Some alternative grain crops are naturally advantageous for farmers. Many are relatively drought resistant and may require fewer resources than corn or wheat. Sorghum plants, for example, offer those characteristics plus natural pest resistance, soil enrichment and potential biofuel production, said Sean Liu, research leader at the US Department of Agriculture’s Functional Foods Research Unit in Peoria, Ill.

Chicago-based Simple Mills, for example, now offers Seed and Nut Flour Sweet Thins in Chocolate Brownie, Honey Cinnamon and Mint Chocolate varieties. They are made from a diverse mix of nutrient-dense ingredients, including a flour blend made from cashews as well as watermelon, flax and sunflower seeds.

Watermelon seed flour is the leading ingredient in the flour blend. It is said to help create a light, crispy texture, while contributing protein, good fats and micronutrients to the snack.

Another sustainable ingredient the company is exploring is chestnut flour. It is the No. 1 ingredient in the new Simple Mills No Added Sugar Pancake Mix & Waffle Mix.

Chestnuts once were big business in the US. Today, chestnut flour is a niche product, but its versatility and nutritive value as a gluten-free flour is attracting bakers, with some suppliers expecting US-grown chestnuts to go mainstream over the next decade and replace the mostly imported coconut flour.

Chestnuts do not have a high fat content like most other nuts; rather, they contain mostly carbohydrates. As a result, the chestnut flour has similar properties to wheat flour, just without the gluten.

The new Simple Mills Nut Butter Stuffed Sandwich Cookies feature cashew flour and organic buckwheat flour. The company chose buckwheat flour to help raise awareness of the crop, which has promising soil health properties, attracts pollinators and can play an important role in diverse crop rotations, according to Katlin Smith, founder and CEO.

At IFT FIRST, Sustain-A-Grain debuted its new perennial grain crop called Kernza, which grows year-round and has massive roots that help improve soil and water quality. Those roots help to prevent erosion, filter water, sequester carbon and prevent nitrogen runoff. As a perennial, it also requires fewer equipment passes over the field by farmers each year.

Kernza is considered a cousin of wheat. It contains gluten but is weaker than wheat gluten. It also has a higher protein content than wheat with a slightly nutty flavor.

Sometimes an alternative flour may be made from traditional grains that have already been used. They get upcycled by being given a second chance to be consumed. Others are plant components that may otherwise go to animal feed or become waste. Instead, careful processing turns them into a nutrient-rich alternative flour.

Turning food waste into valuable nutrition is Upcycled Foods Inc.’s mission. Formerly known as ReGrained, the company has moved from being a consumer brand to an ingredient supplier. Its flagship product is made using patented technology to repurpose spent grains from breweries and process them in a way that makes them stable as a food ingredient. The alternative flour provides a minimum of three-and-a-half times the dietary fiber and double the plant protein of whole grain flour, as well as prebiotics, according to the company.

“Our ingredient solution is used as a ‘hero’ inclusion, not as a flour substitute,” said Dan Kurzrock, founder and CEO. “A good starting point is 15% to provide demonstrative change in taste, aroma, texture and nutrition attributes. In terms of functionality, it performs like rye flour but with a unique toasty and nutty flavor. For breads, there is no gluten functionality so some gluten may need to be added to provide structure. The color of the upcycled material is caramel and tends to work well with warm flavors.”

Renewal Mill is another company all about upcycled ingredients. The company converts the pulpy leftovers of soy and oat milk production into versatile, gluten-free flours that boost the fiber and protein content in a variety of consumer-packaged goods.

The upcycled soy ingredient is okara flour. It is versatile and has a neutral flavor, which is described as slightly milky or nutty. It has a light color allowing it to blend easily into most flour-based products, according to Claire Schlemme, CEO.

The company’s recent innovation is a Vegan Salted Peanut Butter cookie developed with Miyoko’s Creamery, Petaluma, Calif. It is made with okara flour and Miyoko’s European-style cultured vegan butter.

Plant-based cookie brand Love + Chew, San Francisco, features Renewal Mill’s upcycled oat milk flour in its new Peanut Butter Chip cookie, which boasts 10 grams of fiber and 10 grams of vegan protein per cookie. This comes from a combination of the oat milk flour, peanut butter, chickpea flour and almond flour.

The Protein Brewery has developed a fermentation-derived ingredient that can be used in place of traditional wheat flour in various baked goods. It consists of 45% protein with all the essential amino acids and is 35% to 39% fiber. Specifically, it is a concentrated source of beta-glucan fiber, which has been shown to support a healthy immune system.

“Its bland, neutral flavor allows for easy incorporation into better-for-you bakery products, such as cookies, muffins, pancakes and tortilla wraps, without negatively affecting texture,” said Deb Anderson, director of new business development. “In most baking applications, we can easily substitute 15% to 25% of the wheat flour for our fermentation-derived whole food ingredient. Our ingredient has a water-holding capacity of three times its weight in water; therefore, it is necessary to ensure there is enough moisture in the recipe to fully hydrate all the ingredients.”

This article is an excerpt from the October 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Alternative Grains, click here.