Grain research

Scotland The Bread launched its first three flours in the autumn of 2017, milled from varieties of wheat that were common in Scotland in the 19th century – Rouge d’EcosseGolden Drop and Hunter’s.

These heritage grains are more than a historical curiosity. Their superior nutritional profile and their suitability for agro-ecological farming make them a good starting point in our quest to select and develop bread grains that grow well in Scottish soils and can nourish healthy citizens while providing local farmers with a fair and reliable return.

Scotland The Bread grain
Scotland The Bread grain

Rouge d’Ecosse, Golden Drop and Hunter’s are all recognised in Slow Food International Ark of Taste, and are being registered as conservation varieties by SASA.

Scotland The Bread Heritage grain

Not surprisingly, finding these varieties and getting to the point where there is enough flour to go round has been quite a story. How do you find the seed to revive and research these long-forgotten wheats?

We have to thank Andy Forbes of Brockwell Bake Association in London for scouring gene banks round the world for tiny samples (typically 10 grams or less) of ‘accessions’ bearing the name of Rouge d’Ecosse. He also identified Golden Drop and Hunter’s as plausible ‘Scottish’ heritage grains.

A total of 13 small packets of wheat seed across the three varieties were germinated under controlled conditions (‘vernalised’) by Mike Ambrose at the John Innes Centre in Norwich and the resultant seedlings brought up to Scotland in March 2013 for growing out on four farms in the Borders, East Lothian, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire. Each year the grain was harvested and re-sown, with the majority being grown at Mungoswells in East Lothian.

It is this grain that we are now milling into flour.

In 2014 the James Hutton Institute at Invergowrie tested all 13 samples of our wheat from the gene banks round the world. The initial results told us two things: first, that all the accessions named ‘Rouge d’Ecosse’ were genetically pretty much identical despite having spent many decades in seed stores as far apart as Poland and the USA, being periodically ‘grown out’ to maintain the viability of the seed; second, that all these ‘old’ varieties had generally higher levels of nutritionally-important minerals and trace elements than the types of wheat being grown commercially. Encouraged by this initial evidence, we collated all the accessions named Rouge d’Ecosse (and Golden Drop and Hunter’s) into ‘composite’ varieties, capturing, we hoped, a degree of diversity from their varied provenance which might help them thrive again in Scottish soil.

We tested samples of the milled grain in summer 2017 and learned that Scotland The Bread’s flours are, on average, more nutrient-dense than most – if not all – commercial alternatives. The results are presented and discussed here.

Testing grain is expensive and we need to do a lot more of it to make sure that our research and practice follows the best evidence. We rely on donations and share sales to support our work even as we try to convince funders that our work merits support from the public purse.

If you think we are on to something, please join us.