There is a growing demand for food in the world that can not only provide food for a growing population, but also provide humankind with more nutritious foods that are rich in good quality proteins and nutraceuticals (healthy substances). Amaranth is a plant that, in addition to its high nutritional and nutraceutical characteristics, has excellent agronomic indicators. Back in 1977, the journal Science called amaranth “the harvest of the future” because of its endurance and exceptional nutritional value. And today, research is continuing that opens up to the world more and more striking characteristics of this plant.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to increase to 9.6 billion people. The world will need more nutritious, affordable, and environmentally sustainable food — exactly what the EU-funded Protein2Food project experts are researching.
Protein2Food, led by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, a team of 19 partner organizations from 13 countries, starting in December 2015, began a deep study of innovative, high-quality, protein-rich food crops that are best suited to maintain human health, preserve the environment and biodiversity in the future.
From the point of view of greenhouse gas emissions and the use of land and water resources, obtaining proteins from animal sources is unnecessarily expensive and harmful to the environment. Therefore, Protein2Food specialists will develop optimal cultivation methods and popularize the production of dietary protein from cereals containing high-quality protein (quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat) and leguminous crops (lupine, beans, chickpeas, lentils). These crops have a high nutritional value, and an increase in their consumption will have a positive effect on biodiversity conservation and climate change. Today, the consumption and use of these crops as food ingredients in the diet of Europeans and raw materials for industry is almost negligible.
The participants of the Protein2Food project set an ambitious goal – thanks to new and improved methods of plant breeding and cultivation, to increase the production of vegetable proteins by 25%, as well as to increase the area intended for the production of protein crops of arable land in Europe by 10%. This will improve Europe’s supply of protein products of its own production, positively affect the bioeconomy (part of the economy using renewable biological resources), and also accelerate the transition from the consumption of animal protein to protein from plants, which in turn will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“These cultures could offer solutions to problems related to climate change and future food security,” says project leader Sven-Eric Jakobsen from the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
What are we going to get protein from in the future?
“In the future, we will have to reduce the amount of meat we consume,” says Jacobsen.
Sven-Eric Jacobsen “The production of meat in the world is now unfavorable for the future. In its process, too much methane and CO2 are released. The yield is too small in relation to the amount of energy needed to produce one kilogram of meat. And also huge areas of agricultural land are used for raising animal feed instead of producing food for us, ”the researcher stresses.
These problems will only get worse as the world’s population continues to grow.
That is why Jacobsen and his colleagues from numerous collaborating institutions from around the world think that now is the time for most European agriculture to switch to alternative sources of protein – in particular, from amaranth and other traditional, but undeservedly forgotten plants.
At the test site in the vicinity of the city of Tastrup, Denmark, the project participants grow different varieties of crops. This is the second year of a three-year field experiment in which the research team is studying how various crops grow in northern Europe. In the experiment, there are two directions: the study of protein content in legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and the quality of protein in cereals (quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat).
Protein2food Recipe Book
The recipe book from Protein2food. Within the project, students from the University of Copenhagen create dishes with amaranth. Products from this plant do not have enough popularity in home kitchens, because consumers do not know how to properly and tasty to prepare amaranth. Students developed new dishes, including bread, cakes, snacks, salads, soups, main dishes, desserts. Their colleagues, friends and fellow students were the first tasters of new recipes. Ultimately, students plan to release a recipe book that will help stimulate the use of amaranth in European cuisines.
Interestingly, even on the website of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there is a recipe for stewed potatoes with eggplants and amaranth leaves, and in 2011 the organization released a recipe book for mothers, where the leaves of this plant are recommended to be included in dishes for babies from 7 months on.
Project Amaranth: Future-Food
Amaranth: Future-FoodIn 2009, another project financed by the European Commission was completed, the subject of which was also amaranth. The Amarant: Future-Food project group consisted of 11 partners from Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Denmark. The aim of the project was to research and develop methods and technologies for widespread use of amaranth.
As a result of the project, a number of scientific papers were published, which presented the results on industrial, food and feed use of amaranth. It also describes the results of studies on drought resistance and resistance to pests and weeds.
Amaranth Africa The Amaranth: Future-Food project has shown that amaranth breeding can successfully produce the desired characteristics and that it is easily cultivated in different soil and climatic conditions. The researchers proved that amaranth oil is a valuable product as a nutritional food additive and a component of various cosmetics. Thus, the high commercial value of amaranth is confirmed, not only as food or feed, but also a promising culture for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry. Based on these findings, the project team even claims that amaranth is able to ensure the food and economic security of countries in Africa, Central and South America.