The untapped potential of ancient grains

by Laurie Gorton
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Ancient grains, added to the mix about a decade ago, still have plenty of untried uses. Changing consumer demographics play a big part. “Based on survey work we conducted in the spring with artisan bakers, we have seen increased usage of spelt, millet and rye in whole grain flour formats,” said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing, Bay State Milling, Quincy, MA. Attention is also going to sprouted grains and seeds, with applications including commercial baking. “Reasoning for these changes includes a changing consumer demographic with more ethnic populations as well as the millennial generation seeking unique flavors and textures as well as increased nutrition from the foods they eat.”

Perceived nutritional aspects can be significant, according to Todd Giesfeldt, mill R&D senior manager, Didion Milling, Johnson Creek, WI. Ancient grains generally offer high protein, fiber and minerals such as the high calcium level found in teff. “These attributes are not necessarily better than modern whole grains like wheat, and the benefits can be diluted out if mixed with modern whole grain,” he said. “Still consumers can find products with these ancient grains mixed with more modern, and conventional, whole grains, appealing from a health point of view.”

Barley, corn, rye and sorghum represent interesting opportunities.

For example, high-fiber whole grain barley provides an IP source low in starch and high in soluble dietary fiber. “It has three times the fiber of oats and corn flour and 10 times the fiber of brown rice," said Zack Sanders, marketing director, Ardent Mills, Denver.

Like oats, barley’s soluble fiber offers a nutritional advantage, one that enables a heart-health claim. Tim Aschbrenner, director of flour quality, Grain Craft, explained, “Barley and oat grains contain high levels of soluble beta-glucan, which can lower cholesterol reabsorption in the gut leading to healthier blood cholesterol levels and lowering the risk of heart disease. New research is being done to increase this property in wheat.”

Whole grain corn is seeing more use. While a familiar ingredient for snack foods, its bakery use has lagged until now.

Matt Gennrich, research food technologist, Cargill, Wayzata, MN, described sensory work testing school foodservice products made with up to 51% whole grains and including some corn flour. “The students did have some preference for those made with corn flour,” he said.

Rye is high on the list of whole grains with untapped potential. “It has a unique flavor unto itself and is packed with fiber and other micronutrients that consumers are falling short of,” Ms. Zammer said. Rye’s image as an old-fashioned grain could help it. “Rye should fall into the cache of ancient grains given its long history of consumption and minimal hybridization and should be looked upon as an opportunity to use it new ways,” she added.

Tim Devey, corporate marketing manager, Honeyville, Inc., Rancho Cucamonga, CA, described wheat, rye and barley as highly available and accessible grains when it comes to mass production of baked foods. “These basic grains have been used for centuries to create baked goods that have lasted the ages,” he said. “It is important for formulators, as they are working to develop new cutting edge baked goods, to remember the versatility and history of the basic grains.”

Sorghum brings to the formulator’s bench its low tannin content and neutral flavor. “Until recently, it had the stigma of being an animal feed,” explained Judie Giebel, technical services representative and AIB Certified Baker, Briess Malt & Ingredients, Chilton, WI. “But it is very nutritious and sustainable.”

“And economical,” added Shawn Kohlmeier, food division product manager, Briess Malt & Ingredients.

With so many unique grains now available with supply assurance and many formats, it’s important to match the grain and form to the application. To advise its customers, SK Food International starts first by asking how much wheat is used in the starting formula. “Then we look at grains such as rye, barley, millet and buckwheat,” said Jennifer Tesch, sales and marketing director, SK Food International, Fargo, ND. “Getting more specialized, we can bring in amaranth, quinoa and teff. Then we look at adding sprouted grains, which have much potential.”

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