Until now, Indian groundnut farmers have not benefited from the fast growing global confectionary market, as they could not supply high oleic content peanuts as required by the confectionary industry. High oleic peanuts have tenfold lower oxidation compared to normal peanuts, improving its shelf-life from 2 to 9 months. It avoids rancidity and high oleic peanuts have much better flavour. Oleic acid or omega-9 fatty acid which can be found in olive and nuts like almonds also have important health benefits.
Groundnut breeder Dr Janila who led this demand-driven breeding programme since 2011 explains, “Six years ago, we had foreseen this new market demand for high oleic content and we wanted to incorporate this market trait into popular local varieties grown by Indian farmers, by crossing with an American runner type variety rich in oleic acid (Sunoleic 95R). Thanks to new advancements in molecular research and crop improvement tools, we have rapidly and cost-effectively identified a handful of very promising lines adapted to Indian agroecologies. These high oleic varieties have the quality the industry wants and have shown excellent performance in the fields.”
Currently, Indian groundnut farmers grow bunch type groundnut varieties adapted to rainfed environments, early maturing and with rapid filling of the pods after flash rains. Such groundnuts are however low in oleic acid, around 45 to 50% of total fatty acids. Certain groundnut varieties grown in America and in Australia are much richer in oleic acid (above 80%) thanks to specific mutations in the gene coding the enzyme fatty acid desaturase or FAD, which blocks the conversion from oleic acid to linoleic acid.
At present, multinational confectionary companies are sourcing tons of high oleic peanuts from Australia for their Asian processing units, in order to respond to the growing Asian market of peanut-based confectionary products like chocolate bars and breakfast cereals.