Why protein is the next frontier in hemp breeding

Hemp is very nutritious. For example, there are two essential fatty acids for human health – linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) – and hemp seed oil is full of them.

“In other words, hemp is a great nutritional powerhouse,” says Ben Raymond, vice president of research and development at Kentucky-based Victory Hemp Foods.

“That of course means that we as researchers have a lot of questions. What can we do to improve nutrition? What can we do to improve the flavor? Things that you would do with soybeans or canola or any other agricultural product, we can do with hemp to make it bigger, faster, cheaper and more nutritious.

But it is the protein potential of the plant that is one of the last hemp frontiers that researchers seek to conquer. Rale Gjuric and his team at the Farmer’s Business Network in Manitoba are working to increase the protein content and change the starch composition in hemp.

The idea is to develop a product for use in the high water content meat analogue (HMMA), used in plant-based meat products like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat Burger.

“Hemp already has great nutritional value in these plant-based foods, but it also has the ability to be the texturizing agent in the final product. Lack of texture is usually a problem with plant-based meat analogues,” notes Gjuric.

His team is working with Fresh Hemp Foods of Winnipeg to create a protein-rich food formula made from hemp. But the main breeding challenge, he says, is the lack of understanding of the underlying genetics for the traits of interest (protein content and starch composition).

“We need an analysis method that is fast, accurate and preferably non-destructive. We are experimenting with different segregating populations both indoors and in the field to better understand genetics and work with [Saskatchewan-based] NRGene to understand it at the DNA level and potentially develop DNA markers for the traits,” says Gjuric.

It’s too early to tell if selecting for protein content would result in a yield penalty, he adds.

“We are seeing significant genetic variation in material prior to selection. This may indicate that there is no performance penalty, but we need hard data. »

The first high protein selections will be grown for observation this coming season.

Efforts to boost the quality of hemp protein are music to Raymond’s ears.

“It would be something I would like because it would provide me with something that I could sell as a higher value ingredient versus a traditional animal protein or even a higher quality canola or pea protein,” he says.

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