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We've seen the resurgence of heirloom purple carrots. Now it's - drum roll - purple wheat.

Strong evidence shows the vital roles anthocyanin pigments play in human health due to their antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-carcinogenic and ocular-enhancing powers. They can bind heavy metals like iron and copper, and act pre-emptively against cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and neurodegenerative disease; their antioxidant powers may also increase production of immune-regulating cytokines, and strengthen blood capillaries and cell membranes.

Out of Africa

These hard-working compounds that colour red wine, grapes, berries and other dark produce are also responsible for purple wheat. It's important to stress that this wheat is not genetically modified: the deep purple colour is entirely natural. Also known as Abyssinian wheat (Triticum aethiopicum ), this is thought to have originated in Ethiopia or East Africa, and over the centuries it hybridised with emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), the ancestor of our modern bread wheat. Purple wheat was discovered in 1872 near the Red Sea, and was subsequently rediscovered in the late 1990s, this time in South America. It made its way to Australia around 2002, and today organic purple wheat is being grown on Queensland’s Darling Downs for Kialla Pure Foods. Learn more here: www.kiallafoods.com.au/farmer/geoff.

Because this wheat's colour exists in the pericarp (the bran's outside layer), the whole grain needs to be used for optimum nutritional benefits and flavour. In Australia, it’s available as cracked wheat, which makes a very flavourful tabbouleh, and wholegrain flour. In New Zealand, the Konini variety of purple wheat is a small but significant component of the country’s bread wheat industry, where it’s used to provide colour and texture in a variety of breads.

Produced by roller-milling the whole grain without sieving the bran, purple wheat wholegrain flour retains a substantial proportion of the nutrient content. Purple wheat bran contains 495mg of anthocyanins per kilogram, almost twice as much as red cabbage, which comes in at just 250mg per kilo. A strong and flavoursome flour, it can be used as a substitute for other wholegrain flours and is suitable for bread-making; which of course means it contains gluten. The texture is robust – anticipate a little crunch – with subtle notes of nuttiness and sweetness.

The presence of the hormone melatonin also contributes to the grain’s colour. Melatonin controls the body’s circadian rhythms, and functions as an antioxidant responsible for protecting nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Purple wheat also provides the antioxidant phytoestrogen lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG), which is also found in linseed, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Want to try it? Visit www.saltmeatcheese.com.au or www.kiallafoods.com.au

Farmers' choice

Purple wheat is not just good for us: research scientist Dr Elsayed Abdelaal believes it could benefit the whole wheat industry by providing additional choices for farmers, producers and food processors. Abdelaal, a scientist with Guelph Food Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in conjunction with the University of Saskatchewan, has been studying the potential of this coloured grain. This has led to scientific interest elsewhere, with US researchers working on developing black sorghum, while China is testing blue and red rice; Abdelaal is also researching blue, purple and red corn, and blue and black barley.

Dr Sandi Rogers EDD, ND is a Life Member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. www.atms.com.au