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In North Africa, it’s all about the colour

The bright yellow colour of Canadian durum gives it an advantage in this competitive market

In Morocco, most durum is processed into couscous, a staple product that’s usually mixed with meat, vegetables and spices.

For North African customers of Canadian durum, yellow is more than just the colour of the food products processed from it. Millers and processors view the bright yellow that Canadian Western Amber Durum (CWAD) wheat provides as a crucial trait for their pasta and couscous quality.

Couscous is a popular traditional dish in the region, a granular product made from durum semolina, a coarse flour which is produced by milling the kernel’s endosperm. It is cooked by steaming and typically served with meat and vegetables.

Earlier this year Cigi conducted its first durum investigative mission to Morocco and Algeria, gathering market information on behalf of the Canadian value chain to ensure CWAD quality continues to meet customer requirements. Cigi staff visited mills and couscous- and pasta-processing companies in both countries as well as an Algerian testing laboratory.

“We don’t have a lot of experience with couscous and have tried to find out more from customers on programs at Cigi but unless you visit their facilities and talk to people there, you don’t get the same sense of what they require,” says Elaine Sopiwnyk, Cigi’s director of grain quality. “It may sound simplistic to say it’s all about colour, but we found out it is all about colour.”

Esey Assefaw, Cigi’s head of Asian products and pasta technology, says the visits revealed that customers were more than satisfied with higher-quality CWAD of which 100 per cent is usually used in premium products, adding that there is market segmentation with low-, medium- and high-quality products. Companies that Cigi visited manufacture both couscous and pasta, with the latter usually viewed more as a value-added side product in bigger processing operations in the region.

“This was Cigi’s first mission to North Africa aside from new crop missions where we present annual crop-quality data to customers,” he says. “We haven’t had an opportunity before to visit mills and processing companies in these countries to get a firsthand look at their markets. We found that the most important requirement in their products was the excellent yellow colour that CWAD gives and which currently faces no competition in the market.”

In Algeria, CWAD is occasionally blended with locally grown durum for a lower-quality pasta product for the domestic market or for export to price-conscious Sub-Saharan African markets, Assefaw says. CWAD is only rarely blended in Morocco with durum from another origin such as France when availability of higher-grade CWAD is limited. More couscous is produced in Morocco than in Algeria which processes more pasta.

“We were told that women, who are primarily responsible for grocery shopping, can go to the supermarket and determine couscous quality based on colour,” Sopiwynk says. “It’s common that their couscous or pasta is purchased from stores selling bulk products and pasta is sold as short goods like rotini rather than spaghetti which would break if sold that way. Middle- or upper-class consumers might go to a grocery store where premium products would be sold as packaged goods with brand names.”

Sopiwynk says the only concern raised during the visit was about DON levels and the impact on imported durum, which emphasizes a need to look at developing fusarium resistance in CWAD (DON or deoxynivalenol, also known as vomitoxin, may be present in fusarium head blight infecting wheat or barley).

Customers indicated protein is also important but not as critical as colour, Sopiwynk says. Hard vitreous kernels or HVK (vitreousness, or translucence, indicates kernel hardness) are related to protein content and milling quality. A certain percentage is required to achieve a higher grade of CWAD from which a better quality semolina is milled.

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