Barley delivers a pleasant, rich, slightly nutty grain flavor.

KANSAS CITY — Milling companies are investing in two specific whole grains, believing they have distinctive health and flavor benefits to move sales of finished products. Barley and its high soluble fiber content may provide heart health benefits. Millet may be more popular in Asia and Africa, but its crunch and corn-like flavor might influence American cuisine as well.

Denver-based Ardent Mills held a conference on barley Feb. 23-24 in Denver that attracted state barley commissioners, business leaders, educators and farmers. Topics discussed were the barley supply chain, health benefits, functional/creative application ideas, and consumer and market insights. Barley ranks high in fiber content, and research shows it has a significant impact on the development of “good bacteria” in the gut microbiome, said Corrie Whisner, Ph.D., a presenter at the event and an assistant professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University.

“We are also learning more about barley’s role in terms of hunger and weight management, digestive health, heart health and blood sugar management,” she said. “When eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, soluble fiber from barley may reduce the risk of heart disease. Whole grain barley and dry milled barley products, such as pearled barley kernels, flakes, grits and flour, provide at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving and contain key components that have been shown to provide specific nutritional benefits for human health.”

Barley delivers a pleasant, rich, slightly nutty grain flavor, said David Sheluga, director, consumer insights for Ardent Mills.

“It’s quite neutral to the palate, which lends it to be used in numerous applications,” he said. “It can serve as a chef’s ‘canvas’ to create new and exciting sweet and savory applications. It’s best known for usage in rye and pumpernickel bread and in beer and spirit production, but barley also fits well with hearty foods. It’s used in Danish and Nordic cuisines, which are on-trend in fine dining.”

Ardent Mills offers a proprietary, identity-preserved barley variety called Sustagrain Ultra High Fiber Whole Grain, said Zachery Sanders, director of marketing. Cooked purple and black barleys may work in cold salad recipes, including pasta salad, he said. Sustagrain flakes, steel-cut and flour may deliver high fiber content to baked foods, extruded snacks like chips and bars, and cereal, he added.

Millet may provide flavor, texture and color to gluten-free applications.

Millet acquisition

Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass., on April 4 announced it had acquired CleanDirt Farm, an organic and conventional millet sourcing and processing operation in Sterling, Colo. CleanDirt Farm has been connected with Bay State Milling’s supply chain for more than 10 years. Whole millet, whole millet flour, sprouted whole millet and sprouted whole millet flour will be available through Bay State Milling locations in Bolingbrook, Ill., and Woodland, Calif.

India is the world’s largest producer of millet, with eight African countries and China making up the rest of the top 10 producers, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston. Millet is a round yellow grain with a smooth corn-like flavor, said Vanessa Brovelli, manager, product development for Bay State Milling.

“Formulators should be aware that some bitterness can occur,” she said. “It is usually incorporated in de-hulled whole form or in flour form to a variety of applications. It has balanced nutrition and is high in protein, fiber and antioxidants.”

When incorporated in whole form, millet adds a crunch that is maintained throughout most processes, even bread baking, which typically adds enough water to soften most grains, she said.

“This ‘millet crunch’ can be advantageous in products such as crunchy bars, baked good toppings, or breaders and batters,” Ms. Brovelli said.

For applications that require a smoother mouthfeel, whole millet may be boiled and added to an application, or millet flour may be used, she said.

Millet flour may be used in yeast-raised bread at up to 30% flour weight basis, said Jay Freedman, product applications specialist for Bay State Milling.

“Because millet flour lacks gluten-forming properties, it must be combined with high protein wheat flours to enable the bread to rise and provide the proper structure,” he said. “Millet also provides flavor, texture and color to gluten-free applications like pasta and baked goods. Some millet varieties have a deep yellow appearance (helpful for gluten-free pasta), mild flavor profiles and a nutty cornmeal flavor that enhances the sensory experience of gluten-free products.”