Eleven storeys above Portage and Main, Japanese food scientists might watch their new batch of noodles slide through a processing belt.
Is macaroni pasta?
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Macaroni is not pasta, according to Cereals Canada. And your strands of spaghetti are not noodles.
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’m having noodles with spaghetti sauce,’ and I’m like, ‘No, please don’t do that,’” said Kasia McMillin, a Cereals Canada expert in Asian end products and pasta technology.
Noodles (including Kraft Dinner) are made with common wheat. Pasta, like spaghetti, uses durum wheat.
Steps away, workers from Britain’s largest bakery could be choosing the best flour for their crumpets and pan breads.
It’s not unusual for Italians to test their pasta’s consistency — al dente is ideal — in Cereals Canada’s headquarters at 303 Main St., or for Nigerians to crank the heat in a lab to check wheat durability.
Agriculture experts from across the globe have walked through the downtown building’s doors for 50 years. Over the next 50, Cereals Canada will be crucial to the world’s food security, according to CEO Dean Dias.
“We as Canada have a big role to play,” Dias said. “Wheat is probably a staple diet for almost all parts of the world, and it’s countries like Canada that are the big exporters that have to contribute.”
Canada exported $8.3 billion in wheat in 2021, according to Statistics Canada.
“Our goal is to be front and centre, making sure companies that want cereal crops from Canada will get the support they need,” Dias said.
More than 51,000 customers have used Cereals Canada’s services. Folks travel to Winnipeg to test Canadian cereal crops — including wheat, oats and barley — and determine how best to use the crops in their products.
Cereals Canada staff advise customers on creating more efficient mills and using fewer resources, Dias said. The non-profit works on research, policy and regulations relating to climate change, he added.
“There is a need for more wheat, but we have to do it with less resources and we have to do it with less land,” Dias said. “That’s a challenge we all have to face.”
The demand for wheat is something Canada has increasingly felt upon Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau visited Cereals Canada Tuesday for a 50th anniversary news conference.
“When I travel, my counterparts — ministers of agriculture and other ministers around the world — are turning to Canada to see if we can produce more,” Bibeau said.
Wheat and canola producers are expecting higher production, she noted. However, “it’s hard to make changes at the last minute” to planting, she said.
Canada has helped Ukraine acquire mobile storage facilities because some of their agricultural infrastructure has been destroyed, Bibeau said. Canada has also sent lab equipment.
Last year, Ukraine was the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat. Russia, the United States and Australia were the largest exporters, according to Statistics Canada.
Canada came fourth, following a drought in the Prairies.
“(We must) make sure that if we can produce it, we can get it to our customer,” Dias said.
He’s concerned about future logistics — cereals crops are often transported via rail to ports.
“We can grow it, but can we be the consistent supplier of it at all times?” Dias said, noting there should be a focus on infrastructure.
Meantime, food scientists from abroad continue to visit Cereals Canada’s facility.
A delegate from Warburtons, a leading bakery company in the United Kingdom, comes every fall.
“It’s a very close relationship that we have,” said Michael Hamer, a scientist with Warburtons.
The Brits assess Canadian wheats in Winnipeg and test-bake goods in the 11th floor bakery. Lately, severe weather has caused Warburtons to make “more informed wheat selections,” Hamer said.
“We’re selecting wheat that has performed within maybe more extreme conditions,” he said. “That’s why it’s so essential, the work that we do with Cereals Canada.”
Cereals Canada also sends staff abroad to train others and troubleshoot.
Kasia McMillin, an expert in Asian end products and pasta technology, visited a Chinese client who uses Canadian wheat in their instant noodles.
After some tinkering, Cereals Canada concluded a salt ingredient in the mixing process needed changing.
Mainly, though, McMillin is found in Main Street’s noodle and pasta labs.
The noodle conveyor belt on the 11th floor was craned in. The windows had to be removed, McMillin said. It’s the only machine of its kind in North America, she added.
Still, the roughly 35,000 square foot space is becoming outdated. A change is needed, according to Dias.
“We were state of the art in 1972,” Dias said. “We want to be state of the art moving forward as well.”
He’s scouting an energy-efficient building downtown — one that can accommodate Cereals Canada’s current offerings, plus more, like a space for plant protein testing.
“We need to be more versatile and more flexible on all the new products that are coming out,” Dias said.
Cereals Canada has worked with more than 55 countries during its five-decade existence. Its headquarters is also home to the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre, a pilot brewery.
The non-profit was originally called the Canadian International Grains Institute.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.