The incredible possibilities of Australia’s mountain rye and other perennial grains in the production of beer and bread.
Grains from a trial farm are currently undergoing fermentation in a sticky mixture at a warehouse located in an alley in the inner west of Sydney.
The mixture, known as mash, is a dense and porridge-like concoction made from mountain rye (Secale strictum), a type of grain that grows year after year. It also contains barley, hops, and water. As it ferments at a slow pace, the mash transforms into beer, which is available for purchase in bottles at certain stores located in popular neighborhoods across the country.
According to Brayden Lew, the production manager at Wildflower brewery in Marrickville, rye has a long history of being used in brewing and was commonly used as an additional grain. However, due to its high protein and beta-glucan levels, it can be more challenging to use compared to other grains. Its distinct flavor profile, often described as “spicy,” is highly sought after.
The process of fermentation may take significantly longer when using traditional hops and barley, lasting anywhere from 18 months to two years in order to extract the maximum amount of flavor.
According to Lew, the addition of weight, protein, and complex sugars from raw grains during fermentation can extend the process and provide sustained nourishment for yeast. This results in a practical improvement in flavor.
Register to get the biweekly Rural Network newsletter via email from Guardian Australia.
The end result, called Mountain Rye after the grain it is made from, has a flavor reminiscent of gingerbread. It is both spicy and sweet, with noticeable hints of citrus and floral notes, making it a delicious beverage.
Lew obtained mountain rye grains from the Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station, which was originally established as an “experimental farm” in 1903. The 390-hectare farm is currently managed by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and played a key role in developing federation wheat, a type of rust and drought-resistant grain and the oldest variety of wheat in Australia.
Matt Newell, a long-standing researcher of cereal crops at Cowra station, states that the goal of creating perennial grains like mountain rye was initially for feeding livestock. However, these grains have unexpectedly presented an opportunity for use in human food and drink production as well.
At first, it was believed that this grain could only be used as animal feed. However, due to its high protein content, it is now recognized as a valuable source of grain for animal consumption.
“When we progressed to the next phase and invited bakers, brewers, and manufacturers to experiment, the grain exhibited superior performance compared to a typical annual grain.”
Perennial grains, named for their ongoing or perennial growing season, yield a consistent crop for multiple years. Newell sees this as a benefit not only for human nutrition, but for the climate.
According to him, having deeper root systems provides greater resistance to unpredictable weather conditions. While the genetic distinction between mountain rye and annual rye is minimal, research has also shown that rye grains offer potential health benefits due to their higher levels of antioxidants and minerals. Additionally, its starch is composed of larger granules, resulting in slower digestion.
Perennial plants have the advantage of not requiring annual digging and replanting. As a result, their roots can grow deeper and create intricate root systems that enhance soil quality, store carbon, and minimize the need for frequent watering. Perennials also play a crucial role in preventing erosion and safeguarding topsoil in valuable farmland, according to Newell.
According to him, the longer presence of root systems presents a valuable chance to increase carbon levels and also stabilize the soil to prevent erosion.
Fresh flour made from perennial grains is being produced on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, about 1,000km away, and will soon be distributed to bakeries and kitchens nationwide.
According to Emily Salkeld, the lead baker at Tuerong Farm, the potential of freshly ground perennial grains is “mind-blowing”.
She admits that she had never considered the origin of the grain or wheat used to make flour, until she began sampling bread made from freshly milled flour and was amazed at how much better it tasted.
Salkeld chuckles while explaining the discovery that wheat, similar to other fruits and vegetables, can possess unique flavors based on its variety.
She explains that the exploration of various cultivars of perennial wheats sparked an investigation, as these cultivars have unique flavors and uses in baking.
The distinct tastes of grains such as mountain rye are a major draw for utilizing perennial grains, but Salkeld finds the environmental advantages to be the ultimate victor.
“It’s a brilliant concept with many layers. It represents the ideal approach to farming – one that is interconnected and holistic, rather than isolated and focused solely on annual crops,” she remarks.
The farmer needs to be convinced to cultivate these long-lasting grains instead of only one type of crop.
The conditions are not suitable for growing mountain rye on the arid hills of the peninsula, but in the fertile farming lands of the central tablelands in NSW, Newell’s research team aims to improve the project in the future.
According to him, the potential for perennial grains is promising, especially with the development of commercially viable crops. The United States has a grain called Kernza and China is utilizing perennial rice, and Australia will also have its own perennial grain in the future.
“If we shift our focus from primarily growing annual crops to incorporating more perennials, we can ensure food security while also reaping environmental advantages compared to a solely annual cropping system.”
Join the mailing list for the Rural Network email newsletter.
Become a member of the Rural Network Facebook group and be a part of the community.