There has been a renewed interest in recent years in the use of amaranth for human consumption. Amaranth can be used as a grain or as a vegetable. The grain is high in protein (approximately16%), with nearly twice the lysine content of wheat. It is used for breakfast cereals, as gruel, or as a cooking ingredient. It is often milled into flour for baking, or blended with other flours to increase the protein quality. The leaves of some amaranth species are cooked for use as a vegetable.
BARLEY is mainly utilized in the United States for animal food (60.7%), followed by malt production (27.3%) and seed (6%). The remaining 6% is used for human food or exported. Specialty varieties include high lysine, high-sugar, high fiber, and varieties low in pigment-like compounds called proanthocyanidins.
BUCKWHEAT -- Botanically, buckwheat is not a cereal but a dry fruit with similar uses to cereal. Most buckwheat used in the United States is milled into flour, which is blended with the flour of other grains to make pancakes. Ethnic dishes made with buckwheat include soba noodles and kasha. Other applications include breakfast cereals, biscuits and breads, poultry dressing, source of honey, source of medicines, and animal feeds. Buckwheat grain is highly nutritious being a rich source of protein, minerals and fat. It also contains bioflavonoids (vitamin P and rutin among them), which are known to aid in reducing capillary fragility and sparing vitamin C.
CANOLA, one of the newest commodities grown in the four-state region, is mainly raised for edible oil production. Canola was developed in Canada from rapeseed; a crop raised as a source of industrial oil. Very little rapeseed oil was used for human consumption due to high levels of anti-nutritional factors called erucic acid and gluconsinates. Canola oil, which contains much lower levels of these compounds, is also known as low-erucic acid rapeseed oil. It was approved for food use in the United States in 1985. Because it is perceived as a "healthy" oil, its use is rising steadily both as a cooking oil and in processed foods.
Dent CORN, also known as Field corn, is the main variety grown in the northern Plains. It is utilized either as a grain or chopped into silage. Approximately one-half of the corn produced is used on the farm for livestock feed. It is also used to manufacture corn starch, ethanol fuel, sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, and corn oil products. Corn-based ink is now available and a super absorbent cornstarch is being utilized in baby diapers and automobile fuel filters. Other recent developments for corn usage include biodegradable plastics and packing materials, specialty chemicals for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, a non-corrosive road substitute (calcium magnesium acetate), adhesives and paper products. These products are expected to increase in demand in the future.
EDIBLE BEANS serve as a nutritious food staple. Soluble dietary fiber averages 20% which is higher than oat bran levels. Along with the cereal grains, beans provide the highest levels of protein available in the Plant Kingdom. Many varieties are available for food products in dry, pre-cooked, canned and frozen forms.
FLAX is primarily utilized for non-food purposes in the United States, although recently, health benefits of consuming flax have been documented. Interest in flax for human consumption is increasing because of potential health benefits from its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and also its fiber content. Ground or whole seed flax imparts a nutty flavor to baked products. Other food uses include breakfast cereals, breakfast drinks, and salad dressings. Flax seed must be ground to obtain health benefits from the omega-3 fatty acids, since the human body cannot digest the seed coat.
OATS continue to be an important crop in the north central states where 65% of the oats harvested for grain each year are produced. Most oats grown in the U.S. are used for animal feed and never leave the farm or immediate area. Oats used for human consumption are primarily utilized as rolled oats and whole oat flour. The premier use of oats is in hot breakfast cereals, but other specialty applications include cold cereals, bakery products, granola bars, and baby foods.
POTATOES are the fourth most important food crop. They are used fresh or processed into a wide array of products. These products include French fries, hashed brown potatoes and other frozen products, potato chips, shoestring potatoes, flakes, granules, diced, prepeeled and canned products, potato pancake mixes, flour, starch, animal feed, and chemicals. One medium fresh potato provides approximately 150 calories and 50% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, along with Vitamin B6 and fiber. Three main types of potatoes are raised in the region while specialty crops include the new colored varieties and organically raised potatoes. The main use of each type is listed below although each type can be used in various ways.
RYE is used for human consumption, as grain for livestock feed, and as a green plant for livestock pasture. Rye flour is used for bread making, as a filler in soups, sauces and sausage, and for flavor in certain pancake and waffle mixes. Other specialty foods such as hot breakfast cereals are also produced from rye. It is also utilized for alcohol production: for beverages (mainly whiskey) and for industrial alcohol.
In the United States SORGHUM, also known as MILO, is primarily grown as a feed grain for local use or for export. Worldwide, sorghum is an important food crop often eaten as meal or in flat breads. It is also used for malted beverages and specialty foods such as popped grain and beer. Syrups with strong flavor and dark color are made from sweet sorghum. It can also be utilized for building material, fencing, and for brooms. Recent developments in sorghum hybrids have significantly improved properties for use in food, industrial and feed applications.
SUGAR BEETS grown in the region are processed locally into sugar and byproducts. Sugar is primarily used as a sweetener and is available in several crystal sizes and forms (grades) to suit end-product use. Other functions of sugar in food processing applications include bulking agent, preservative, texturizer, humectant, fermentation substrate, and browning and decorative agents.
SOYBEANS are primarily grown for oil production and as a protein source for livestock feed. However, the versatility of this commodity is unequalled. Soybean oil is primarily used for shortening, margarine and salad oils, but is also utilized in many other products including mayonnaise, salad dressings and sauces, frozen foods, baking mixes and soups.
Approximately 75% of the SUNFLOWERS raised in the United States are grown in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. There are two major types of sunflowers: oilseed and non-oil, which is commonly referred to as confectionery. Typically 75-85% of the annual sunflower crop consists of oil-type varieties.
Although humans rely upon a variety of grains for sustenance, one grain dominates all the others. It is WHEAT -- a grain with unique proteins that form gluten. Without gluten, the production of leavened bread would not be possible. In the United States, there are six main classes of wheat. Wheat classes are determined by the time of year they are planted and harvested, the shape and hardness of the kernel, and the color of the bran. The quality characteristics vary between the wheat classes and determine the end-product usage. Generally, high protein contents with strong gluten properties are desirable for hard wheats, whereas low protein contents with mellow gluten characteristics are desirable traits for soft wheats. The classes of most importance in the northern Plains are Hard Red Spring Wheat, Durum Wheat, and Hard Red Winter Wheat.
A variety of other crops are grown in the four-state region in smaller quantities. Termed "specialty crops", these commodities are raised to meet the needs of niche markets. They are often grown under contract for a specific end-use.