AUSTRALIAN grains industry leaders are quietly optimistic that a new line of high fibre wheat may develop a successful niche industry.
The high fibre wheat is the result of a painstaking 20-year research project by Arista Cereal Technologies, a joint venture between Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, and the French farmer-led cooperative Limagrain.
The wheat, bred by Australian Grain Technologies, is being grown on a small scale this year with further bulk-up and testing to occur over the next couple of years.
Much of this year's crop will be exported to Japan, where the milling giant Nisshin Flour Milling will produce the high fibre flour for local food manufacturers.
Arista and Nisshin came to an agreement earlier this year for Nisshin to distribute the high fibre flour throughout Japan in products as diverse as bread, noodles and cake.
Nisshin will target Japan's increasingly health-conscious consumers.
"Wheat-based products are widely used in Japan and we intend to promote Australia's high fibre wheat to all food industries seeking a health benefit for their consumers," Nisshin said in a statement.
The new wheat has been bred containing a much higher level of resistant starch in the wheat grain than standard varieties.
This resistant starch, widely recognised for its benefits to gut health, is a fermentable fibre that resists digestion in the small intestine.
Consumer products made with the new flour, including pizza crusts, tortillas and noodles, have already been launched in the USA.
Tristan Coram, head of science and business development at AGT, said the first variety has yields were lower than traditional milling wheat varieties at present, but AGT breeding efforts are working to close that gap.
"We have altered the starches so dramatically that there is some impact on the grain yield," Dr Coram said.
He said the high fibre wheat was currently best suited to the northern cropping zone due to its background genetics but added this would change with further breeding advances.
As a variety he said it was impossible to categorise within Australia's existing standards.
"The make-up is so different you could not say it was like an ASW or APW with higher fibre it is a completely different make-up so it is probably best not to compare it within the existing framework."
In terms of the use of the high fibre flour he said he expected it to be blended in with normal flour at a ratio that provide optimum health benefits while maintain customer preferences for the product.
"I don't think we will be seeing bread made with 100 per cent high fibre flour, it would not perform in a way that gave the customers the product they wanted in terms of taste and texture, but it can be blended in," he said.
"This also applies to other products whether it be noodles or cakes or whatever, it is about finding that sweet spot."
He said there had been good work in flat breads and tortillas, which as unleavened products, were more forgiving of higher rates of fibre than those that rise, where the high fibre flour can alter the crumb texture.
Dr Coram said the health market was growing in affluent nations, with Asia a good spot to start.
"We see the more developed nations, the Japans, the Koreas, as having good demand for this type of product."
Locally, he said he expected opportunities to come but added it depended on local millers' ability to be able to incorporate the flour.
However he said there was scope for the industry to develop.
"With time, say over three or four years, I see no reason we could not produce 20,000 tonnes of this wheat, in a closed loop type arrangement," Dr Coram said.
He said it was likely regional hubs of production would develop with sufficient volumes produced to warrant a segregation or storage facility to itself.