K-State agriculture student develops gluten-free purple wheat

Hayden Field, senior in agronomy, developed purple gluten-free wheat as an undergraduate research project. (File Photo by Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

With a growing demand for all-natural, organic and gluten-free food, an agronomy student in the Kansas State College of Agriculture has spent his college career working on a wheat-based product that could satisfy the growing demand.

Hayden Field, senior in agronomy, completed his four-year undergraduate research project in wheat development.

“We’re in the wheat state, so it only makes sense I did my part to develop a wheat product that is gluten-free without tasting like cardboard,” Field said. “I didn’t always think it was going to be possible, but with the help of some awesome mentors, this product will satisfy the lives of many.”

But this isn’t just gluten-free wheat, Field said. The product, which he has named “Whurple,” was genetically modified to have the “Willie gene,” which means the wheat will be resistant to the colors crimson and blue. And when cooked at a temperature of 1,868 F, the wheat will turn purple.

“It is unfortunate I will not be able to label this wheat as GMO-free to reach that market too, but honestly I think the color purple is worth it,” Field said. “The product is safe and people shouldn’t be afraid of a three-letter acronym. If I’ll feed it to my family, then obviously I know it is safe.”

Field said K-Staters want purple everything, from purple shoes to purple hair, and now they can have purple food too.

“Yeah, there’s purple grapes and purple eggplant, but that’s just not even close to the same category as purple wheat,” Field said. “We needed a purple carb.”

Field said it is a “perfect fact” that purple is now a carb.

“This was the perfect way to combine my love for K-State, Kansas and agriculture,” Field said. “Now people can enjoy purple pancakes, purple biscuits and purple cookies with K-State purple wheat.”

Whurple will be available in select Kansas-area grocery stores starting August 2017.

Eeda Bohl, professor in agricultural economics and lead research adviser to Field, said she could not be more thrilled with how Whurple turned out.

“This is going to satisfy the demand of K-Staters and conscious eaters everywhere,” Bohl said. “The work Field completed is groundbreaking. This opens doors for many food scientists in the area.”

Bohl said she hopes Field will stick with food and product development throughout his career.

“We’ve already been talking about future products,” Bohl said. “With the Willie gene and the agricultural knowledge of Hayden, there is nothing he cannot accomplish. Thanks to him, your next tailgate party can have purple beer, purple cake and purple hamburger buns.”

The wheat is grown in a lab in Waters Hall, where students and faculty can take a tour of the plant.

“I want people to see that labs are not scary, which is why I open my lab to the public,” Field said. “It’s a place full of innovation and inspiration.”

After graduation in May, Field said he is hopeful he will receive a job offer to work for Man-hat-o, the leading sustainable agriculture company.

With the help of a big lab filled with genes of many different products, Field said he can develop products for even the pickiest eaters.

“From fat-free chocolate to cough medicine that actually tastes like bubble gum, I can reach into many different markets,” Field said. “I may have grown up on a farm working hard in a field, but my future is in a lab. That is where the magic of food can happen.”

Jean Tests, product development manager at Man-hat-o, said she is impressed with Whurple and the work coming out of K-State’s College of Agriculture.

“I never thought I would see the day where I could eat gluten-free wheat in my favorite color,” Tests said. “It is safe, it is yummy and it is fun. What more can someone ask for?”

This story is an April Fools’ joke and not intended to be taken seriously.

Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!