Cotton seeds are held for a photograph in a factory which produces oil from the product in Wankaner, India. (Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg)

You Could Soon Be Eating Cotton 

(Bloomberg) -- Americans may soon be eating cotton for the first time -- not just wearing it -- as a new edible variety is poised to enter the market.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the green light to commercialize a biotech version of the cotton plant whose seeds can be eaten, according to Texas A&M University, which developed it over more than two decades. U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval is still needed, which the university said it expects within months. After that, farmers will be able to grow cotton for food as well as for fiber.

Texas A&M professor Keerti Rathore started working on the project 23 years ago, and figured out how to silence a gene in the plant that produced a toxin, called gossypol. While gossypol protects the plant from insects, it made the seeds inedible to humans and most animals.

“It’ll taste like hummus,” Rathore said. “It’s not at all unpleasant.”

It will be several years before farmers can grow it commercially, as seed supplies have to be ramped up starting next season, said Kater Hake, a vice president at Cotton Inc., which does research and marketing for growers and funded the project.

There’s a lot of protein in cottonseeds -- enough to meet the daily requirements of 600 million people should all cotton in the world be replaced with edible varieties, Hake said by telephone.