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Is cuphea the future

A New World plant with seeds high in lauric acid may someday be a profitable alternative crop for Minnesota growers.

The cuphea (KEW fee uh) plant, which grows from South America to the northern United States, has many industrial uses, from cosmetics to motor oil. Detergent makers are especially interested in cuphea oil as a domestic substitute for imported palm and coconut oils.

AURI is looking closely at industrial applications for cuphea and nine other Minnesota cereal and oil crops. The research is focused on the “functional traits,” or components, of wheat, wild rice, buckwheat, small edible beans, barley, canola, amaranth, flax, sunflower and cuphea. Crop components such as omega-3 from flax, vitamin E from barley, and lauric acid from cuphea can be used in a variety of manufactured goods.

The study, conducted with the help of Triveni Shukla of Food, Research and Innovation Enterprises, is due this spring. It will summarize the crops’ functional traits and estimate refining costs and market demand for the most promising.

Currently, this information is sprinkled throughout the world’s technical and scientific literature, says Michael Sparby, AURI project director.

“This is the first time it’s been collected in one place for use by farmers and farm groups.” Sparby says the study will inform growers about biorefining developments and industrial uses for these crops. It could also lead to new crop varieties, bred for specific applications.

The ultimate aim: “To help producers capture the added value of these functional traits.”