Ancient grains can provide added value to conventional wheat products.

Many trends defining food in 2018 harken back to days gone by rather than conjure up visions of futuristic foods. Consumers seem to be pushing for a return to simpler, cleaner, more traditional and even “ancient” ingredients.

Grains like teff, einkorn, amaranth, millet or spelt may sound rather exotic to the average baked foods shopper, but these ancient grains exude a return to perceived wholesome, unprocessed foods. Rachel Cheatham, Ph.D., founder and chief executive officer of Foodscape Group and adjunct assistant professor of food marketing and communications at Tufts University, said the trend is supported by health-seeking consumers who increasingly value carbohydrate quality while seeking both variety and novelty.

In its 2017 annual report, the Chicago-based research firm Foodscape Group identified several trends, including three that reinforced these ideas: grains reinvented, inspired ethnic and nostalgia.

Based on their nutritional content, ancient grains and seeds like quinoa and chia can be marketed as superfoods.

“Taken together, this adds up to a globally minded exploratory consumer who wants something new and different for their grain choices while somehow comforting and familiar at the same time,” Dr. Cheatham said.

Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., identified three fundamental needs that also are driving the ancient grain trend: fueling, craving and connecting. Arnott’s, a Campbell brand, offers Vita-Weat crackers that are 100% natural with ancient grains and seeds like quinoa and chia in over 40 countries globally. Thomas Griffiths, certified master chef and vice-president for Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute, said the chefs and bakers of Campbell Soup, which owns Pepperidge Farm, have been watching the popularity of these grains in the culinary world.

“At their core, ancient grains are incredibly versatile and have a lot of culinary potential, and there’s a lot of discovery and innovation waiting to happen with grains like teff, millet and sorghum, for example,” Mr. Griffiths said.

The wholesome, back-to-nature appeal of these trending grains also offers a new taste adventure. Ancient grains have become the new normal on menus and retail shelves, said Bryan Cozzi, senior chef, Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute. This is in large part due to the success of quinoa, which may be the most mainstream ancient grain, but others like millet, spelt and kamut are fighting for the same level of familiarity.

Quinoa has become a staple in many bakery products.

“That can be daunting for consumers who want to understand the differences between the many grains and seeds,” Mr. Cozzi said. “There’s still a learning curve for consumers interested in ancient grains. They are probably familiar with quinoa but don’t know how to use teff, for example. It’s up to us to deliver great-tasting products that help people learn about and appreciate ancient grains for all they have to offer.”

Booming awareness and choices
The explosion of ancient grain products on menus and shelves might have begun in 2010. According to Mintel, there was a 269% increase in global food and drink launches describing their products as “ancient” between September 2010 to August 2011 and September 2015 to August 2016 periods. Brands have seen a great deal of success in appealing to customers looking to connect with the past through their eating choices.

B&G Foods, Inc., Parsippany, N.J., hoped to latch onto that connection through its Ortega Good Grains new range of taco shells. The line includes traditional blue corn, white corn and chia seeds, yellow corn and ancient grains, and whole grain corn and lentil. The products align with the 54% of U.S. shoppers who said they would consider whole grain varieties as alternatives to their usual carbohydrates, according to GlobalData.

Ancient grains impart a healthy halo to a variety of products including taco shells.

Papa John’s International, Louisville, Ky., recently announced it is testing in select markets a gluten-free pizza crust made with ancient grains. The Papa John’s R.&D. team spent more than a year developing the crust. Made with sorghum, teff, amaranth and quinoa, it is currently being tested in Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis, Houston and Nashville.

Smart Flour Foods, Austin, Texas, a provider of premium, ancient-grain based frozen pizzas, is introducing Snack Bites, a lineup of better-for-you pizza bites that provide a cleaner take on a popular snacking favorite. Made with the company’s flour blend of the sorghum, amaranth and teff, the line also features chia.

“Today’s health-conscious parents are placing extra care into the food choices they make for themselves and their family and seeking out healthier options that don’t sacrifice great taste,” said Charlie Pace, president and c.e.o., Smart Flour Foods. “Pairing the comfort food taste of classic pizza with on-trend, healthier ancient grains, our Snack Bites give people of all ages a convenient and guilt-free treat that they can enjoy together.”

Other new products include a line of baked extruded snacks from Boulder Canyon, Boulder, Colo., made with ancient grains, lentils and beans. Through its Nabisco brand, Mondelez International, East Hanover, N.J., launched Good Thins, which offers consumers a new variety of ancient grain crackers that has no artificial colors or flavors.