Ancient grains offer benefits such as whole grain and high protein content, and several are gluten-free. For example, amaranth contains about 30% more protein than traditional grains and is a good source of fiber, according to Panhandle Milling Co.,. And teff contains high levels of calcium and resistant starch, a fiber, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston.

Beyond formulating, these grains also provide origin material for marketing efforts, said Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., professor emeritus of foods and nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., and a member of the Grain Foods Foundation scientific advisory board. Incas in South America ate quinoa, and barley made up a good portion of the gladiators’ diets during the Roman empire. These are the kinds of stories that pique consumers’ interest.

Quinoa, historically grown in South America, is now available from North American growers, from whom Ardent Mills is sourcing the grain. In 2018, the company launched a new business unit, The Annex by Ardent Mills, to explore “next” grains and unique plant-based ingredients. Ancient grains in The Annex’s portfolio include the company’s Great Plains Quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, teff and sorghum. Heirloom wheat varieties include emmer, einkhorn, spelt and White Sonora. The Annex also handles rye and barley, which are ancient grains that are not gluten-free, and pulses.

Ardent Mills invested in The Annex in May of this year and plans to add the capability in its Denver mill to clean and pack intact grains, pearl barley and dehull heirloom grains like emmer, einkorn and spelt. More farmers want to bring these grains to market, according to Ardent Mills, and the company is seeing increasing demand from its customers in segments such as artisan baking, food service, retail, and brewing and distilling.

“Our first year has been wrapped in innovation,” said Shrene White, director of The Annex. “We have listened to our customers, worked closely with our farmers and evaluated the future of the markets we can serve. Through the organic-certified mill, we are helping our customers bring these grains to life as their source for dependable, food-safe, high-quality intact grains.”

In 2017, Bay State Milling Co, acquired CleanDirt Farm, an organic and conventional millet sourcing and processing operation in Sterling, Colo., that was part of Bay State’s supply chain. Whole millet, whole millet flour, sprouted whole millet and sprouted whole millet flour became available at Bay State locations in Bolingbrook, Ill., and Woodland, Calif.

Healthy Food Ingredients offers Suntava purple corn, which adds healthful anthocyanins, polyphenols and flavonoids (antioxidants) to products as well as a unique purple color.

The Andersons recently made two transactions to diversify its portfolio. In 2017 the company purchased Purity Foods, Inc., an organic and conventional ancient grains processor in Hudson, Mich., and in 2018 acquired the assets of Nu-World Foods, a supplier of gluten-free food products and ancient grain ingredients. Nu-World operates a certified organic, kosher and gluten-free processing facility that specializes in puffed and popped ancient grains, including amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and rice. The company also manufactures several ancient grain flours, pre-gel powders and seeds.

Recent ancient grain product introductions include English muffins with quinoa, spelt, rye, millet and barley from Milwaukie, Ore.-based Dave’s Killer Bread, a division of Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga., and Special K Protein Honey Almond Ancient Grains cereal with sorghum and black rice from the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich.

Ancient grains are appearing on restaurant menus as well. The “What’s Hot 2019 Culinary Forecast” from the National Restaurant Association listed protein-rich grains/seeds as the hottest trend in grains/pasta with examples being hemp,

chia, quinoa and flax. Non-wheat noodles/pasta was No. 2, with products containing quinoa, rice and buckwheat. Ancient grains including Kamut, spelt, amaranth and lupin were No. 3, while savory granola and teff rounded out the Top Five.

Pulses in flour

Pulses such as lentils and chickpeas are appearing in alternative flours and come with several sustainable attributes, according to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Moscow, Idaho. They require little nitrogen fertilizers because they create their own fertilization by pulling nitrogen from the air and into the soil. They enrich soil health by leaving behind essential nutrients, including nitrogen and beneficial microbes for the next crop.

Bunge North America, St. Louis, offers lentil functional flour that boosts protein content and offers fiber, vitamins and minerals. Natural Products, Inc., Grinnell, Iowa, offers steam chickpea flour (CP 100-S) made with a proprietary steaming process that stabilizes the flour and eliminates the raw “beany” flavor.

Nielsen Co considers friendly to the environment, organic and clean label as key sustainability traits. In December 2018 the research firm said a survey found 48% of U.S. consumers said they “definitely” or “probably” would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Sales of products with sustainable attributes made up 22% of total store sales.

U.S. organic food sales rose 5.9% in 2018 to reach $47.9 billion, according to the 2019 Organic Industry Survey released May 17 by the Organic Trade Association.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. this year launched organic all-purpose flour and organic premium bread flour. The new line uses ADM’s wheat sourcing network and a facility in Lincoln, Neb., certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another sustainability trait comes in “upcycled” ingredients, which was the topic of a presentation in at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2019 held earlier this year in Chicago. Upcycled ingredients involve finding a functional use for what normally is a discarded item, said Carole Widmayer, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for the Coffee Cherry Co., Bellevue, Wash.

Upcycled ingredients may hit upon people’s desire, led by millennials, to seek an element of better, as in better for the planet or better for people, she said.

The Coffee Cherry Co. has found a functional use for coffee cherries, mostly skin and pulp that is discarded after the coffee beans are pulled out. The company dries and mills the coffee cherries into flour.

The source of another “upcycled ingredient” is brewers’ spent grains, which are left over from brewing beer. ReGrained, initially working with brewers in the San Francisco area, has turned brewers’ spent grains into a trademark flour called SuperGrain+ that is high in protein and fiber.

During the BakingTech presentation, Dan Kurzrock, co-founder of ReGrained, explained that this phenomenon isn’t exactly groundbreaking.

“Upcycling is really just a new trendy word for a very, very, very old idea: How do you take byproducts and turn them into coproducts?” True to the theme of ancient grains, it’s all about making old things new again.