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Definition: triticale from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Cereal crop of recent origin that is a cross between wheat Triticum and rye Secale. It can produce heavy yields of high-protein grain, principally for use as animal feed.

Summary Article: Triticale: Overview
from Encyclopedia of Food Grains

Triticale is a man-made cereal grain species derived from hybridization of wheat and rye. It was developed to combine favorable traits from both parents; growth vigor, cold tolerance and high protein from rye, and good baking characteristics of wheat gluten. Triticale generally does well in conditions of abiotic stress compared to wheat, although it is susceptible to ergot. World triticale production has risen to over 20 million MT per year, half of that coming from Germany and Poland combined; China is another major producer. Despite great technological efforts, triticale flour is not widely used in food processing, and most triticale is used in animal feed1.


Chromosome doubling, Germplasm, Hexaploid, Octoploid, Rye, Wheat

Topic Highlights

  • Triticale is a man-made crop derived from hybridization of wheat and rye.

  • Triticale has desirable agronomic traits including high yield, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

  • Most triticale is used for animal, use of triticale flour has been limited by quality issues, although there are opportunities in new product development.

Learning Objectives

  • To understand the origin and development of triticale and the underlying genetics behind this new crop development.

  • To understand where and why triticale is produced, and its agronomic advantages and limitations.

  • To understand the basics of triticale processing and utilization, especially in relation to protein quality.


Triticale is the first man-made cereal grain crop species resulting from the hybridization of wheat (Triticum) with rye (Secale), the name of which combines the scientific names of the two genera involved. This synthetic amphiploid is obtained by chromosomal doubling after artificial crossing to produce fertile hybrids. It is a small-seeded cereal grain that is used for both human consumption and livestock feed. As a hybrid species, it combines many of the better qualities of both of its parents. Triticale possesses wheat's properties for food production and rye's adaptive properties, and under certain conditions can out-yield both parents. This promising crop species is grown on more than 3 million hectares (Mha) worldwide. Furthermore, triticale is an important germplasm source for wheat improvement, providing a vehicle to transfer desirable rye characteristics to wheat.

Origin and Types

The Scottish scientist Alexander Stephen Wilson produced the first triticale in 1876. Triticale was initially developed to combine the positive traits of both parent types: the vigor and winter hardiness as well as the higher protein content of rye combined with the higher-quality gluten and baking properties of wheat. However, initial progress was limited by the fact that resulting hybrid progeny was sterile. In the 1930s, the discovery and use of the chemical colchicine, a natural chemical extracted from the autumn crocus plant to create chromosome “doubling,” overcame this sterility problem. In 1938, Arne Müntzing from Sweden applied colchicine to wheat/rye hybrids, obtaining fertile plants. Once a fertile hybrid was established, it became possible to utilize modern plant-breeding methodologies. Early varieties were primitive and had numerous agronomic disadvantages such as low grain yield, poor seed set, shriveled grain, excessive height, low germination, and late maturity. Triticale improvement commenced in the 1960s to create new and better combinations between wheat and rye, triticale and triticale, and triticale and wheat. Most notable were breeding programs at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in Mexico and the University of California at Davis (UCD) for spring triticales and programs in Poland and the University of Manitoba, Canada for winter varieties.

There are two main types of cultivated triticales: octoploid types produced from the hybridization of bread wheat, Triticum aestivum L., with rye, Secale cereale L., and hexaploid types using durum wheat, T. turgidum L., followed by chromosome doubling of the hybrid plant (Figure 1). Octoploid triticales (2n = 56) contain the A, B, and D genomes of bread wheat and the R genome of rye, while the hexaploid triticales (2n = 42) contain the A and B genomes of durum wheat and the R genome of rye. However, most triticale cultivars are hexaploids. There is a third type of triticale (2n = 28) produced from the hybridization of diploid wheat, T. monococcum (2n = 14) with rye, but is not considered to be important economically. Although triticale is a cross between wheat and rye, it is self-pollinating (similar to wheat) rather than cross-pollinating (like rye). Most agronomically desirable triticales that breed true have resulted from several cycles of improvement, and are primarily from the durum–rye crosses with some common wheat parentage occasionally involved.

Figure 1 Flow diagram for octoploid triticale development showing chromosome number and genome identifications. The hexaploid type (2n = 42) is produced similarly, though using durum wheat (T. turgidum, 2n = 28, AABB) as the female parent.

(Adapted with permission from

  • Qualset, CO (2002). Triticale. In: McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 9th edn. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.).

In general, triticales can be divided into three groups (Table 1):

Table 1 Development and examples of primary, secondary, and substituted triticales

a Colchicine treatment is given to hybrid plants to double chromosome number.

b Products of these hybrids have variable chromosome constitutions.

c Examples with 2n = 42. Subscripts indicate the number of chromosomes present from each genome.

Adapted from

  • Qualset, CO; EA Rupert; JD Prato (1973) Triticale in California: Review of current research and appraisal as a new cereal crop. In: Yang, SP (ed.) Proceedings of the International Triticale Symposium. International Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Land Studies Lubbock TX.

Primary triticalea

Common wheat X


Octoploid triticale

Triticum aestivum L.

Secale cereale L.

AABBDD (2n = 42)

RR (2n = 14)

AABBDDRR (2n = 56)

Durum wheatX


Hexaploid triticale

T. turgidum L.

Secale cereale L.

AABB (2n = 28)

RR (2n = 14)

AABBRR (2n = 42)

Einkorn wheatX


Tetraploid triticale

T. monococcum L.

Secale cereale L.

AARR (2n = 28)

Secondary triticaleb

Triticale X











Triticale X








Substituted triticalec




  1. “Primary triticales” are the initial product of the wheat × rye hybridization followed by doubling of chromosome numbers to produce the hexaploid or octoploid types.

  2. “Secondary triticales” are produced by intercrossing primary triticales or by crossing a primary triticale with wheat.

  3. “Substituted secondary triticales” are hexaploid with A, B, or D genomes of wheat substituted for one or more R genome chromosomes of rye.

Primary triticales are often found to be fragile, poor producers, and genetically unstable. They are used as breeding stock to produce the more stable and agronomically favorable secondary and substituted secondary triticales. Secondary triticales can be either hexaploid or octoploid and often contain complete genomes of wheat and rye, whereas substituted triticales never have complete rye genomes (Table 1). One advantage of the secondary hexaploid triticale is increased genomic diversity, resulting from the insertion of portions of the D genome from the hexaploid wheats. Spike type is often used as a visual morphological marker to distinguish types. Octoploid triticale spikes appear similar to wheat spikes, whereas hexaploid triticales have more distinctive spike types (Figure 2), and are classified as Beagle (for complete triticales) and Armadillo (for substituted triticales).

Figure 2 Spike types representing substituted (left, Armadillo) and complete (right, Beagle) forms of triticale.

Adaptation and Production

Triticale is grown using cultural practices similar to wheat and rye. However under some conditions, earlier planting can result in better yields. It works well planted alone, as a companion crop for establishing alfalfa and for interseeding into established alfalfa, and as a double crop with corn and other summer annuals. There are both spring and winter growth habits depending on the parents used in the cross, with environmental requirements similar to other winter and spring sown cereal grains. Drought tolerance is the primary advantage that spring triticales have over other spring cereal crops. Winter triticale provides a high-yielding early maturing alternative to spring triticale for short-season areas. The University of Manitoba began the first intensive program in North America in 1953, working mostly with durum wheat–rye crosses. Since then, triticale has been the subject of modern plant breeding efforts for and has resulted in excellent gains in yield and quality. Triticale most closely resembles its wheat parent but exhibits more vigorous growth characteristics. As a hybrid species, it contains many of the better traits from each parent (Table 2). Triticale can combine the bread-making qualities of wheat with much of rye's adaptive properties such as disease resistances, drought tolerance, and adaptability to harsh soil conditions. As a result, varieties have been produced with a wide adaptive range as well as site-specific adaptation. Triticale does well in regions where wheat performs poorly, such as cold and infertile soils, extremely sandy soils, soils with high levels of boron, salty soils, acidic soils, manganese-deficient soils, and dry soils. One particular concern, however, is the presence of ergot infection (caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea) in some areas.

Table 2 Desirable characteristics of wheat, rye, and triticalea




a Modified from

  • Semundo Limited (1994) Triticale The Hybrid Evolution Semundo Limited Cambridge.

High-yield potential

Many grains per ear

High yield

Large, filled grain

High biomass

High-quality straw

High harvest index

Low-temperature growth

High feed value

Tillering efficiency

Winter hardiness

Disease resistant

Short straw

Drought tolerance

Stress tolerant

Sprouting resistance

Disease resistance

Winter hardiness

High-energy grain

Grain high in lysine

High lysine content

The first commercial triticale cultivars were released in 1969. Today triticale is becoming a crop in its own right and is grown on over 3 Mha worldwide and in at least 27 countries (Table 3). This crop contributes more than 10 Mt year− 1 to global cereal production. Since its introduction, the area harvested has increased over 7 times and amount harvested has increased over 18 times (Figure 3).

Figure 3 World production (Mt) and area (ha) trends since the 1970s.

(Source: United Nations FAOSTAT.)

Table 3 World triticale production, 2002


Growth typea

Area (ha)

% World

a S: spring type; W: winter type.

Sources: United Nations FAOSTATS, Statistics Canada, and United States Census of Agriculture.


S + W

500 000




920 523




560 466



S + W

269 000




264 000




132 000




94 200


Czech Republic


53 093



S + W

47 282




37 657




37 621




30 740




29 900




25 000




20 000




18 372




15 500


United Kingdom


14 000




13 500




12 000


United States

S + W
































3 122 151


Although it is grown throughout the globe, the countries that produce the most triticale are China, Poland, and Germany. There is also significant production in Canada and United States.


Use of triticale for human consumption has not yet become widespread. Although triticale flour and products are available commercially (namely in specialty markets such as health food stores), this availability is limited. It comes in several forms including whole berry, flakes, and flour. Whole triticale can be cooked and used in a variety of dishes. Quality evaluations have shown triticale grain inferior to wheat for milling and baking, making large-scale commercial baking not feasible. Triticale flour is low in gluten, and bread made from it alone is heavy. For that reason, it is usually combined half-and-half with wheat flour. If mixed with wheat or rye flour, triticale flour can be used to make a number of breads and pastries. In developing countries, triticale flour is often mixed with wheat flour during wheat shortages. It is of course important that the crop is not infected with ergot, as this is highly toxic to humans.

Most triticale production is used for animal feed. It offers better amino acid balance, lysine content, and higher protein, particularly important for swine and poultry. However, triticale has lower energy content than other grains, and feeding of triticale must be supplemented with other grains. It can also be used as forage, silage, or hay for ruminants, offering high digestibility and out-yielding traditional crops in dry soils. Care should also be taken to insure that the crop is not infected with ergot.

Alternative uses of triticale include use as a cover crop to prevent soil erosion and land reclamation. Triticale has also been used in limited amounts as raw material in bioethanol production. Ethanol plants pay a premium for triticale over barley, since it has more starch and no hull, making alcohol production more efficient.

Genetic Resources

As a synthesized species, triticale has no wild ancestors and there are no existing landrace varieties. In addition, the actual wheat and rye parents used in triticale synthesis are often either unknown or no longer available. It is therefore often not possible to resynthesize unique triticale genotypes through hybridization. Genetic resources for the development and enhancement of triticale include existing triticales, wheat and rye, and the ancestral species of both wheat and rye. Itself, triticale exists as a genetic resource for the improvement of wheat, providing a vehicle to transfer desirable characteristics from rye.

In order to insure continued improvement in triticale, it is important to maintain a comprehensive genetic resource collection. CIMMYT has established a world gene bank for triticale and has over 15 000 accessions. The North American triticale genetic resource collection was evaluated at the UCD and showed a great deal of variation in both qualitative and quantitative traits. The collection is now maintained at the USDA Small Grains Collection in Aberdeen, ID, and at CIMMYT in Mexico.

Future Prospects

Triticale production has increased tremendously since the 1970s and genetic improvements have been vast. It can only be expected that improvements will continue, especially with the tools provided by biotechnology. In vitro regeneration of plants will allow for successful genetic transformation. Genomic maps for wheat and rye have been completed and will provide invaluable assistance for marker-aided selection.

Although used primarily for animal culture, it holds promise on a number of additional levels. Perhaps one of triticale's greatest potential is as a vehicle for gene exchange for wheat improvement, extending wheat's gene pool. It, however, still holds promise to be a leading food crop in some areas of the world. Continual improvements are being made to increase triticale's grain quality for commercial production. There is a great deal of potential for triticale products in the specialty markets, especially in the west where a healthier and more varied diet is becoming increasingly popular and commercialized. Triticale also has potential for increasing global food production in developing countries. It grows in many areas unsuitable for wheat production and can out-yield wheat in certain areas. Already used in many of these countries to some degree, increased production for food would likely find a market, especially in areas where wheat shortages are prevalent. Triticale may also play an ecological role in the future, both for soil reclamation and biogas usage.

Exercises for Revision

  • Draw up a comparative table on the genetics, production, and utilization of wheat, rye, triticale, and barley.

  • For any selected wheat flour based product, investigate the likely effects of full or partial substitution with triticale flour.

Exercises for Readers to Explore the Topic Further

  • What contributions are being made to triticale improvement through modern genomic information resources?

  • What are current markets and demand for triticale? What are likely future trends?

See also

Breeding of Grains: Wheat Breeding: Exploiting and Fixing Genetic Variation by Selection and Evaluation; Food Grains and the Consumer: Consumer Trends in Grain Consumption; Genetics of Grains: Wheat Genetics; Non-food Products from Grains: Cereal Grains as Animal Feed; Proteins: The Protein Chemistry of Cereal Grains; The Basics: Taxonomic Classification of Grain Species; The Cereal Grains: Rye Grain: Its Genetics, Production, and Utilization.

Further Reading

  • N.L. Darvey; H. Naeem; J.P. Gustafson Triticale: Production and utilization K. Kulp; J.G. Ponte Jr. Handbook of Cereal Science and Technology 1991 Marcel Dekker New York.
  • Forsberg, R.A. Triticale CSSA Special Publication Number 9 1985 Crop Science Society of America Madison WI.
  • B.J. Furman; C.O. Qualset; B. Skovmand; J.H. Heaton; H. Corke; D.M. Wesenberg Characterization and analysis of North American triticale genetic resources Crop Science 37 1997 1951-1959.
  • H. Guedes-Pinto; N. Darvey; V.P. Carnde Triticale: Today and Tomorrow 1996 Kluwer Academic Boston MA.
  • P.K. Gupta; P.M. Priyadarshan Triticale: Present status and future prospects Advances in Genetics 21 1982 255-345.
  • International Board for Plant Genetic Resources Descriptors for rye and triticale 1985 IBPGR Secretariat Rome.
  • Limited Semundo Triticale The Hybrid Evolution 1994 Semundo Limited Cambridge.
  • Lorenz, K. The history, development, and utilization of Triticale Critical Reviews in Food Technology 5 2 1974 175-280.
  • R. MacIntyre; M. Campbell Triticale Proceedings of an International Symposium 1973 International Development Research Center Ottawa Canada.
  • Muntzing, A. Triticale Results and Problems 1979 Verlag Parl Parey Berlin Germany.
  • National Research Council Triticale: A Promising Addition to the World's Cereal Grains 1989 National Academy Press Washington, DC.
  • Qualset, C.O. Triticale McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 9th edn. 2002 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  • C.O. Qualset; E.A. Rupert; J.D. Prato Triticale in California: Review of current research and appraisal as a new cereal cropYang, S.P. Proceedings of the International Triticale Symposium 1973 International Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Land Studies Lubbock Texas.
  • Tsen, C.C. Triticale: First Man-Made Cereal 1974 American Association of Cereal Chemists St. Paul MN.
  • Yang, S.P. Proceedings of the International Triticale Symposium 1973 International Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Land Studies Lubbock TX.
  • B.J. Furman
    San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, USA

    This article is reproduced from the previous edition, volume 3, pp 298–303, © 2004, Elsevier Ltd.

    Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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