Enhancing the utilization of local African grains in bread making

By Dr. Ndegwa Maina University of Helsinki

The current war between Russia and Ukraine has affected the world economy causing a rise in food, fuel and fertilizer prices. Furthermore, both Russia and Ukraine are players in agrifood markets and therefore the current war is affecting the food supply chain eg for commodities such as wheat. According to the United Nations conference on trade and development (UNCTAD) rapid assessment report on the impact on trade and development of the war in Ukraine 2022, both Ukraine and Russia account for 27 %  of the share of global trade in wheat. A focus on Africa showed that between 2018-2020 Africa imported $3.7 billion in wheat (32 % of total African wheat imports) from the Russian Federation and $1.4 billion from Ukraine (12 % of total African wheat imports).  Figure 1 shows the total production and import (1000 MT) of wheat in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda (Source indexmundi.com, accessed 9th November 2022)

Figure 1 Total production and import (1000 MT) of wheat in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda (Source indexmundi.com, accessed 9th November 2022)

The increase cost in fuel and fertilizer may in practice expose African countries to a potential food insecurity crisis. Solutions to enhance the resilience of Africa food system against the disruption of the current war, in addition to the challenges of climate change, are therefore urgently needed. In the Innofood Africa project, we explore the potential of local climate smart African crops to enhance the resilience of African food systems by increasing the diversity of available food.  Value addition for these crops including sorghum, millet, tef, cowpea bambara groundnut, etc have largely been minimal due to the significant market and efficient industrial processing of major crops such as maize, rice and wheat. However, with the current global challenges, Africa must consider how to secure its food basket by investing in the production and processing of locally grown crops.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki have focused on the use of local grains such as sorghum, tef and millet to replace wheat flour in bread making. The production process is based on tailored sourdough technology developed  in our Grain Technology Research group (https://www.helsinki.fi/en/researchgroups/grain-technology) for production of bread with a high content of dietary fibre. Our studies show that with this technology we can replace as much as 50% wheat flour with sorghum, Tef or finger millet whole grain flour when making pan bread but even high amounts can be used in the production of flat breads. The tailored sourdough is produced with starter cultures that have been isolated from cereal sourdoughs in our laboratory. The starters are specifically selected for their ability to produce exopolysaccharides (EPS) in situ during sourdough fermentation. The EPS essentially act as natural hydrocolloids and play a significant role in enhancing the structure and texture of the breads which have 50 % less gluten (Figure 1).


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