Flour from sprouted grains may improve flavor and nutrient absorption.

Offering bioavailable benefits, sprouted grains are becoming more mainstream. Since sprouted grains refer to a process and not a source, flour from sprouted grains may come with such added traits as gluten-free or whole grain. The flour may be sourced from sprouted ancient grains as well.

“Sprouted grains are just huge,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Whole Grains Council, Boston. “They have gone from being just non-existent — Ezekiel bread and what else is there? Now, we’re getting so much sprouted flour that is mainstream.”

Sales of products featuring sprouted grains, meaning more than just flour, are on pace to surpass $250 million in the United States by 2018, said Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business, London. She added the Way Better Snacks brand has helped to lead the surge in sprouted grain awareness.

Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass., and Ardent Mills, Denver, both offer flour from sprouted grains.

“The main benefits of flour from sprouted grains vs. conventional grains are that sprouted, or germinated, seeds act more like plants than dormant seeds, which your body can better digest and utilize,” said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing for Bay State Milling.

Sprouting reduces the phytic acid in the bran, which means the human body will better absorb the vitamins and minerals of the plant, she said.

“These changes are what many translate into sprouted grains being more ‘digestible’ and ‘bioavailable,’” she said.

Way Better Snacks previously partnered with BioEssentials Botanicals, which has a 25-year history of researching the effect of bio-activating seed through germination. Way Better Snacks recently bought BioEssential Botanicals and changed the company’s name to Way Better Sprouting Innovation, which is based in Stirling, Ont.

Seeds, grains and brans have natural enzyme inhibitors and barriers like phytic acid, lectins and tannins that interfere with digestion and absorption, according to Way Better Sprouting Innovation. Sprouting creates enzymes that start the seed on its way to becoming a plant. Germination increases vitamins and minerals.

Ms. Zammer said sprouted flours generally are whole grain flours as formulators will want to maintain the germ from which the new plant would grow.

“The flavor of whole sprouted flours is typically less bitter and slightly more sweet as starches are broken down into sugars by amylase enzymes that become active in germination,” she said.

Depending on how heavily kilned or roasted the grain is, a caramelized note may be achieved, which lends to the sweetness and provides a bolder flavor, she said.

Ardent Mills has the capability to sprout and mill many grains but currently focuses on sprouted white spring whole wheat flour, said Don Trouba, director of marketing.

“The flavor profile of sprouted white spring whole wheat flour compared to whole wheat flour is sweeter, less bitter and milder in terms of an after-taste,” Mr. Trouba said. “We have seen likeness scores increase significantly.”

Peter Reinhart, a chef from Johnson & Wales and author of the book “Bread Revolution,” gave a sprouted grains presentation March 3 in Chicago at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2015.

“I believe sprouting the grains makes them taste better,” he said.

Additional steps in sprouting

Sprouting grains takes several steps, which need to be precise.

First, grains are steeped in warm water, which may be changed or rinsed three to four times, Ms. Zammer said. The grains then are drained and kept in a warm, moist environment conducive to germination. The process of germination is monitored by enzyme activity in the grain. When ideal enzymatic activity is measured, the grains are dried using warm air and/or heat to turn off the enzymes and stop the conversion process.

“The timing of arresting the germination process is critical to sprouted wheat flour performance,” Ms. Zammer said. “If enzymes are allowed to convert all starch to sugar, there will be none left to provide structure to a baked good. The challenge is to stop it at the same endpoint every time for consistent flour functionality and performance.”

Mr. Reinhart on March 3 said, “We are arresting the sprout as soon as we see a sprout come out.”

Ardent Mills has an exclusive partnership with a global malting industry leader to manage the grain steeping, germination and kilning processes, Mr. Trouba said.

“If the sprouting process is not arrested at a certain point, you may totally lose the grain ingredient functionality or baking performance, as well as certain nutritional values,” he said.

Sprouted white spring whole wheat flour from Ardent Mills has enhanced dough strength compared to non-sprouted whole wheat flour, he said. Bread applications thus may require more water.

“In addition to adjusting the hydration rate, the sugar, enzyme and dough conditioner, including vital wheat gluten levels, should also be adjusted when working with flour from sprouted grains,” Mr. Trouba said.

Ms. Zammer said sprouted grain flour generally costs more because of additional steps.

Susan Kay, manager of product applications for Bay State Milling, said, “The baker may be able to reduce sugar, vital wheat gluten and other dough strengtheners. When adding sprouted wheat flour to the formula, a reduction in proof time may be realized. All of these aspects come together to offset the added cost of adding sprouted wheat flour to the formulation.”

Mr. Trouba added, “There are a lot of factors that go into the price of flour, but there can be a premium for sprouted grains simply because of the number of additional steps required to sprout, kiln and clean the grains.”

Ardent Mills has the ability to scale its sprouted white spring whole flour to supply national product introductions.

Ms. Zammer of Bay State Milling said, “Supply of sprouted wheat flour from red whole wheat is large enough that wholesale bakeries can be supplied cost effectively.”