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Nutrigrano Project: Creation of new Nutraceutical foods through the development of Innovative fertilizers and the bio-fortification of wheat flours

The Nutrigrano project aims to develop food products with high added value starting from a raw material, wheat, enriched with bioactive compounds through a new low environmental impact fertilization system. We therefore intend to optimize the production and transformation process to maximize the extraction of these bioactive compounds and increase the healthiness and nutraceutical characteristics throughout the supply chain.
The Nutrigrano project was born from the meeting between companies and universities. It is part of the Smart Agrifood field. Strengthened by its interdisciplinary soul, it makes use of the expertise of the University of Padua - DAFNAE Department, Professor Teofilo Vamerali's laboratory, and of business partners from all the supply chain, from the production of fertilizers to the mill.
The project leader is Promolog, a Grandi Molini Italiani company that, as a leading milling group in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, supplies over 5.000 artisan bakers, hundreds of food companies and millions of cooking enthusiasts.
Another company to have played an important role in the project is Fomet, specialized in the production of natural fertilizers for professional and sustainable agriculture, which has always been committed to soil fertility and plant nutrition.
The latest player in the project is Terre del Delta, one of the largest agricultural cooperatives in Veneto with its 400 members and 11.000 hectares under direct management, which provides a 360 degrees service not only to the cereal sector but also to smaller sectors.
In the development of the project, the experimentation was carried out using a target approach on chemical compounds with high nutritional value, in particular the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. The work began with a screening of the wheat varieties available on the market, in order to identify those potentially most suitable for the final purpose of the project.
40 varieties of soft wheat suitable for cultivation in Northern Italy were analyzed, from which the Vivendo, Solehio and Rebelde varieties were chosen for the agronomic tests. A pool of innovative fertilizers and biostimulants was therefore developed aimed at the nutritional improvement of wheat, starting from the initial analysis of the raw materials available, nationally and internationally, and from the identification of the most appropriate technologies, up to the development of a layout of industrial process currently underway.
Following the chemical, biochemical and microbiological evaluations of the prototypes made and the preliminary tests to verify any phytotoxicity and target dosages, the most interesting prototypes were tested through agronomic tests in greenhouses and in the field.
The wheat, grown according to the protocols developed during the project, was analyzed from both a nutritional and rheological point of view to verify the achievement of the set objectives. To improve the extraction of minerals from grain subjected to bio-fortification, we proceeded to the development and optimization of techniques for decortication, fractionation, milling and stabilization of the co-products.
Finally, the flours obtained from the grinding of bio-fortified wheat have been tested for the production of bakery products rich in microelements, trying to identify suitable formulations that enhance the organoleptic qualities and preserve the added nutritional characteristics.
The foliar application of fertilizers formulated specifically for the project proved, in this preliminary phase, to be a viable agronomic technique with success. The agronomic results regarding the vegetational and production indices of wheat indicate that there are no obvious phenomena of phytotoxicity and it is possible to provide the desired nutrients via the leaves to achieve the bio-fortification goal. The analysis of mineral cations in the grain made it possible to identify a first agronomic protocol of bio-fortification suitable for increasing the content of individual calcium, potassium and magnesium cations by 10-16%, generally obtained at the highest fertilizer dosage.
The first tests carried out for the production of bakery products confirm the data found on the grain, with increases of 10-16% of mineral salts in the finished product. The bread-making tests have also given excellent results in terms of processing performance (dough workability, leavening resistance and bread volume).
Diversity of varietal response is expected, with possible greater increases in the more protein-rich varieties for potassium and magnesium, while calcium is apparently more difficult to increase.
The results obtained so far seem to confirm the achievement of the project's objective and, with the results of the second year of experimentation in which new fertilizer formulations are being tested, there could be further increases compared to the goals already achieved.

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