ELK RIVER, MINNESOTA, US — Ancient grains generally are grown in a few geographic locations. The possibility of a poor crop year makes it dangerous for companies to depend upon a specific ancient grain for one food formulation, but a blend of ancient grains could lessen any sudden rise in price for one ancient grain, said speakers at the Northern Crops Institute’s first ancient grains conference, which was held July 20 at the Oliver Kelley Farm outside Elk River.

“It mitigates some of the price fluctuations that you’ll get with different grains in there at 5%, and then one grain doubles in cost,” said Seth Cox, director of product development and research at Dakota Specialty Milling, Inc. “It doesn’t double the cost of the blend. It also helps on our supply chain.”

Ancient grain blends may alleviate flavor issues that one ingredient may have, too. Cox gave the example of amaranth being a little bitter.

“In a lower percentage with other sweeter grains, it works very well,” he said.

Healthy Food Ingredients works with customers to blend ancient grains into applications like granola bars, said Chris Wiegert, sustainability/business development officer. Buckwheat is appearing in many pancake mixes, and sorghum works well in gluten-free items, he added.

Snacks available at the ancient grains conference included one flatbread with spelt, millet and teff and another flatbread with spelt, quinoa and teff.

Bread formulations may have as many as 12 grains, said Kelly LeBlanc, director of nutrition for Oldways, which founded the Whole Grains Council. She added ancient grain blends also are showing up in items like snacks, crackers and baking mixes.

“For gluten-free products in particular, there’s a huge advantage to going with a blend just because it’s hard to use a single flour to get the texture, the volume, the flavors, the mouthfeel that you would get from a wheat-based flour from one single gluten-free flour,” LeBlanc said. “A lot of the more popular baking mixes or recipes will call for a couple different gluten-free flours, like sorghum, oats, millet, brown rice to be able to achieve what they are looking for.”

Wiegert said farmers will need reasons to plant ancient grains, giving the example of traditional wheat having twice as high a yield as emmer.

“That farmer to make the same amount of dollars per acre is going to need twice the money at a 50% yield model,” he said.

Processing per pound at HFI facilities tends to cost the same whether it involves wheat or an ancient grain like amaranth, but the volume of grain processed may have an effect. The amount of ancient grain processed at one time tends to be less than the amount of wheat.

“If we’re going to turn the machine on for 6,000 pounds and do total cleanout, that cleanout at 6,000 pounds is a much different number than the cleanout at 40,000 pounds,” Wiegert said. “The actual per pound per mill run isn’t any more. It’s actually the down time for the cleanouts.”