By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, email@example.com.
Profile updated July 2012.
Cuphea (koo fee ah) is an oilseed crop that offers potential as an ingredient for toothpastes, shampoos and detergents. It produces a small oilseed that contains high levels of lauric acid, a natural fatty acid, offering an alternative to imported coconut and palm kernel oils. With the fluctuations in price and diminishing supply of coconut and palm kernel oil, U.S. detergent companies are working to develop alternative sources of lauric acid. Procter and Gamble has been involved in developing cuphea for 20 years.
Cuphea's properties are also being researched as an additive for biodiesel with cold-flow properties equivalent to or better than those of petroleum diesel. For example, aircraft fuel thickens below -20 degrees C, creating pumping problems, but the addition of cuphea oil reduces the fuel's freezing point.
The plant genus Cuphea has about 260 species, but only a few of these species are used commercially. It is an annual that is naturally indeterminate, prone to shattering and sticky. Depending on the variety, the plant grows eight to 16 inches tall and is cross- or self-pollinating. It originated from Mexico and Central America. Family Lythraceae offers the best opportunities for commercialization.
Research in recent years has focused on development of a non-shattering, non-dormant species. Field trials in the Midwest suggest the crop could be grown in a corn and soybean rotation using the same farm equipment. Trials have also shown cuphea helped reduce corn rootworm infestations when used in rotation.
Breakthroughs Toward the Domestication of Cuphea, Purdue University, 1993.
Cuphea, National Non-Food Crops Centre, United Kingdom.
Cuphea: A New Plant Source of Medium-chain Fatty Acids, National Institute of Health.
Cuphea, Western Illinois University’s Alternative Crops Research Program.
- 2005 Cuphea Progress in Illinois, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA, 2006 - During the 2005 season, cuphea was grown at five different locations in Illinois. Problems associated with growing cuphea are discussed and how these challenges were addressed. Also, seed yields and herbicides types are addressed as well future planting conditions and locations.
- 2007 Cuphea Progress in Illinois, ARS, USDA, 2007 - Cuphea was grown at two locations. This study looked at different harvest methods and harvest dates.
- Agricultural management of cuphea and potential for commercial production in the northern Corn Belt, Industrial Crops and Products Journal, 24, 2006 - This ARS research project focused on developing best management practices for cuphea production using conventional technologies and minimizing the need for specialized equipment. The long-range goal is to provide an economically viable new crop to help diversify cropping systems in the northern United States.
- Characterization of Cuphea PSR23 Seed Oil, ARS, USDA, 2006.
- A Cornucopia of Domestic Energy Crops, ARS, USDA, 2008 - At present, cuphea is one of the only sources of valuable tropical-style oils that can be grown in the United States.
- Cuphea, Interactive European Network for Industrial Crops and their Applications, 2002 - This report gives information on quality characteristics, market potential and production details of cuphea.
- Cuphea Does Wonders for Wheat and Corn in Rotations, ARS, USDA, 2010.
- Cuphea: New crop designed to replace imported oils, Farm and Ranch Guide, 2005 - This article talks about uses of cuphea. Research indicates that cuphea has the potential to become a major specialty oilseed crop in the United States.
- Making jet fuel in your fields; runway not included, The Land magazine, 2007 - Cuphea seeds contain virtually the same carbon chain used in JP8, the fuel used for military jets, leading USDA researchers to consider this renewable fuel source.
- Producing New U.S. Energy Crops by the Barrel, ARS, USDA, 2008.
- Taming the Wild Cuphea, Biomass magazine, 2007.
- Warm Climate Production of Cuphea species for Florida, University of Florida, 2004 - This publication gives a brief description of different species of cuphea. It also provides production guidelines for cuphea.
Links checked November 2013.