While many consumers identify with the cotton plant because its fiber has clothed them for most of their lives, Cotton Incorporated Director of Cottonseed Research & Marketing, Tom Wedegaertner, is working with Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center (FIC) to expand the miracle plant’s status as a great source for glandless cottonseed food products.
Before thinking unfavorably of this idea because of commercialization failures with glandless cottonseed in the past, be aware – things have changed.
“First approved by the FDA for human consumption in the 1970s, glandless cottonseed, as a commercial variety for planting, didn’t work out because it lacked the natural pest deterrent gossypol, and there were processing, quality control and marketing issues,” says Wedegaertner. “New technology will overcome those issues.”
Scientific Progress Rewarded
Fast forward to 2006 when, after multiple years of Cotton Incorporated funding, Texas A&M Plant Biotechnologist, Dr. Keerti Rathore, successfully used a gene-suppression technology, Ribonucleic Acid Interference (RNAi), reducing levels of gossypol in the seed while allowing it to be retained in the plant and roots. A major enzyme was silenced with this process and is the same enzyme that is missing in the naturally occurring, gossypol-free, glandless plant.
Glandless cottonseed was discovered in the 1950s and since then, interest in growing it in New Mexico (due to low bug pressure) and using it has led to food processing and product utilization research. As a result, Cotton Incorporated and the FIC have been conducting research and development to bring edible cottonseed to market.
New Food Products
During the August Cotton Board & Cotton Incorporated joint Board meeting in Portland, FIC presented a wide range of potential food products including hummus, high-energy snack bars and Tabouli. Cottonseed has also been used as a dairy products substitute.
“The cotton plant is one of the most versatile plants in the world,” says Taylor Slade, North Carolina cotton producer and Cotton Incorporated director. “It’s encouraging to see the work with cottonseed reach this stage of development.”
Now that Cotton Incorporated is armed with such a wide range of marketable food applications for cottonseed, the subsequent order of business will be to find a food developer to commercialize the products in New Mexico. The team, including Wedegaertner and the FIC, will travel to that region in September to work toward that goal.
The end goal for Cotton Incorporated is to achieve a mainstream product availability of cottonseed via the gene-suppression research conducted at Texas A&M. Although a few years away from reality, edible cottonseed, and the product development and utilization research surrounding it, will continue to be explored in New Mexico in anticipation of increased product availability in the future.
The Cotton Board, which administers the Cotton Research and Promotion Program conducted by Cotton Incorp-orated, contributed information for this article.