LUBBOCK, Texas -- Cotton varieties producing high-protein seeds that humans can eat have existed for years, but industry officials are hoping a Japanese firm's recent investment will trigger renewed American interest.
The Yazaki Corp. of Shizuoka, Japan, bought Rogers Delinted Cottonseed Co. of Waco, Texas -- the primary firm that developed edible seed labeled 'Cot-N-Nuts.'
The seed comes from varieties called glandless cotton. And although it might be years before many farmers could be convinced it their worth, the High Plains provide an ideal environment, said Rogers spokesman David Bush.
Cottonseed now is used primarily for cattle feed because the glands in the cotton's seeds, stems and leaves produce the pigment gossypol, which is toxic to humans.
But glandless cottonseeds, containing no gossypol, are higher in protein than any other nut and can be used in cooking.
'Glandless cotton is of major significance to the farmer as well as to the consumer because the cotton fiber can continue to be used for clothing, cottonseed oil is already in widespread use, and the glandless cottonseed can become a valuable nutritional resource for an increasing world population,' the company said.
Glandless cotton was developed from a strain found on Arizona's Hopi Indian Reservation in 1950. But farmers and agriculture researchers had not shown much interest before because early varieties produced a low fiber quality.
Rogers started a breeding program for improved glandless cotton varieties in 1967.
'We didn't have the varieties. They were not productive enough, but we do now,' Bush said. 'We're coming up with some really good cotton varieties. We pay premium for the seed.'
Farmers producing glandless cotton sell the seed back to Rogers for a price above the oil meal price. They also collect revenue from the plant's fiber, Bush said.
'We're amazed that it hasn't caught on before now, but there are a lot of countries -- especially Japan -- that use vegetable protein. That's going to make it work ... this international connection,' Bush said.
Although the varieties could be grown in many cotton-producing areas, Bush said West Texas appears to be the most promising because producers use fewer pesticides and because the area has limited rainfall amounts.
Rain causes discoloration of the plant and changes the amino acid composition, he said.
Bush said farmers could take glandless cotton to any gin, but the gin would have to process the glandless cotton separately from other cotton. The gin also would have to be cleaned before processing the glandless varieties.
'It's caught in a hopper by itself,' Bush said. 'You don't have to have a glandless gin at this point, but we hope to get gins as we build up our acreages.'
The glandless cottonseed could be sent from West Texas gins to a processing plant in Wacowhere it would be dehulled and then sieved to separate the large kernels from small or broken ones.
The kernels would be roasted for 'Cot-N-Nuts.' They also can be flattened into flakes. The roasted kernels taste somewhat like sunflower seeds.
They can be eaten as a snack food, ground into flour or blended to make glandless cottonseed butter similar to peanut butter, the company said.
Texas A&M University has published a 48-page 'Cottonseed Cookery' cook book. Recipes include everything from cotton-fried chicken and cottonseed-stuffed fish to burritos, soups, salads, breads and pralines.
Scientists at the Texas A&M and the Texas Woman's University at Denton, Texas, conducted reseach on glandless cotton supported by Cotton Inc., Texas Natural Fibers and Food Protein Commission and the Texas Department of Agriculture.
'It promises to help provide nutritional balance to many protein-poor areas of the world along with textile fibers, whole new industries and added employment,' the company said.