Consumers know that whole grains are good for them. But sometimes it takes a different kind of whole grain to pack enough fiber into a food to reach the levels required by gold-standard health claims. That’s where Sustagrain barley from ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE, fits the ticket.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now  allows many types of health claims, but approved claims — the most rigorous to reach — must meet the “significant scientific agreement” standard. To make an approved health claim, a food must contain the beneficial nutrient in substantial quantities. For example, the health claim that links barley and oats to reduced risk of coronary heart disease requires each serving to provide 0.75 g beta-glucan, the soluble dietary fiber amount that figures in the health benefit (21 CFR 101.81).

“Sustagrain’s unusual carbohydrate profile gives it unique functionality and benefits compared with other grains,” said Beth Arndt, PhD, director of R&D, ConAgra Mills.

This waxy, hull-less barley flour variety contains 12% beta-glucan, three times the amount found in oats, and is 30% total dietary fiber overall. Products made with 9 g Sustagrain per serving will deliver 1 g beta-glucan, which qualifies the item for health claim labeling. Because of the barley’s level of overall dietary fiber in the preceding example, each serving can also be described as a “good source” of fiber at 2.7 g total dietary fiber. Foods using a lower level of 5 g Sustagrain per serving, which provides to 0.6 g soluble fiber, can qualify for another FDA-approved health claim: , the one linking soluble dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables or grain with reduced risk of heart disease (21 CFR 101.77).

As scientists continue to look at the health benefits of Sustagrain, they’re finding more good news in blood sugar management, lower glycemic response, hunger abatement and weight control. In addition, bakers can take advantage of higher absorption, which translates to shelf-life improvements in the finished products.

Sustagrain barley, available in flour and flake forms from ConAgra Mills, is made from conventionally bred waxy, hull-less barley varieties developed at Montana State University.

“Sustagrain’s unique properties make it a key innovation in a wide variety of foods, typically to boost whole grain nutrition and fiber,” Dr. Arndt said. Some of the most popular are snack and energy bars, which often employ both the flour and flake forms. She also noted it can be paired with the company’s Ultragrain whole wheat flour to maximize whole grain nutrition.

The flour and flakes are whole grain ingredients and can play an important role in formulation of foods that require at least 51% whole grain content by weight to qualify for FDA’s whole grain health claim and the National School Lunch Program’s new “whole grain rich” requirement. “Including Sustagrain in granola snack mix, hot cereal, sandwich bread, rolls, muffins, cookies, streusel toppings and even meat loaf is a great way to add fiber and other whole grain nutrients to popular foods,” Dr. Arndt said.

The high amount of fiber in the barley reduces the proportion of starch it contains to about half of that in other grains. Its nature as a waxy starch and the high content of viscous beta-glucan fiber impart fat-mimetic properties in baked foods.

Replacing up to 10% of flour with Sustagrain flour improves bread crumb softness during storage. “The lower amount of starch and waxy starch type, as well as the higher absorption requirements of Sustagrain, likely all contribute to its efficacy for extending shelf life and improving microwave texture,” Dr. Arndt said.

Because Sustagrain, like many other fiber-rich ingredients, will compete with gluten for water in the dough, the baker should adjust the amount of absorption. Alternatives would be to pre-soak the barley before putting it into the mixer or to add it at the sponge stage, thus giving more hydration time during fermentation.

“At higher usage levels, doughs mix out faster and may have a dead or Play-Doh feel,” Dr. Arndt observed. “These characteristics indicate doughs with slower proof times and lower ovenspring, yielding lower loaf volume. The addition of oxidation and supplementation with vital wheat gluten are necessary to achieve the desired dough feel and functionality.”

Additionally, any yeast-leavened product must reach full bake to properly set the structure. “At 20 to 30% Sustagrain, loaves tend to ‘suck in’ or ‘keyhole’ if not completely baked out,” Dr. Arndt cautioned.

On the other hand, Sustagrain imparts a slightly enhanced fermentation flavor and sweetness, she observed.

Technical and scientific data about Sustagrain barley can be found at