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Food Science

Multimineral cocktail gives wheat a nutritional boost

Leaf spraying increases micronutrients in staple crops and could help treat hidden hunger

by Laura Howes
July 19, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 29

A close-up photo of wheat in a field.
Credit: Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock
Spraying wheat leaves with a cocktail of minerals can help boost the crops' micronutrient content.

Feeding the growing global population isn’t a question of just calories but also nutrition. According to the World Health Organization about one-third of the earth’s population experiences micronutrient deficiencies, or hidden hunger, which can cause serious health problems. Many of these people are in the developing world. One solution might be to spray multimineral supplements onto the leaves of staple crops like wheat while the plants are growing instead of fortifying them after harvest (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2019, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.9b01829). Sprays containing either zinc or iodine have been tested before. Researchers in China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, and Turkey tested a four-in-one cocktail of zinc, iodine, selenium, and iron on different varieties of bread wheat in 27 locations. At each site, the grains were harvested and then dried and milled into flour for testing. The researchers found that the micronutrient cocktail significantly increased zinc, selenium, and iodine concentrations without harming the overall yield. Iron concentrations increased only slightly, and the researchers suggest methods other than spraying might be more effective at boosting the iron content in wheat. Wheat, rice, and bean strains have been bred to have higher iron levels, and researchers hope a multimineral spray could boost their nutritional value even more.


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