Using Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 2nd edition in the classroom

In this case study, Professor and Co-Editor Colin Wrigley delves into why the updated Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 2nd Edition is a trustworthy learning tool for University of Hong Kong students.

Reliable information is the key to successful research and learning

How do researchers and educators measure the value of an encyclopedia in these days of instant information? Web search engines offer speed of access but no guarantee that the online information is reliable. The validity of general internet sources of information often goes unchallenged, which can lead to failed experimentation, faulty research results – or worse.

When it comes to grains, nutrition and the many grain-based foods in our diet, much of the popular media reporting is incorrect or biased. Errors can be attributed to journalistic carelessness, ignorance or a lack of adequate research from factual sources. There’s no doubt that nutrition “sells” in today’s media, with topics such as gluten-free diets, obesity, genetically modified organisms (GMO), and organic agriculture the primary focus. But disseminating questionable information is a disservice to the public…and not what researchers, educators and students need to advance their work in developing breakthroughs related to this foundation of the world’s food supply.

Elsevier’s recently published Encyclopedia of Food Grains, Second Edition is a welcome answer to the need for reliable information. It’s both a print and electronic resource (available online via Elsevier’s ScienceDirect) prepared by world-recognized authorities, in which all facts have been thoroughly checked and re-checked, and are backed by citations of refereed publications. The Encyclopedia is an in-depth reference covering all areas of grain science. It includes everything from the genetics of grains to the commercial, economic and social aspects of this vital food source.

Global significance of grains considered in updating the Encyclopedia

More than ever before, people care about grain-based foods, about what they eat, about their health, and about longevity. Grain production worldwide continues at the rate of one kilogram of grain per day for each person on earth! Grain foods are a key source of nutrition throughout the world. They offer the enduring advantage that they can be stored safely for long periods and thus transported far from where they are grown. Also, grains are notably adaptable into a wide range of foods.

Therefore, Elsevier focused on foods and nutrition in creating the second edition of its Encyclopedia of Food Grains. The four-volume work contains more than 200 articles on food grains. It includes an initial volume on the basics of grain species (“The World of Food Grains”); a second volume accentuating human well-being, the consumer, food intolerances and grain components (“Nutrition and Food Grains’); a third volume on “Grain-Based Products and Their Processing;” and a final volume covering “The Production and Genetics of Food Grains.” Written from an international perspective, the Encyclopedia is well organized and accessible.

Putting the Encyclopedia to use in the classroom

Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 2nd Edition provides a valuable resource for the development of a customized textbook and reading-list material for a wide range of food science and technology, nutrition, and agricultural courses. By beginning their investigation on a topic with an authoritative, technically based, yet accessibly written overview, university students learn the importance of seeking out credible information and building on it through critical analysis.

To facilitate teaching, each article in the Encyclopedia begins with “Topic Highlights” and “Learning Objectives.” In addition, hyperlinks are provided to related articles, enabling students to explore further within the four volumes of the Encyclopedia. There are exercises and suggestions for further research at the end of each article. These can form the basis for class assignments or as starting points for students to consider if they seek to develop ideas for individual or group research projects.

With formal instruction in mind, university course outlines are constructed to suit combinations of articles selected to follow through on a specific theme, with cross-references leading to further detail in related articles in the Encyclopedia. For example, a lecture series on “Canola as a Crop” would work through articles on oilseeds (overview), canola (as a species), canola and oilseeds in human nutrition (including the chemistry of the constituents), canola production, agronomy, harvesting, marketing, processing, and finally the breeding and genetics of canola and related oilseeds. The instructor would base each lecture in a course on one or two of these articles from the Encyclopedia, with students accessing the articles via the university’s web.

Digging deeper with the Encyclopedia in grain production and use course

Professor Harold Corke teaches an upper-level undergraduate course at the University of Hong Kong called “Grain Production and Utilization,” which covers global grain production and consumption and the international grain trade. Having taught this course for 20 years, Dr. Corke can explain the underlying concepts and ideas in great depth. Yet he finds that students can be surprisingly unfamiliar with the basics of cereal and other grain production and usage, even though they live facing the giant agricultural expanses of mainland China.

Many students may be unclear on the basic formulation of baked bread, and most do not know about yeast or other leavening agents, why their favorite rice has the texture it does, or why bioethanol is not going to replace petroleum-based fuels. So they can be referred to Volume 3 of the Encyclopedia, which covers the wide range of grain-based food products and their processing providing them with the foundational knowledge required to advance their studies.

Using the Encyclopedia to see the bigger picture

Although not all students will become professional food technologists, the theme, “Food Sufficiency and the Global Future” can help them realize that food grains are at the heart of human economic life, from bread and rice to sweeteners, to meat (via animal feeding), to soy proteins. The emphasis in this course could be on the interactions among technology and markets in producing, processing and distributing grain products. Using the Encyclopedia brings these basic principles alive for the students.

Another major part of the course concerns the global-scale patterns of economic growth and land utilization that determine the production, import and export of food. For these topics, the lecturer can draw, for example, on a series of nine Encyclopedia chapters “Grains around the World,” covering production, consumption and research worldwide. This enables students to consider issues such as, “If oil costs $40 a barrel, or $200 a barrel, who will eat and who will starve?”, “Can agriculture (bioethanol and biodiesel) provide meaningful contributions to fuel production?” and “Where will the grains for meat production for China come from?” For students who will go on to jobs outside the food sciences – and who will remain life-long consumers – the valuable facts they have absorbed from Encyclopedia of Food Grains will allow them to work and live with a higher level of insight.

Research improves with expanded Encyclopedia use

For students who continue on with grain science and food technology in post-graduate research, the encyclopedia concept is extremely valuable. Because of its comprehensive coverage, it augments the limited extent to which basic concepts could be included in undergraduate courses. In the post-graduate stage of a student’s development, many find the four volumes of the Encyclopedia most useful, for both on-the-spot reference and for the citations that take the student deeper and wider in the exploration. It is a valuable and, authoritative resource to fill in knowledge gaps.

The Encyclopedia of Food Grains has a vast audience beyond the students, professors and researchers at University of Hong Kong and institutions of higher education around the world. Its contemporary and dynamic contents can aid public and private agricultural, food and nutrition research institutes, as well as major commercial firms engaged in trading, breeding or processing cereal commodities. Many people are working tirelessly to improve the yield of grain crops. With the paramount role of cereals as a global food source, this Encyclopedia will continue to be the standard reference work in the field of grain science for years to come.

Contributed by:

Colin Wringley

Dr. Colin W. Wrigley, Honorary Professor, QAAFI, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Colin Wrigley’s 54 years in grain-science research have earned him international recognition, in the form of several international and Australian research awards. His work is described in about 600 research publications, including several patents, a series of eight books on Australian cereal varieties and many edited books. He was Editor-in-Chief of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Grain Science (2004). His research interests have centred on the characterisation of cereal-grain proteins in relation to processing quality. This has involved developing new methods of protein fractionation, including gel isoelectric focusing and its two-dimensional combination with gel electrophoresis, leading into proteomic mapping. Other diagnostic methods developed relate to the evaluation of grain quality in wheat and barley, such as better methods for variety identification and for characterizing quality in starch and sprouted grain (as co-patentee of the Rapid ViscoAnalyser). Research involvement has also included elucidation of grain-quality variation due to environmental factors (heat stress, fertiliser use, CO2 levels and storage conditions). In 2009, Dr Wrigley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) “for service to primary industry, particularly to grain science as a researcher, and to the development of methods for improving wheat quality.” He is currently an Honorary Professor at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.