General Mills seeks to patent high-protein oat variety

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

The most widely cultivated oat varieties such as Avena sativa are not very high in protein
The most widely cultivated oat varieties such as Avena sativa are not very high in protein

Related tags: Amino acid, Oat, General mills

General Mills is seeking to patent a new oat variety with more than double the protein of standard cultivated varieties and a more stable fatty acid profile, making the oats less prone to oxidation. 

In US patent application #20170105379​,​ filed in October 2015 and published in April 2017, General Mills says the protein-packed oats - developed using traditional plant breeding techniques - could be used in “high protein granola bars, hot cereals, cold cereals, snack bars, cookies, gluten-free products, snacks, muffins, pancake mix and the like.”

They could also be used in animal feed, and could increase the protein and iron content of the milk produced by animals that consume them, says General Mills, which uses oats in high-profile brands including Cheerios, Lucky Charms (ready-to-eat cereal) and Nature Valley (oatmeal, granola bars, biscuits, bites).

While attempts have been made to increase the protein content* in common cultivated oats (Avena sativa​) in the past, “little gain has been made in this endeavor​,” claims General Mills, with levels “only increasing from around 10-15% to around 20%.”

Avena magna​, a wild relative of cultivated oat, is a far more promising source of protein, but the plants are not typically suitable for mechanical harvesting because they can lodge and shatter, while the grain can clog threshing and de-hulling machines.

‘This stable and true to form tetraploid oat variety retains a high grain protein content’

However, General Mills claims to have developed a new oat variety with the same high levels of protein as Avenamagna​ that can​ be cultivated using standard farming practices.

“Unlike past attempts at domestication of tetraploid oats, this stable and true to form tetraploid oat variety retains a high grain protein content similar to wild A. magna,” ​reveals General Mills [“at least 18%, or between 28% to 40% grain protein content”​].

The amino acid content of the new oat variety is higher across the board, and especially rich in leucine, arginine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. It also has higher levels of iron, zinc, folic acid, and B vitamins, but lower levels of the soluble fiber beta glucan than A. sativa​ oats.

oats and honey

"A high protein (up to 40%) tetraploid oat variety...  is suitable for large scale oat production using standard farming practices. [It] includes one or more of lodging resistance, shattering resistance, erect growth habit, and seeds similar to traditional cultivated hexaploid oat, A. sativa... [It] can also include a stable fatty acid profile, high iron content, high folic acid content, or high free essential amino acid content...

"[It] may be used as foundational seed in a plant breeding program for development of lines and varieties with high protein content. Oat products produced from the tetraploid oat variety of the invention are also included as well as resultant oat foodstuffs such as high protein granola bars, hot cereals food stuffs, cold cereal foodstuffs, snackbars, cookies, gluten-free products, snacks, muffins, pancake mix and the like."

Patent application US20170105379​ (Applicant: General Mills; inventor: Eric Wayne Jackson)

A more stable fatty acid profile

As for fats, its has higher levels of monounsaturated oleic acid and lower levels of polyunsaturated linoleic acid, delivering a more stable fatty acid profile, which could enable General Mills to create oat products with an extended shelf life and a more favorable flavor profile over their shelf life.

It might also be possible to reduce the use of antioxidants, or even avoid them altogether in some products made with the new oats as a result of their increased stability, says General Mills.

*Typical % by weight of protein in the in the oil-free meal of the mature whole dried seeds.

Read the patent HERE​.

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