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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 from Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia

A human construct, triticale (Triticale hexaploide) is a hybrid between wheat and rye. Wheat, providing the ovum, is the female line, and rye, supplying the pollen, is the male line. The initial crosses used bread wheat, though the most successful triticales have durum wheat as the female line. Triticale is thus a cross between durum wheat (Triticum durum) and rye (Secale cereal). Triticale is a contraction of the parental genera Triticum and Secale. Ideally, triticale combines the best traits of both parents. From wheat, triticale derives the attributes of making pasta, bread, and pastries. From rye, triticale derives resistance to several diseases, drought tolerance, hardiness, and suitability for infertile soil. Triticale resembles wheat more than rye. From a distance, a field of triticale looks like a wheat field. A grass in the Poaceae or Gramineae family, triticale is related to barley, bamboo, sugarcane, and oats, in addition, of course, to its relation to wheat and rye.


Humans selected the crops we know more than 3,000 years ago in the Neolithic Revolution. Since then, few new crops have emerged. (Sugar beet is an example.) Triticale is the first new grain since the beginning of agriculture. In 1876, Scottish botanist Alexander Stephen Wilson crossbred rye and bread wheat. Like many hybrids, however, triticale was sterile and so of no benefit to farmers. The chromosomes of triticale did not pair up as they must in all but haploid organisms, and so even though the hybrid yielded pollen and ovum, they were not viable. The initial interest in triticale, therefore, was confined to scientists rather than farmers. In 1891, German botanist Wilhelm Rimpan partially solved the problem of sterility by breeding a partly fertile triticale. In 1937, botanists discovered that the chemical colchicine doubled the number of chromosomes in a plant. The next year Swedish plant geneticist Arna Muentizing applied colchicine to triticale. By doubling the number of chromosomes in the pollen and ovum, colchicine enabled them to pair, restoring their viability. Triticale treated with the chemical was fully fertile. Because the first triticales were made with bread wheat, they were octoploids, having eight pairs of chromosomes, six pairs from wheat and two pairs from rye. In 1948, scientist Joseph G. O'Mara crossbred durum wheat with rye, producing a hexaploid with six pairs of chromosomes, four pairs from durum and two pairs from rye.

Hard Times

When it was created, one scientist called triticale “a modern miracle.” By the 1960s, farmers grew the grain on thousands of acres, chiefly in Europe. By 1969, farmers in Hungary planted triticale on hundreds of thousands of acres, feeding the harvest to livestock, but the golden age of triticale was brief. The Canadian research program, a leader in triticale improvement, produced unsuitable specimens with low yield, susceptibility to several diseases, and lodging, shriveled seeds, and only partial fertility. Seedsmen worsened matters by inflating claims of triticale's performance. When farmers obtained poor yield and other undesirable agronomic traits, they felt deceived. Triticale acquired a poor reputation. Researchers backcrossed triticale with wheat to obtain desirable progeny. The result was triticale with more protein and more of the amino acid lysine than wheat. Yet the old problems persisted. In field trials, triticale yielded half the grain of wheat. Some triticale flowers were still sterile. The grain was shriveled rather than plump. Triticale was not adaptable to a range of soils and climates. Tall with weak stalks, triticale was susceptible to lodging. Grains sprouted in humidity. Seeds germinated poorly. Triticale was susceptible to stripe rust, a disease common in cool, wet areas. The Canadian varieties, derived during the long days of Canada's summers, matured late and so were unsuitable to areas with short days. Triticale, derived from durum wheat, did not make bread as well as bread wheat did.

The 1960s and 1970s were initially unkind to triticale. In many respects, the crop was premature and had problems to resolve. In the 1970s agriculture, fueled by the Green Revolution, entered a period of prodigious growth. Wheat was in surplus worldwide. There seemed to be no need for yet another grain to deflate prices by exacerbating the problem of oversupply. Universities canceled research on triticale and might have truncated its history.

The Renewal of Hope

But the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, determining that triticale could ease hunger in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the targets of the Green Revolution, continued its breeding program. In 1967, a chance pollen grain from a dwarf wheat blew onto the stigma of a triticale flower. This is known as a backcross, although in this case it was accidental. This new variety, the renowned Armadillo, had high yield, set seeds well, could be grown at varying day lengths, was a dwarf with a stout stalk to resist lodging, and matured early, though grain was still slightly shriveled. So promising was Armadillo that breeders backcrossed it with wheat and rye to derive new varieties. By 1970, nearly every variety released by CIMMYT had Armadillo in its lineage. Some of these varieties had suitable levels of the protein gluten for making bread.

By 1988, 32 countries grew triticale. Most of the harvest fed livestock. Triticale was still not ideal for making bread because it produced sticky dough that clung to the mixer and so must be mixed with wheat flour to achieve dough that rolled easily off the mixer. Shriveled seeds persisted when triticale was grown on marginal land. When it and wheat were grown on infertile soil, triticale yielded more grain. Herein lies its virtue. On the marginal lands in the developing world, triticale may provide a yield advantage and thus stave off hunger. Global warming may subject agriculture to fluctuating conditions, and triticale may be adaptable enough to meet these conditions better than other grains. Triticale required less fertilizer, lime, and pesticides than wheat. On fertile land, triticale and wheat had comparable yields. Triticale was more resistant than wheat to leaf blotch, powdery mildew, smut, and bunt. Like rye, it was, however, susceptible to ergot, a fungal disease that has caused much misery throughout history. Birds did not afflict triticale because of its seed husks and awns. Of all the grains, only oats are more nutritious than triticale. Triticale is 19.7 percent protein compared to 12.6 percent protein for wheat. About 90 percent of triticale protein is digestible, a percentage similar to wheat and better than rye. Triticale has 3.1 percent fiber, 1.6 percent fat, 0.12 percent calcium, and 0.44 percent phosphorus. Triticale has more potassium, phosphorus, sodium, manganese, iron, and zinc than wheat. Triticale has as much thiamine, biotin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6 as wheat but less riboflavin and niacin. Triticale has more thiamine, niacin, biotin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6 than rye but less riboflavin. Triticale has about the same number of calories as wheat. Triticale is more suitable than wheat for dry conditions, sandy soil, acidic or alkaline soil, mineral-deficient soil, and soil with too much boron. On acidic soil in Poland, Kenya, Ethiopia, India, Ecuador, Brazil, and Mexico, triticale yielded more grain than wheat. Oregon farmers grew Flora, a variety suitable for alkaline soil. In Australia, triticale was grown on soil deficient in copper, manganese, and zinc. In Australia, triticale outyielded wheat on soil with excessive boron.

Triticale may be a substitute for soft wheat for making cookies, cake, biscuits, waffles, pancakes, pasta, and tortillas. Triticale may be used to produce unleavened chapattis, a staple flatbread of southern Asia. The people of Michoacan, Mexico, used triticale to make tortillas. Triticale may be used to make conchia, a bread with molasses, in Mexico. Ethiopians used triticale as a substitute for teff and buckwheat in making the flatbread enjera.

In the 1960s, the United States planted hundreds of thousands of acres to triticale, but little demand developed, particularly for food. In the United States, much of the harvest fed livestock. The American West grew most triticale, though the South planted winter triticale for pasture. The leading producers were Washington, Texas, California, and Kansas. In 2009, the world produced millions of tons of triticale. The leading producers were Poland, Germany, France, Belarus, and Australia. Triticale may find a market as pizza dough, breakfast cereal, and biofuel. It may be fed to cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens.

Further Reading
  • Bajaj, Y. P. S., ed. Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry: Transgenic Crops. Vol. 1. Springer-Verlag Berlin, 2000.
  • Brown, William L. Triticale: A Promising Addition to the World's Cereal Grains. National Academy Press Washington, D.C., 1989.
  • Tsen, Cho C. Triticale: First Man-Made Cereal. American Association of Cereal Chemists Saint Paul MN, 1974.
  • Christopher Cumo
    Copyright 2013 by Christopher Cumo

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