Functional flours surge

by Jeff Gelski
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NEW ORLEANS — Gaining fuel from the marketing opportunities of pulses and ancient grains, a functional flour movement may have a promising road ahead of it.

“We are only at the very beginning of this trend in my view,” said Dan Best, president of BestVantage, Inc., which offers food business and technology strategy advice.

He spoke June 24 in New Orleans during a session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition. Two other events there gave credence to potential growth in functional flours.

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., will distribute pulse flours, protein and bran ingredients from Alliance Grain Traders, Inc., which is listed on the Toronto Stock exchange, under an agreement announced by the two companies at the I.F.T. event.

Also, Ardent Mills, Denver, exhibited at the I.F.T. event for the first time. The new company combines the flour milling assets of ConAgra Mills, which has been active in ancient grains for several years, Cargill and CHS, Inc.

Mr. Best said the gluten-free trend stirred activity in functional flour innovation.

“I think the narrative of gluten-free stimulated much of the development in functional flours that we see today,” Mr. Best said. “There’s been a tremendous incentive and impetus for innovation.”

Mr. Best proposed his own definition for functional flours: “Grain and non-grain flours modified to enhance the tangible values of their individual components to the consumer through breeding, blending and/or further processing.”

He said functional flours will face four critical success factors: compelling narratives; tangible and documentable consumer benefits; government/regulatory validation; and scientific validation/verifiable outcomes.

Many narratives might drive pulse flours, he said. Pulses are low in fat and have starches and sugars that affect functionality. They have fiber, protein and are non-bioengineered.

Pulses are lentils, chickpeas, peas and edible beans, said Mehmet Tulbek, Ph.D., director of research and development for AGT. In speaking at the same I.F.T. session as Mr. Best, Dr. Tulbek said pulses have sustainable benefits, too. They use less energy and less fertilizer than many other crops. He gave examples of how pulse flours may be used in pasta, breakfast cereal, extruded snacks and soups.

Like pulse flours, ancient grain flours will need a marketing narrative, Mr. Best said. Several of the ancient grains have protein benefits and/or gluten-free.

“Find a narrative that’s going to withstand the onslaught of all these other competing narratives in the market place,” he said. “You need a good story. If you want to put teff in a product, come up with a reason that benefits the consumer.”

Telling the story of quinoa’s origin in the Andes mountains in South America is one strong narrative, he said.

Ardent Mills will have resources to assist customers in working with functional flours and other ingredient innovations. The company launched its Ardent Mills Innovation Center at I.F.T. The bakery, culinary kitchen and meeting space in the center may be used to deliver on-site support to customers.

Wheat flour may belong to the functional flour trend, too. Janet Carver, culinary group manager for Ingredion, gave an example in her I.F.T. presentation.

She said the company worked with John Folse, a chef from the R’Evolution restaurant in New Orleans, to figure out how seafood sauce piquante St. James, a high-end restaurant item, potentially might be produced on a large enough scale for sale at retail. Homecraft Create 765, a functional wheat flour, and Novation Prima 600, a functional native starch, were used to create a seafood sauce piquante St. James that was offered at Ingredion’s I.F.T. booth.
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