David Sheluga and Sumana Bell of Ardent Mills describe what consumers think about sprouted-grain breads and how sprouting changes flour components.

As a market driver, consumer affinity for sprouted grain breads is an emotional matter, not a rational one, according to David Sheluga, PhD, director of consumer insights, Ardent Mills, Denver. He spoke at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2017 on Feb. 27.


“From our research, we determined that interest in sprouted grains is tied to ‘enlightened eating,’ ” he said. “That concept first surfaced in 2010. It has connotations of fresh beginnings, of dusting off the previous decade that brought us the Great Recession, of giving a sense of belonging and of purity at an emotional level.”


An interesting finding was that consumers more often termed this category “sprouted bread” rather than “sprouted grain bread,” Dr. Sheluga observed.


Citing the powerful image of the biblical Garden of Eden, he defined “sprouted” as conveying a connection to spiritual renewal and also to persistence, as in a flower breaking through the pavement. “Take a look at the graphics used by the leading brand in this category. They show a sunrise, a dove and Bible references.”


Dr. Sheluga analyzed patterns revealed by Google search results and learned sprouted “is related to spaces termed ‘beauty’ and ‘health and wellness,’ ” he said.


At retail, sprouted grain products comprise a $144 million category, with bread representing three-quarters of sales and the leading brand accounting for half of those, according to Dr. Sheluga. 


Ardent Mills also did a concept test that presented sprouted grain bread to various consumer segments. “Among the broad population, 40% said they would buy it,” Dr. Sheluga reported. “For enlightened eaters — approximately 20% of adults — 52% said they would purchase, and with enlightened influencers — active social media users and bloggers — 71% said they would buy. What this says is that just the word ‘sprouted’ will attract this audience.”


But is the spiritual image of sprouted grains supported by food science analysis? That’s the question Sumana Bell, PhD, principal scientist, Ardent Mills, set out to answer. “We took the standpoint of a skeptic and asked, ‘Is it really true?’ ” she said.


“Changes occur as moisture travels through the germinating grain,” Dr. Bell noted. “Mass is conserved, but the presence of amylase increases, and there is a decrease in anti-nutrients such as phytic acid. But these changes don’t all happen at the same rate. Long germination periods are critical to wheat, rice, sorghum, millet and the pseudocereals.”


As germination proceeds, the grain becomes more porous. Dr. Bell offered micrograph images that showed how the tightly packed starch granules open up, allowing even more water to penetrate the grain and foster enzymatic conversion.


Long germination results in more conversion of starch to sugar, which explains the sweet taste of sprouted grain flours compared with conventional flours. “Over time, amylase content continues to rise, but protease rises at slowing rates,” Dr. Bell reported.


Amylase presence is measured by Falling Number (FN) analysis. Dr. Bell compared FN values for various sprouted grain flours with their bakery performance. “Sprouted flour has a lower FN than the 300 seconds that is the industry standard,” she observed.


The relationship to bakery performance falls into a range of FN readings than a specific number. “FN values for sprouted grain flours vary widely, which give broad possibilities for innovation,” Dr. Bell said. She illustrated this by showing an image of a rainbow stretching from grains at one end to value-added sugars at the other, with functional advantages represented by the arch.


ASB’s BakingTech 2017 took place Feb. 26-28 at the Downtown Hilton in Chicago. The 2018 event will return to the same venue on Feb. 25-27.