College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

French exchange students study ancient grains during summer research program

If what is old is new again, is there a way to make ancient grains new to 21st-century taste buds?

Kurt Rosentrater, executive director of the Distillers Grains Technology Council and associate professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ISU ABE) is exploring this question with help from a group of six students from southern France.

“This summer, we’ve been doing a lot of work with processing of ancient grains in terms of understanding their properties and in terms of how you process these grains into a palatable food,” Rosentrater said. “Because of chemicals in the outer holes of the grains, it is a bit difficult to consume these foods directly. We are trying to reduce the bitter flavors to make them more attractive to the human palate.”

Rosentrater is currently leading his students through research in value-added uses for ancient grains such as buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa and teff.

For the past five years, Iowa State students have participated in a global partnership and research exchange program with the Polytechnic University in Montpellier, located in southern France. This program occurs during the summer. Each year, approximately three to seven interns from both universities travel abroad and work with researchers to compile data. They use the results for public outreach and publications.

Ancient grains are increasing in popularity. They boost health benefits due to their richness in antioxidants, and they are gluten free.

“What I like the most about what I do is knowing that the subject I’m working on is unique, and that the results I get are perhaps the first to be obtained,” said Laurie Vignolo, an exchange student working with Rosentrater. “Each result makes us move forward, and that’s motivating.”

Through the partnership program, students are learning how research is conducted in different countries. This partnership gives both groups a chance to broaden their global perspectives.

“The challenges that Iowa State students face are similar to the challenges that French students face when they want to enter the workforce,” Rosentrater said. “You need prior experience, you need a solid résumé, you need to have a good understanding of the research and development process. The ability of Iowa State students to spend a summer in France or vice versa, the intangible benefits of that cultural immersion and understanding, is priceless.”


Students from southern France complete hands-on studies of ancient grains. Photos courtesy of Kurt Rosentrater.
ISU ABE exchange students seal a bag of seed that they have just finished researching in Sukup Hall.
French exchange students are researching ancient grains to improve the nutritional quality of products.