LOS ANGELES — The mystique surrounding heirloom grains has created a positive buzz around bread that hasn’t been seen in some time. At the retail and wholesale level, consumers are eager to explore different varieties and reap the grains’ nutritional benefits.

This resurgence creates a clear opportunity for bakeries looking to recapture the attention of consumers who have dropped bread from their diets due to health concerns or general disinterest.  

An avid supporter of heirloom grains, La Brea Bakery uses single origin heirloom wheat in its Reserve bread. Sourcing Fortuna wheat exclusively from Big Sky Country, Mont., the line includes four different loaves and baguettes and brings artisan bread to consumers across the country.

Speaking with Baking & Snack, Jonathan Davis, senior vice-president of R.&D., Aryzta, discussed the benefits of using heirloom grain varieties, formulating challenges and how bakeries can get in on this growing trend.

Baking & Snack: What characterizes wheat as heirloom? 

Jonathan Davis: Heirloom grains are grown from seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation and have not been processed or genetically modified. Growing in popularity, heirloom grains are now appearing in pastas, breads and other baked goods.  Many bakers are choosing heirloom wheat over modern wheat as they give breads a chewy texture and earthy, nutty taste. These grains also typically result in a lower yield than most modern wheat and are thus more expensive. Though more expensive, consumers are drawn to the heirloom grains for their nutrition and transparent manner in which they are grown — usually on a smaller farm, using sustainable farming practices.

What varieties of heirloom grains are most widely used?

Mr. Davis: We are seeing a resurgence in heirloom grains mostly due to consumer demand, which is driving the food industry — particularly the bread industry — to incorporate more heirloom grains into foods. Einkorn, emmer and spelt are making a comeback, but the heirloom grain that we’re particularly excited about at La Brea Bakery is Fortuna Wheat. Used in our Reserve breads, Fortuna is a unique dwarf grain that is grown for flavor rather than yield. It has a robust, earthy flavor which makes it suitable for baking. While Fortuna is tall and more difficult to grow, it has all the flavor attributes we were looking for when choosing grains for our breads.

How can these grains be sourced for wholesale baking manufacturers?

Mr. Davis: In our case, we are sourcing Fortuna right from the farmer. We partnered with a family-run farm in Montana to cultivate, grow and harvest the Fortuna. Wheat Montana Farm was specifically selected for its quality grains, unique growing area and sustainable farming practices. We’ve been fortunate enough to invest directly in the farm-to-table movement and experiment with such great tasting heirloom varietal. While it may not be feasible for every bakery to work directly with a farm, we’ve found it to be an efficient way to source high-quality heirloom grains.

How is La Brea Bakery using these grains in its bakery products?

Mr. Davis: It’s so exciting for us to introduce consumers to a lesser-known heirloom grain like Fortuna. Most recently, we’ve incorporated Fortuna into our Reserve Demi-Baguettes. The Demi-Baguettes, available in French and Sourdough varieties, were introduced to meet consumer demand for great-tasting, smaller portioned loaves and to appeal to smaller households with consumers looking to enjoy high-quality artisan breads while reducing food waste. In addition to Fortuna, La Brea Bakery uses several other types of heirloom grains in our Reserve breads, including farro, spelt and emmer, which have been key ingredients in our core breads for nearly 30 years.

Why is La Brea Bakery tapping into this trend?

Mr. Davis: It’s all about the consumer and providing them with the best tasting bread. Plus, beyond tasting great, a big driver of interest in heirloom grains came from consumers looking for healthier foods and a better understanding of where their ingredients come from. Heirloom grains are also known to give breads a chewy texture and great taste and are typically grown at smaller farms that use sustainable farming practices, like crop rotation and regenerative farming. When consumers have a better sense of where their breads come from and that the loaves are made with quality ingredients like heirloom grains, they are more apt to invest in better tasting, artisan breads.

What are the benefits of working with these types of grains versus more traditional varieties?

Mr. Davis: Heirloom grains are incredible to work with because you can taste the quality of the grain. For example, Fortuna offers a robust, hearty and even nutty flavor that you can taste with each bite of bread. Heirloom grains offer a taste and texture to breads that is completely unmatched especially when it comes to breads baked with commodity flours. Plus, heirloom grains are less processed meaning they contain more nutrients than modern, processed grains.

Are there any formulating challenges associated with these ingredients?

Mr. Davis: There are a few formulating challenges associated with incorporating heirloom grains into bread dough, most notably the color of the bread itself. The dough color isn’t as vibrant, and after being baked, the loaf looks duller in terms of color. It’s important to understand the properties of the wheat and how it will react to the formula before baking. While heirloom grains can pose a few challenges in the formulating process, they impact taste and texture in a very positive way. The texture of the inside of the bread is chewy and has a bite, the crust is firm and the flavor is better and more refined.

How can these ingredients benefit consumers?

Mr. Davis: Beyond the nutritional benefits of including heirloom grains in one’s diet, the taste of foods made with heirloom grains is of higher quality, which is another major factor for consumers to consider. Consumers create demand in the food industry, and because of the research to support the health benefits of heirloom grains, these customers have been vocal about buying breads and other foods that include these special grains.