HomeCertificationsAncient grains, identity and certifications

Ancient grains, identity and certifications

The growing interest of Italian consumers in i  ancient grains  has allowed the products derived from them to reach the shelves of large-scale distribution (large-scale distribution) in a few years. A phenomenon to rejoice in, insofar as the identity of the  cultivar  and the sustainability of local agricultural supply chains. To this end, it is useful to consider the opportunity to resort to certifications or innovative technologies such as  blockchain, to better guarantee the authenticity of the products.

Ancient grains, is the word enough?

THEpeasant agriculture  - in different regions of Italy, starting from Sicily  - invested in agroecology. By recovering wheat populations with distinct historical origins and identities, not subject to genetic evolution through crossbreeding but locally adapted, thanks to  traditional agricultural systems with even a negative ecological footprint, that is, beneficial for the environment.

THE CONSUMERS more attentive have followed this path since its inception, among many difficulties. Appreciating both the recovery of agronomic traditions, often anchored to the organic method, and the link with the territories. But also the idea of ​​one virtuous synergy between eco-agriculture, flavors and health. To the point of considering the ancient grains, not without reasons, which are real  superfoods. And once again, as always, consumers, the real protagonists of the market, have driven demand towards the  mass market.

A possible criticality  however, it resides in the uncertainty about the identity and origin of the raw materials from which a growing array of references originates. All the more so considering that, in this context of the cereal sector, two risk factors exist food fraud. The sudden development of the market and the lack of detailed rules. Consequently, the magic word on the label may not be enough.

Methods of scientific investigation

The survey on varieties  of wheat used, ancient or modern, is particularly complex where the analysis matrices consist of products derived from flour and semolina. Scientific literature reports that ancient grains have a lower gluten index than modern ones, flours a lower strength (W). However, these parameters have some exceptions and cannot therefore be considered optimal for a unique and definitive comparison. Some studies offer further analytical insights, which however postulate the availability of specific laboratory equipment.

A systematic review  by a group of researchers from the University of Catania, published in 2011 on  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, showed the ability to identify the ancient wheat variety 'Timilia' by analyzing the protein molecules of semolina. (2) The researchers of the University of Bari in turn, in 2016, were able to measure the quantity of 'Timilia' semolina in Castelvetrano black bread, thanks to the DHPLC technique (Denaturing High Performance Liquid Chromatography). (3) The Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology of Milan, in the research just published on  Food Chemistry, then realized the possibility of determining the differences in the composition of foods, on the basis of the 'fingerprints' of the DNA of the various cereals. (4)

Traceability and records, checks and guarantees

The traceability  basic - which entails the duty to register their suppliers and buyers (excluding final consumers) of individual products - has been prescribed for each operator in the supply chain for 14 years now. (1) But documentary verification alone is not enough to prevent fraud that can be carried out by replacing, even if only partially, the cereals used. And the a posteriori verification of their identity, on flour and semolina, is objectively complex. In fact, the aforementioned research highlights the need for sophisticated scientific methods which do not result in the direct availability of the supervisory authorities.

Registration of varieties  of ancient grains in the National Register of Conservation Species, by farmers, represents a first barrier to uncertainty. With a view to guaranteeing the complete traceability of final products that derive only from certified seeds, subjected to the control of CREA and the Phytosanitary Services. Even this fundamental step, however, is not sufficient to guarantee the consumer about the actual origin of the raw material. Faced with the real risk of replacing ancient grains with common grains (of lower commercial value and perhaps even higher performance, in industrial food technology).

The main road  so far followed it is based on relationships of trust  between producers and consumers, in short supply chains and above all 'cultured'. But the recent entry of large industrial operators and large-scale distribution has complicated the scenario. Furthermore, the lack of official data and statistics on agricultural production in this area makes it impossible to compare with the quantities of products on the market.

The guarantee of identity, provenance and sustainability of production therefore deserves to be strengthened. By minimizing the distance between producer and consumer, favoring purchases at km 0 even if mediated by reliable web platforms. Possibly also through certifications or other tools such as the  blockchain, capable of irreversibly 'notarising' the cultivated seeds from which flour and semolina used to produce pasta, biscuits and bakery products come.

Dario Dongo and Paolo Caruso


(1) See reg. CE 178/02, article 18 (in application from 1.1.05)

(2) Muccilli et al. (2011). 'High Molecular Weight Glutenin Subunits in Some Durum Wheat Cultivars Investigated by Means of Mass Spectrometric Technique'. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Nov 23; 59 (22): 12226-37. doi: 10.1021 / jf203139s

(3) Angelica Giancaspro et al. (2016). 'Varietal traceability of bread 'Pane Nero di Castelvetrano' by denaturing high pressure liquid chromatography analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms'. Food Control 59, Jan 2016; 809-817. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2015.07.006

(4) Silvia Silletti et al. (2019) 'Untargeted DNA-based methods for the authentication of wheat species and related cereals in food products'. Food Chemistry, 2019 Jan 15, 271: 410-418. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.07.178


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