Ancient grains for modern trends

by Jeff Gelski
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Perhaps Atahuallpa, while ruling the Incan empire, never bit into a seasoned multigrain cracker featuring quinoa and amaranth. Maybe a strawberry smoothie with chia never brought a smile to the face of an Aztec warrior. Yet consumers in the 21st century have the chance to enjoy the merger of ancient grains and today’s trending food and beverage products. Through proper grain selection and processing techniques, formulators may include ancient grains in such items as gluten-free snacks and ready-to-drink beverages.

Ancient grains are called so because of their links to past civilizations, like quinoa for the Incas and chia for the Aztecs and Mayans. Consumer awareness of the grains appears to be growing. Two reports published in 2013 highlight the trend. In February 2013, Mintel International said 44% of respondents had eaten ancient grains in the past three months, while Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, said global new product launches featuring quinoa grew nearly 50% in the year ended Sept. 30, 2013. Launches of products containing chia increased nearly 50%, too.

The supply of ancient grain ingredients continues to grow.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., this month launched a line of ancient grain ingredients, including quinoa, chia, sorghum and amaranth. The gluten-free, non-bioengineered and kosher ingredients may add protein and fiber to bar and bakery applications, according to the company. They also are a source of whole grain, protein, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. The launch comes after Glanbia Nutritionals opened a grain processing facility in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“Our unique ancient grains bring the pedigree of quinoa, sorghum, amaranth and chia seeds to the modern world,” said Nicole Rees, business development manager, Glanbia Nutritionals. “Designed for 21st century food and beverage applications, our ancient grain ingredients offer clean label appeal to manufacturers and consumers alike. With the recent opening of our new food-grade next generation grain processing facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., we’re set to take ancient grains to the next level.”

Healthier snacks

Ancient grains appeared in many products at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago May 20-22 (see story on Page 57). Boulder Canyon Ancient Grains snack chips contained quinoa, millet, chia and amaranth. Slim Chips popcorn chips combined quinoa, flax, chia and sunflower seeds.

“There are no hard and fast rules governing the use of ancient grains in snack foods, especially considering the wide variety of different types of chips, crackers and other snacks today,” said Elizabeth Arndt, Ph.D., director of research and development for Ardent Mills, Denver.

She said a multigrain blend of sorghum, quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice flours may be used to replace a portion of the flour in traditional wheat flour-based crackers or may be used as the entire flour base in gluten-free crackers. Factors influencing the use of ancient grains in snack chips and crackers are cost and availability.

“The use of well-formulated multigrain blends is a strategy product developers can use to manage flavor, texture, ‘processability’ and cost of snacks made with ancient grains,” Dr. Arndt said.

She said each ancient grain carries its own flavor profile. Sorghum has a slightly sweet, mild flavor that pairs well with grains like corn and wheat that traditionally are used in snacks. Amaranth has been described as earthy with fresh corn husk notes.

“The ancient grains also influence texture differently,” Dr. Arndt said. “For example, whole millet and sorghum flours both impart a crunchiness compared to whole quinoa flour, which lends a softer, smoother bite.”

For bar, cereal and cluster applications, Glanbia Nutritionals supplies ChoiceQuinoa puffed, which provides a soft and crunchy texture and contains nine essential amino acids, and ChoiceSorghum popped, which offers a crunchy bite and popcorn-style appeal. Quinoa was cultivated 5,000 years ago in South America’s Andes mountains, according to Glanbia Nutritionals, while sorghum was grown in Egypt more than 4,000 years ago.

ChoiceAmaranth puffed and ChoiceAmaranth flakes are rich in iron, fiber, protein and lysine. The puffed form of the grain delivers a soft and crunchy texture. The flake format offers visual appeal and a hearty grain texture.

Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass., supplies rye, spelt, amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and buckwheat, said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing. All the ancient grains may work in 
chips and crackers, she said.

“Those that contain gluten (rye and spelt) work particularly well as they form extensible and elastic dough that can be easily sheeted on traditional cracker equipment,” Ms. Zammer said. “The other grains can be applied in chips and crackers as well as flour in the dough, or as particulates and blends for toppings.

“Consumers are seeking more from their snacks today, and the colors and flavors and textures found in ancient grains allow for a unique sensory experience while their protein and fiber content delivers on the nutritional scale.”

The granulation, whether it is a flour, cut, crack, flake or intact whole kernel, will affect the dough development and also may impact the processing of snacks, said Susan Kay, manager, product applications for Bay State Milling.

“If it is a larger particle, there may be tearing or cutting action that occurs during the extruding of sheeting of snack products,” she said. “Added dough strengthening ingredients and perhaps vital wheat gluten will help to minimize the effect of the cutting action of the larger particles. Particle size and hydration would need to be optimized so as to eliminate producing a product that is hard on a consumer’s teeth.”

Dr. Arndt said snacks made with relatively low inclusions of ancient grains at 15% to 25% flour basis may require only minor changes to the formula and process.

“When formulating or reformulating a snack food with ancient grains, product developers must be aware that absorption requirement may vary for different grains, and that in general, doughs made with whole grains absorb more liquid, require less mixing and have lower tolerance to over-mixing,” she said. “The inclusion of ancient grains may influence the ‘sheetability’ and cohesiveness of the dough. It may also be necessary to make adjustments to the baking time and temperature to ensure the target moisture content is achieved while avoiding excessive browning.”

Holding water

Water also comes into play when working with ancient grains in beverages. Processors should understand hydration rate, water-holding capacity and gelatinization properties, Ms. Kay said.

“Some ancient grains (buckwheat and barley) exhibit hydrocolloid-like properties while others will hold little if any water,” she said. “By formulating with other viscosity-building ingredients, a processor would be able to keep the ancient grain flours or particulates in suspension in a beverage application.”

It may be appropriate to use flour or coarse particulates, depending on the target attributes of the beverage, Dr. Arndt said. It is even feasible to include whole or cracked seeds in the right type of beverage.

“There are really no barriers to using ancient grains in beverages, including shelf stable, ready-to-drink beverages and fresh smoothies,” she said.

Factors that product developers must consider when formulating beverages with ancient grains include the effect of starch and fiber on viscosity both during process and in the final product, mouthfeel, settling of particulates, and ease of re-dispersing the particulates, she said. Enzymes have been shown to adjust the viscosity of the beverage. Generally it is easier to formulate grain ingredients into non-clear beverages that are packed in opaque containers, Dr. Arndt said.

Factoria Quinoa USA, L.L.C., Miami, offers Quinoasure, a supplement that may be added to smoothies, juices, soups, salads, dressings or sauces.

Glanbia Nutritionals offers super-finely milled BevGrad chia for ready-to-drink and ready-to-mix beverages. BevGrad chia also has been shown to work in cereal, bars and baked foods. The ingredient is a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.

SelectQuinoa and SelectSorghum pre-gel ingredients from Glanbia Nutritionals may bring enhanced suspension to ready-to-mix and ready-to-drink beverages. In baked foods such as whole grain bread, tortillas and gluten-free applications, the pre-gel ingredients manage moisture and extend shelf life.
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