Two grains are bucking from tradition in ways that potentially may boost the grain-based foods industry, such as in increasing protein levels in products and expanding gluten-free formulation options.

Traditionally, quinoa has been grown in Bolivia and Peru. Now U.S. researchers want to find out how the grain, which is gluten-free and has a high protein level, will fare on farmland in the Pacific Northwest.

Traditionally, sorghum has been used as animal feed in the United States. Now, formulators are finding ways to use the gluten-free grain in pancakes, pizza and other grain-based foods.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $1.6 million grant to Washington State University researchers for their efforts to find ways and reasons to grow quinoa. The W.S.U. project aims to identify the best varieties suited for organic production in the Pacific Northwest, develop best management practices for production, and assess market demand and future marketing options for quinoa growers and sellers.

Quinoa is adaptable to many environmental and climatic conditions, said Kevin Murphy, Ph.D., a plant breeder at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. It may grow in a range of soil pH, and it tolerates light frost and late rains.

“Quinoa grows well in regions that do not typically reach temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit during the period of pollen formation,” he said. “Additionally, quinoa thrives in areas that receive little to no rainfall during seed maturity.”

A graduate student at W.S.U. is trying to find a range of prices farmers might receive for growing quinoa, Dr. Murphy said.

“We don’t know the expected prices for quinoa at this stage, but it currently retails from $2.50 to $7 per lb,” he said.

Washington State University plans to host an international quinoa research symposium Aug. 12-14 in Pullman. It will bring together researchers, farmers, distributors and consumers. Farm tours will highlight field demonstrations on four farms. Event sponsors include Earthbound Farm, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Clif Bar Family Foundation — Seed Matters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Washington State University.

A majority of the world’s quinoa is grown on a 14,000-foot Andean plateau spanning parts of Peru and Bolivia, according to the United Nations, which has called 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa.” Bolivia and Peru account for more than half of the world’s 70,000 tons of quinoa produced annually.

Besides being gluten-free, quinoa has essential amino acids. Whereas it cost less than $70 per ton a decade ago, quinoa sold for more than $2,000 per ton in 2013, according to the F.A.O. of the United Nations.

Other areas in the world are working to increase supply. Canada, China, Denmark, Italy, India, Kenya, Morocco and The Netherlands are producing or undertaking agronomic trials toward commercial production of quinoa, according to the United Nations.

The United Nations wants to engage with international agricultural research centers and national research centers on a global research network and gene bank database to maintain the crop’s 120 variations.

Quinoa may be prepared in several ways, including whole grain, raw or toasted flour, flakes, semolina and instant powder, according to the United Nations. Protein levels fluctuate between 12.5% and 16.7%. Quinoa contains iron and calcium.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, or goosefoot) technically is not a cereal grain, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston. It is a “pseudo-cereal,” a name for foods that are cooked and eaten like grains and have a similar nutrient profile.

This year innovations have come from suppliers of quinoa ingredients.

DeutscheBack GmbH & Co. KG, Ahrensburg, Germany, introduced three new baking premixes in TopBake quinoa bread, TopSweet quinoa pound cake and TopSweet quinoa cup cake. TopBake quinoa bread, a concentrate, was created for a mixture of 90% wheat flour and 10% quinoa flour. The two TopSweet items may work in applications using quinoa flour, vegetable oil and wheat flour.

Novel Ingredient Services, West Caldwell, N.J., became the exclusive U.S. distributor (neutraceutical market) for Quinoasure, a quinoa powder suitable for use as an ingredient in foods, beverages, dietary supplements and meal replacements. The company also services Canada and Mexico.

Available in both conventional and organic form, Quinoasure is odorless, virtually tasteless and has better mouthfeel than quinoa grain, according to Novel Ingredient Services.

Factoria Quinoa, Bogota, Colombia, uses proprietary technology to develop and manufacture Quinoasure, which is produced using a Fair Trade model. Conventional Quinoasure is sourced from the Andes in Colombia. Organic Quinoasure comes from organically certified Bolivian quinoa seeds.

ConAgra Mills, Omaha, includes quinoa in its ancient grains portfolio along with amaranth, millet, sorghum, teff, buckwheat and spelt. A small, light-colored round grain, quinoa possesses a nutty, earthy flavor, according to ConAgra Mills. Its flavor may complement such products as breakfast cereal, pizza and artisan bread.

The Scoular Co., Minneapolis, offers quinoa flour. SK Food International, Fargo, N.D., offers quinoa crisps for use in such applications as cereal, energy bars, snack foods and granola.

Gluten-free sorghum

Like quinoa, sorghum’s rise in food use has happened alongside the rise of the gluten-free category. The market for gluten-free foods and beverages reached $4.2 billion in 2012 after a compound annual growth rate of 28% from 2008 to 2012, according to Packaged Facts.

Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., offers Harvest Pearl white sorghum flour while SK Food International offers sorghum flakes for use in cereal, energy bars, snack foods and granola.

ADM had pancakes with sorghum at its booth during the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition July 13-16 in Chicago.

“Sorghum is a good fit for pancakes because it can be used as a direct replacement for wheat to make a gluten-free pancake that has a great color, texture and flavor,” said Brook Carson, director of R.&D. at ADM Milling in Overland Park, Kas.

Sorghum may be used in multigrain applications, and it may increase whole grain content in baked foods and snack items.

“Sorghum works very well in cereal applications because it has a clean flavor profile and a crisp texture without being too fragile,” Ms. Carson said.

Gluten-free sorghum applications include pizza crust, crackers, cake, cookies, brownies, muffins, pancakes and bread, according to ADM. When used in conjunction with other proteins, starches and gums, sorghum flour creates products with good volume and texture.

Since sorghum does not contain gluten proteins, it will not build structure and maintain a gluten network like wheat, but it does provide body, Ms. Carson said. Sorghum flour has 8 grams of dietary fiber and 9 grams of protein per serving, which compares to rice flour at 2.5 grams of dietary fiber and 6 grams of protein.

“Most of the comparison work we have done is with rice flour, since it is the primary flour used in gluten-free applications,” Ms. Carson said. “Sorghum flour has fewer calories than rice flour and identical profile for fats and carbohydrates.”

Formulators need to understand the unique characteristics of sorghum flour, she said.

“For example, the hydration rate and capacity, as well as the starch gelatinization temperature, is different for sorghum compared to wheat flour,” Ms. Carson said. “Formula and process modifications may need to be made to accommodate.”

U.S. supply of sorghum is rising. Intended plantings for 2013 were 7,620,000 acres, which would compare with 6,244,000 acres in 2012 and 5,481,000 acres in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Texas, with 3,000,000 acres of intended quinoa plantings in 2013, may overtake Kansas, at 2,900,000 acres of intended plantings, as the top-producing state.

More supply may be needed to keep prices down. Not only food formulators are finding value in sorghum. In the United States, South America and Australia, sorghum grain is used primarily for livestock feed and also increasingly in ethanol plants, according to the United Sorghum Checkoff, Lubbock, Texas. The pet food industry uses sorghum because of its low glycemic index, according to the United Sorghum Checkoff. One area of focus for the United Sorghum Checkoff is funding research that examines sorghum’s potential to help in the areas of cancer, high cholesterol and obesity.

Other non-traditional grains to consider

Grain-based foods companies seeking to create products with higher protein levels and gluten-free qualifications increasingly are discovering they have more grains to choose from. Here’s a sampling of some other non-traditional grains:

Amaranth: The domestication of amaranth, a food crop of the Aztecs, has been dated to between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston. Amaranth is gluten-free and contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and even vitamin C. Protein levels are 13% to 14%. When cooking with amaranth, the Whole Grains Council suggests using at least 6 cups of water for every 1 cup of amaranth.

Buckwheat: Cultivated as a crop as long ago as 4,000 B.C. in the Balkan region of Europe, buckwheat contains protein, fiber, zinc, copper and manganese, according to the Whole Grains Council. Because of protein digestibility issues, buckwheat is not the best protein source for children or anyone with digestive tract issues.

Chia: A third-party laboratory tests every single batch of chia from The Chia Co., based in Melbourne, Australia. The tests make certain that every 15 grams of chia contain 5.6 grams of fiber, 2.9 grams of omega-3 fatty acid and 3.1 grams of protein.

Farro: A European grain derived from wheat, farro dates to the ancient Egyptians, according to American Roland Food Corp., New York. Roland Farro has magnesium, fiber and vitamins A, B, C and E.

Freekeh: According to Freekehlicious, Norwood, N.J., freekeh refers to the harvesting of grains while they are still soft, young and green. Then they are parched, roasted and dried. The process captures and retains the grains at the state of peak taste and nutrition. A 42-gram serving of freekeh contains 6 grams of dietary fiber, 6 grams of protein, 25 mg of calcium and 2.2 mg of iron.

Freekeh Foods, Minneapolis, this year launched an organic freekeh line. The company offers product in the flavors of original, rosemary and tamari.

Kamut: Kamut International, Missoula, Mont., offers Kamut, a brand name for khorasan wheat. A study published in the January issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition focused on Kamut’s ability to increase antioxidant capacity and decrease inflammation.

Millet: In many African and Asian areas, millet is a major food component, including in porridge, according to a review published in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. With value-added strategies and appropriate processing technologies, millet grains may find a place in value-added and health-food products in North America and Europe, according to the review. Using millet, which is gluten-free, in ready-to-eat breakfast cereals seems feasible. Incorporating millet into bread or noodles may be more difficult since millet has no gluten. Millet may be used to replace a percentage of wheat flour in such applications.

Spelt: Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass., in 2012 partnered with exclusive growers to offer OrganicEssentials whole spelt and OrganicEssentials white spelt flour. The products provide the health benefits of whole wheat with a milder flavor profile, according to Bay State Milling.

Suntava Purple Corn: The color in Suntava Purple Corn comes from the high levels of anthocyanins, according to Suntava Corp., Afton, Minn. The purple corn is being used as an ingredient in such food applications as tortilla chips.

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Teff: The tiny size of teff makes it suited to semi-nomadic life in areas of Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it originated, according to the Whole Grains Council. Ethiopians use teff, which is gluten-free, in injera, a spongy flatbread. A cup of cooked teff has 123 mg of calcium. Teff also has high levels of resistant starch and is an excellent source of vitamin C.