Craig Morris

Craig Morris, ARS

There is a new soft white spring wheat (SWSW) variety called “Waxy-Pen,” however, it is not really waxy at all.

“Waxy-Pen is derived from a once very popular SWSW,” said Dr. Craig Morris, director of the USDA ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory, Washington State University at Pullman, Wash., and a cereal chemist. Waxy-Pen was developed through conventional plant breeding.

Starch is the major component in any wheat kernel, which is mainly composed of amylose and amylopectin.  Wheat without amylose in its endosperm is known as waxy wheat.

“The unique aspect of Waxy-Pen is that its starch is what we refer to as “waxy,” but it has nothing to do with wax,” Morris said. “Instead, the starch is 100 percent amylopectin instead of the typical 75 percent amylopectin/25 percent amylose.”

Developed by Morris some 14 years ago at the ARS Lab, Waxy Pen was renamed Penawawa-X.

While he developed it for state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest, if the climate were similar, a producer in Montana, or other state that can grow soft spring wheat could grow the wheat.

“Before growing it, I would suggest one needs to have a market/buyer lined up,” Morris said.

Penawawa-X found a market – and it is a major one. A new breakfast cereal has just started being made out of Penawawa-X SWSW. Kellogg’s new waxy wheat cereal is named, “Hi! Happy Inside.”

The cereal came out in 2019 and the company is promoting it as good for intestinal health.

“Waxy starch has very unique processing properties, among them is enhanced ability to ‘puff’ (like Rice Krispies cereal) or ‘extrude’ (like Cheetos),” he said.

Waxy-Pen’s starch, with its unique properties, can “improve the texture, shelf life, and other qualities of foods made with it and it has lower gelatinization temperature and higher water swelling,” according to the ARS.

“The wheat’s starch consists of two kinds of glucose polymer: a branched form called amylopectin and a straight-chain form called amylose,” Morris said.

Penawawa-X forms a paste at lower temperatures and swells with more water than regular or partially waxy wheat starches (those containing less than 25 percent amylose).

Soft white wheat is not just for cereal, but can be used in cakes, udon noodles, or flatbreads, Morris pointed out.

Besides cereal and other food uses, the full-waxy starch may have industrial applications, perhaps in adhesives.

Before being made into cereal, the ARS Lab moved the wheat to field trials and it performed well in those trials. ARS also looked at potential food uses, before sending it to Kellogg’s.

“The cereal brand’s debut represents one of the first commercial uses of waxy wheat and could attract the interest of millers, food processors, health-minded consumers, and wheat growers looking to tap into new value-added markets,” Morris said.