A team of scientists from Hyderabad’s Indian Institute of Oilseeds Research (ICAR-IIOR) has successfully developed and tested three new varieties of safflower cultivars with an oleic content of up to 75 percent, which is similar to the level of oleic content found in olive oil.

Not only do the cultivars possess a higher level of oleic content in comparison to standard safflowers (which contain between 16-20 percent oleic content), but they are also free from genetic modification.

The scientific team responsible for the development was led by Anjani Kammili (from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research) and Praduman Yadav (from the Directorate of Oilseeds Research). Their detailed findings will be released in the Industrial Crops and Products Journal in September 2017. The ICAR-IIOR reports to India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education and Ministry of Agriculture as an autonomous body responsible for coordinating agricultural education and research in the country.

To develop the cultivars, a cost effective, environment-friendly classical breeding approach was taken by crossing a low- and high-oleic genotype of safflower, resulting in the three non-genetically modified high-oleic lines of safflowers.

These lines (named ISF-1, ISF-2 and ISF-3) were tested at 10 different locations across India under dry and irrigated conditions, making them the first first oleic safflower cultivars developed for growth under Indian conditions.

Testing of the cultivar’s fatty acid composition revealed that all three lines consistently displayed high oleic acid content across the various locations and across differing environmental conditions, making their oleic acid highly stable. As a result of these findings, the study has denoted that the safflower’s oleic content, oil content and seed yield can therefore be improved through simple classical breeding.

The development forms part of a contractual research project funded by Marico Limited, an Indian consumer goods company with a large stake in the local edible oil market. The company has licensed two of the high-oleic safflower lines for three years. Large scale commercial production has already been initiated, with production expected to increase soon.

India is currently the world’s second-largest safflower growing country. By increasing the quality of the safflower oil being produced, the market value of the product can be improved, while reducing the country’s reliance on imported high oleic edible oil.

Safflower oil with a higher oleic content has a higher oxidative stability, making it suitable for deeper and longer frying of food. It also has a higher single point saturation, making it suitable for use in the oleochemical industry in everything from biofuels and cosmetics to soaps and detergents.

While high oleic content safflower cultivars have been developed before by other countries, none have been indigenously developed and proven to thrive in an Indian ecosystem. And as the commercial cultivation of genetically modified food crops is currently prohibited in India, a non-genetically modified cultivar is necessary if the end result is to be an edible oil product.

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