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Future-proofing wheat: an IncrEdible show at Kew Gardens

With climate change and future food security on their minds, scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are busy tracking down, cataloguing and growing genetic variations on the wheat theme. Researchers are looking at wild species, discovering previously unknown varieties and finding genes that might help with disease resistance.

Weird wheat at the IncrEdibles Festival

If you can find your way to Kew you’ll see a selection of wheat alternatives on show in the grasses area. In stark contrast to the stocky, tall, uniform, cultivated wheat we’re used to seeing in fields, their wild relatives are more delicate, less vivid in colour with smaller seed heads.

High yields are obviously a good thing. As is physical strength. But cultivated wheat comes with a price tag.

First, gluten intolerance is on the rise, which some scientists think is down to selective breeding of modern wheat with a higher gluten content. Apparently wild wheats like Egyptian ‘Teff’ don’t usually cause the same allergic reaction.

Second, genetic diversity. It’s obviously better to have a variety of wheat ‘breeds’ available instead of growing just a few genetically similar ones, which leaves the world’s harvests vulnerable to new pests, diseases and weather patterns.

A plant orchestra and scented banana tunnel

As bakers we’re particularly interested in the wheat bit. But the IncrEdibles Festival covers much more, making the amazing world of edible plants a thrilling experience with plenty of accessible and exciting science thrown in.

There’s an interactive exhibit where you can stroke the leaves of plants hooked up to musical sounds and make plant-music together. There’s even a surreal boat trip on the pond near the Palm House, complete with a giant golden pineapple and banana-scented tunnel. Plus all of Kew’s astonishing natural riches to explore.

Find out more

If you fancy visiting the festival, here’s a link to the Kew Gardens IncrEdibles page.