelt and ancient grains bread a week and buys its flour from Wholegrain Milling in Gunnedah, an outfit that is certified organic and specialises in ancient grains.