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Chocolate truffles
Image courtesy Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

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From Candy to Brews, Sublette Malting Barley Is Sublime

By Marcia Wood
December 14, 2006

As every Santa knows, a gift-wrapped box of chocolate truffles—some filled with rich chocolate malt—makes a hard-to-resist holiday treat. The malt chosen for creating these confections might someday come from a barley bred by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticists and their University of Idaho colleagues.

Named in honor of William L. Sublette, an early explorer of the American West, this barley is intended for candymaking, brewing and all of the traditional malting-barley uses. Tests in Idaho, one of the nation's leading producers of this crop, have shown that Sublette plants provide a higher percentage of plump kernels—the kind maltsters prize—than Harrington barley, the standard against which all newcomer malting barleys are compared. That's according to plant geneticist Donald E. Obert with the agency's Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit in Aberdeen, Idaho.

Too, Sublette is less likely to topple over—called lodging--in high winds or other adverse conditions than the less-sturdy barleys. That means Sublette doesn't have to be treated with growth-regulating compounds to keep its size in check and reduce the likelihood of lodging. In turn, doing away with that treatment saves time and money.

After putting this barley through about a decade of testing, Obert, now-retired ARS colleagues Darrell M. Wesenberg and Berne L. Jones, along with University of Idaho co-investigators decided in 2005 that Sublette was ready for seed companies and growers to try. The scientists documented their research earlier this year in the journalCrop Science. Currently, Sublette is in the final stages of intensive, industry-led brewery tests to determine if it will win the all-important approval of the American Malting Barley Association.

Technically known as a two-rowed spring barley, Sublette joins a series of superior feed, food or malting barleys bred for western U.S. fields by the ARS researchers at Aberdeen.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.