The Prince of Wales has launched a new initiative in the hope of finding “long-lost and unfashionable” foods that could grow in extreme climates and feed millions of people around the world. The project will attempt to reignite interest in nutritious ingredients used by the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, Greeks and Romans, which have disappeared from kitchens in favor of the staple crops of wheat, rice, soybean and maize.
The Forgotten Foods Network
A team of scientists collaborating on a revolutionary project in order to rediscover forgotten foods that could be grown in extreme climates, has been blessed with Royal approval. Prince Charles launched the Forgotten Foods Network when he visited Crops For the Future (CFF), a collaboration between the University of Nottingham and the government of Malaysia that researches underutilized crops.
The network is destined to accumulate and share details on foods and recipes from all over the world that have been forgotten over the centuries. Scientists estimate that almost 95 per cent of what we consume today, comes from around thirty kinds of plants and animals. Four basic crops – wheat, maize, rice and soybean – are the main source of more than half of our food. According to the project press release, “The narrowing of diets to only a few key ingredients has coincided with an increase in the incidence of diet-related diseases linked with highly processed foods that are energy-rich yet nutrient-poor.”
Quinoa Shows the Way
As Nottingham Post reports, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and other extreme climates are making soil less fertile and supplies of these basic foods uncertain. So the main challenge for the scientists at CFF is to rediscover and reintroduce little-known foods that are both nutrient rich, and have the potential to grow in a changing climate.
If they follow the lead of the rise of quinoa, they may indeed succeed in bringing change. Quinoa used to be exclusively grown in the highlands of Peru and the indigenous people of the Andes long knew of its nutritious properties. After many studies, planting and promotions during the 1990s, quinoa has made a worldwide revival and has become a favored healthy option worldwide.
Varieties of quinoa on display in Peru (Bioversity International / flickr)
Prince Charles Tastes Forgotten Recipes
During his visit to Crops of the Future, Prince Charles tried some of the recipes, including kevaru roti, a type of millet grown in arid areas of Africa and Asia. “They’re good,” he said as The Telegraph reports and added, “And very nutritious as well, are they?” The menu also included biscotti using bambara groundnut rather than almond, as well as soup, mini-burgers and quiche made from the leaves of moringa tree, a superfood dating back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. More elaborate dishes included dragon fruit tortellini with turmeric yoghurt and mint oil.
Nottingham Post reports that Prince Charles shared a video message in which he says: “It is essential we capture knowledge about forgotten foods, crops and animal sources, and act on this information before it is lost forever. We must move beyond the ‘business as usual’ approach of relying on monocultures of major, well-known crops, and invest in agricultural diversity which can not only help sustain agriculture, but also feed and nourish our growing population.”
Prince Charles samples some ‘forgotten foods’. Credit: Crops for the Future
Scientists Suggest there are Thousands of Forgotten Foods
Scientists suggest that there are thousands of forgotten foods worldwide that are waiting to be used and help feed the planet’s poorer populations.
CFF Chief Executive Professor Sayed Azam-Ali, who established the Tropical Crops Research Unit at Nottingham's Sutton Bonington Campus in the 1980s, said “We need to put nutrition at the heart of our food systems. The Forgotten Foods Network can help identify foods that feed the future. The traditional foods and crops that our ancestors ate could play a vital role, especially in the unpredictable and vulnerable climates of the future.”
The first two submissions to the Forgotten Foods Network were from CFF researchers who recalled consuming a watermelon salad and a finger millet bread that were well-liked by their parents when they were still children. The Forgotten Foods Network is open to people from all over the world to submit their stories about foods and recipes they might remember to its website at: http://forgottenfoodsnetwork.org
Top image: Food in the Maya culture: mural, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
By Theodoros Karasavvas