Slow Food welcomes purple straw wheat aboard Ark of Taste

French hulless barley has a similar stalk color to purple straw wheat. Wade Spees/Staff

Purple straw wheat -- a grain that Southerners have been turning into biscuits, cake and whiskey since the Colonial era -- has claimed a spot on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.

More than 1000 fruit and vegetable cultivars, prepared foods, livestock breeds and seafood types have been granted Ark status by the international organization devoted to promoting “good, clean and fair food for all.” About 200 of those items come from the U.S. Among the entries associated with South Carolina are benne oil, the Carolina African runner peanut, sorghum syrup, Bradford watermelons and purple ribbon sugar cane.

Items on the Ark are selected for their cultural significance and risk of disappearance. In the case of purple straw wheat, the grain hasn’t been grown commercially for decades: It exists in a few rural pockets and has lately been the object of experimentation by various heirloom seed enthusiasts. Anson Mills is now working to revive the wheat, bolstered by University of South Carolina professor David Shields’ recent finding that its Southern residency dates back to the 1700s.

Once an item has boarded the Ark, Slow Food supports it by serving it at events; providing online links to seed sources and promoting related recipes. To view the complete Ark of Taste list, visit slowfoodusa.org/ark-of-taste-in-the-usa.