By Melissa Keogh
What is freekeh and have you ever tried it?
The ancient grain process has been around for more than 4000 years, but the average Aussie household has probably never heard of it.
Based in offices off Adelaide’s Grenfell Street, Tony Lutfi is the brains behind Greenwheat Freekeh, the world’s first major company producing freekeh via modern automated means.
He says the superfood is experiencing increasing demand in the western world, and that it holds huge potential for South Australia.
“We offer a unique product that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world except in primitive conditions in the Middle East,” he says.
“Why? Because it’s very difficult. Freekeh is a high technology process.”
Greenwheat Freekeh is produced by harvesting grains from five SA famers from the Lower Light region.
The grain is harvested while it’s still green before it’s parched, roasted and dried.
The freekeh process halts maturation of the grain and captures its nutritional benefits, including high levels of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Typically wheat is harvested when it’s matured and golden.
Prior to 2001, Greenwheat Freekeh sales in Australia were less than 1% of production, but by 2017 that figure hit 52%.
Now Greenwheat is in the midst of establishing a new plant at Dublin in the Lower Light to keep up with demand.
The new facility is backed by a $900,000 State Government Regional Development Fund grant, and will increase production to 3000 tonnes by 2019.
Greenwheat Freekeh exports to 19 countries and is the world leader in scientific research into green grain.
It has worked with the CSIRO and the Flinders Medical Centre to undertake two studies which cemented the nutritional value of the ancient grain as well as its health benefits.
“They (Flinders) found that when they injected the mice with a carcinogen to simulate the development of cancer, the mouse that ate the freekeh didn’t develop a tumour,” Tony says.
“The apoptotic affect sweeps out damaged DNA cells from the body before they mutate into a tumour.
“There is no way I can claim it can cure or prevent cancer, but based on those scientific indicators it does help in preventing and controlling bowel cancer and possibly soft tissue cancer.”
Tony says there is potential for Greenwheat to delve into the field of nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and to extract the protein from freekeh for use in skincare.
“There is a whole area of industrial opportunities that exist in other countries,” he says.
“What freekeh does is create huge potential opportunities for this state.”
Originally a chemical and petroleum engineer, Tony first tasted freekeh when working as an advisor to the Crown Prince of Jordan.
“He said to me that I was very lucky to eat freekeh in his house because typically freekeh is full of stones and dirt, and that by eating it in his house I could guarantee that I wouldn’t break a tooth,” Tony says.
“He told me that if someone ever developed a process to make freekeh via modern automated means and completely free of stones, then they would be successful.”
Due to the primitive way freekeh is processed in the Middle East (on the bare ground) stones and rocks are usually found in freekeh from these regions.
After leaving the role in Jordan, the American moved to Australia with the intention of settling in Perth.
Instead he fell in love with Adelaide.
“It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Australia,” he says.
Tony reflects on a comment made to him by the first person who imported Greenwheat’s freekeh to the US.
“He told me that there is nothing more painful that a product whose time hasn’t arrived and there’s nothing more rewarding that a product whose time has come,” he says.
“Well, freekeh’s time is here and now.”
Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.
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