Covid-19 increases interest in non-genetically modified ancient wheat flour

08 December 20207 min reading

Yusuf Okur  Okurlar
Chairman of the Board

“In the pandemic period, people show more interest in healthy and additive-free products in order to eat healthier and strengthen the immune system. In line with this trend, we see that the interest in the products we produce from ancient seeds and wheat is increasing day by day. Especially our consumers who bake sourdough bread at home prefer our products. I can say that almost every segment of consumers shows interest in our products.”

The interest in products produced from ancient seeds and wheat, whose consumption has increased rapidly in recent years, is rising. Many people who want to keep the immune system strong turned to different bakery products particularly because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has turned our lives upside down throughout the last year.

Several flours such as quinoa, farro, einkorn, purple wheat, oats, rye and buckwheat flour attract great attention of consumers. Okurlar Food and Agriculture, which has been active in the field of pulses, rice and flour for more than 50 years, is among the companies that are not indifferent to this field. Yusuf Okur, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Okurlar Food, says that they are trying to respond to the demands by processing the ancient seeds that have been trending in the world and the ancient kinds of wheat that have survived until today by preserving their genetics for centuries in modern stone mills with their 50 years of experience and know-how.

Answering the questions of Miller Magazine, Yusuf Okur states that the ancient seed issue has been among the trending topics not only in Turkey but also all over the world for the last few years and that people now demand such additive-free products to strengthen their immune system.

Hello, Mr. Okur. Could you give us information about Okurlar Food and your work for over half a century? How was your story from Samsun tracing to Edirne?
Okurlar Food, Agriculture, Industry, Trade Limited Liability Company was established by Eşref Okur in Samsun in 1968 to operate in the food sector. After working many years in Samsun, he activated the rice plant in 1995 in Edirne, Uzunköprü, which is considered the center of rice production.

Our company has been cultivating paddy since 2000. We carry out paddy cultivation on approximately 14000 decares of land. 11000 decares of this are abroad while 3000 are within Turkey. The company has a capacity of 300 tons of paddy rice processing within 24 hours using the highest level of technology in the sector with a closed area of approximately 20000 square meters.

You are a well-established company operating in the pulses industry for years. How do you assess the situation in Turkey's pulses sector?
We hit the road against the industrial food products in Turkey for the first time in 2018 and since then we have been producing traditional products without using any food additives, preservatives or chemicals. In addition, as a company, we aim to produce products such as quinoa, amaranth, teff, Beluga lentil, black chickpea, black rice and buckwheat, which are among the trends of the rapidly the changing world, in our country and make them available in wide areas to all segments of the society with an affordable price policy.

Our legumes include Beluga Lentils, Mercimix, Quinoa, Black Chickpeas, Red rice, and Black rice. We are also producing bulghur varieties with these ancient and ancestral seeds. Quinoa, Farro and einkorn bulghur are among our most demanded bulghur varieties.

As a company, we have ISO-9001/ISO-22000 quality certificated. Also, we have obtained the BRC certificate, which is an internationally recognized food safety document. We are quite sensitive about food safety.

You are a company specialized in pulses and especially rice. You have recently broken into the flour market with many different products. Can you tell us your story of flour? How is the interest in these products?
Wheat and bread have been one of the most significant food sources of human being both in the past and today. These two have great cultural, social and historical value apart from nutrition. Wheat is a respected and sacred product due to the great value it carries. Wheat has an increasingly important role in the nutrition of people not only for Turkey but also all over the world.

However, despite its great significance, it has been recently reported that wheat is a very harmful product that triggers diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and that it is a genetically modified organism that should not be consumed by humans as a consequence of improvement studies.

Starting from this point, we use traditional non-genetically modified grains and pulses as an alternative to industrial wheat flours and produce different types of flour such as chickpea, lentil, quinoa, farro, einkorn, karakilcik, (dinkel) spelt purple wheat, oat, rye, buckwheat and black rice flour with traditional methods in our modern stone mills. We carry out production in its natural form without adding any additives as in the past. Our products meet with consumers through national markets, organic shops and internet sales.

What is the reason for you to produce in “Stone Mills” instead of roller mills making zero-touch production in the milling industry that has undergone a great change?
The reason why we prefer particularly the stone mills is also due to health issues. As you know, low-speed grinding and low-temperature processing do not harm the nutrients in wheat.

For this reason, flours processed in stone mills include the maximum amount of nutrients such as protein, gluten, carotene, carbohydrate, calcium, phosphorus, iron, B1, B2, etc. Especially the amounts of carotene and vitamin E in flour produced by stone mills are 18 times higher than in other flours.

Its low speed grinding feature preserves the molecular structure of the flour without any additives. While the surface of stone flour is light yellow when cooking noodles, other soups containing additives are white. Stone mill flour retains the original wheat flavor.

Has the pandemic increased interest in your products? Particularly which segments are interested in these flours?
In the pandemic period, people show more interest in healthy and additive-free products in order to eat healthier and strengthen the immune system. In line with this trend, we see that the interest in the products we produce from ancient seeds and wheat is increasing day by day. Especially our consumers who bake sourdough bread at home prefer our products. I can say that almost every segment of consumers shows interest in our products.

You have been operating in Edirne, Uzunköprü which is considered to be the center of rice production in Turkey. How did climate change affect rice production?
As a company, we have been cultivating paddy abroad since 2013. We bring these products also to Turkey. Moreover, we cultivate paddy in our own land in Edirne, Turkey. In our country, there has been an increase in the cultivation areas in the pulses sector in recent years. Nonetheless, imports still continue. The yield has increased particularly with the increase of new varieties in paddy in the last years and I can say that foreign dependency in paddy is completely over.

Climate changes reduce harvest productivity in rice production. Therefore, with the cultivation of all arable land, we may be less affected by these yield losses. In addition, the agricultural support provided by the government to the farmers should be further increased.

What kind of measures have you taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Has it affected your investments?
Our facilities are regularly disinfected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All of our personnel fall within the production phase, taking into account the necessary warnings (mask, hygiene, distance). In addition, our company established a separate gluten-free facility, considering our customers with gluten sensitivity. Buckwheat (Greçka) and Pulses flour (Chickpea, Rice, Lentil, Corn, etc.) are produced in this facility. Human health is vital to us. That is why the rules are meticulously followed throughout all our production stages. If you have any final comments, we would be more than happy to hear them. I can say only this: Our aim on this road we started with the slogan "Healthy Eating is Everyone's Right" is to introduce our products to our consumers at more affordable prices and to ensure continuity.

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