KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Whole grains are one of three food groups that are fundamental building blocks of a healthy diet, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). But not all whole grains are created equal. They come in different shapes and sizes, colors, flavors and nutrition profiles.

Whole grains, as well as foods made from them, consist of the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel. The kernel is made of three components: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, then it must retain nearly the same proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain to be called whole grain.

With refined grains, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in the loss of dietary fiber — which is an under-consumed nutrient by nine out of 10 Americans — vitamins, minerals and an array of phytonutrients. The DGAs make recommendations on whole grain consumption, but the US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t offer any guidance or requirements on calling out whole grains in the Nutrition Facts. There is also no established Percent Daily Value for whole grains, which means content claims such as “excellent source” or “good source” are not an option for marketers. A full serving of whole grains, however, was established as 16 grams by the Whole Grain Council.

The average healthy American adult should consume six 1-oz servings of grains daily, and half of those servings should be from whole grains, according to DGA recommendations. For the first time, the latest DGAs included recommendations for children birth to 2 years, because little ones need their whole grains, too.

The DGAs explain that an easy way to tell if a food product is high in whole grains is to make sure the ingredient is listed first or second in the ingredient list. Or better yet, choose unprocessed whole grains, which include amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgar, corn, kamut, millet, quinoa, rye, oats, sorghum, spelt, teff, triticale, wheat berries and wild rice.

Ardent Mills’ research shows that 75% of consumers have a positive purchase intent for whole grain foods. This presents a significant opportunity to create a point of differentiation in the marketplace by formulating with whole grains. To assist with this growing trend, the company recently launched Ancient Grains Plus Baking Flour Blend. It is designed to simplify formulations and increase protein levels in baked applications.

“Food and bakery manufacturers may choose to use whole grain ingredients in partial or total replacement of refined grains,” said Lindsey Morgan, senior director, product marketing and innovation, Ardent Mills. “The Ancient Grains Plus Baking Flour Blend is precisely blended with gluten-free whole grains, including buckwheat, sorghum, amaranth and quinoa, to deliver a mild flavor for wide consumer appeal. Our product portfolio includes a variety of whole grain ingredients, such as red and white wheats, amaranth, millet, teff, buckwheat, sorghum, quinoa, barley and spelt. They come in several different formats, from flours and custom multigrain blends to whole grains, seeds and other plant-based ingredients. These different grains can each provide dimensions of taste, texture and nutrition that can ultimately increase the consumer appeal of a baked good or snack.”

Laurie Scanlin, principal scientist at Ardent Mills, expanded on this concept.

“Intact whole grains or coarse ground whole grains can be added not only for nutrition but for artisan appeal,” she said. “For example, quinoa may add a variety of colors, such as white, red and black.”

Quinoa is the star of the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt crisps from Undercover Snacks, East Hanover, NJ. The quinoa contributes protein, fiber and crunch to these gluten-free treats.

Corn and rice, which are also gluten-free grains, are being sought out in less refined formats as a way to deliver whole grain nutrition through cereals and snacks. Their neutral taste profile tends to appeal to consumers who find whole grain wheat ingredients to be too bold in flavor.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen a significant uptick in interest in whole grain corn products, with a special focus on the snack space,” said Keyla Rodriguez, technical services manager, Cargill. “Consumers, especially parents, are looking for snacks they can feel good about. Products made with whole grains can help deliver on that ask.”

Substituting whole grain flour for refined flours increases nutrient density and can add texture and enhance the appearance of foods, said Abby Anderson, profit center manager, specialty ingredients, The Andersons, Inc. Although some formulation and mixing adjustments may be needed when swapping in whole grains.

“Because the bran and germ, which are included in whole grain products, tend to be more absorbent, bakers typically need to adjust the amount of liquid ingredients used in their formulations,” she explained. “Additional consideration should be given to mixing and kneading times depending on the grain being used and the specific application.”

The first ingredient in SunChips, which are made by Frito-Lay North America, Plano, Texas, is whole corn, followed by sunflower and/or canola oil. Whole wheat and brown rice flour come in third and fourth. One serving contains 18 grams of whole grains and 2 grams of fiber.

“Whole grain dry corn ingredients are used most often to replace or are blended with yellow corn ingredients, such as corn grits and flour, to improve the nutritional profile of products,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “Because corn ingredients serve as a base for many snack applications, switching to whole grain corn ingredients can be an easy way for brands to improve the nutrition density of snack bars, chips, crackers, cereal and more.”

Arcadia Biosciences has been innovating crops since 2002 to provide ingredients to meet consumer demand for healthier choices. Arcadia’s patented wheat grain — GoodWheat — is naturally higher in fiber and protein than traditional wheat. It was in development for 16 years and is farm grown and milled in the United States. 

GoodWheat launched in 2022 with five high-fiber varieties of pasta. This summer the brand added mixes to its lineup. 

GoodWheat Quikcakes are a convenient, single-serve option. One serving has eleven times the fiber of traditional single-serve pancake mixes — 11 grams — and 7 grams of protein. Varieties are Buttermilk, Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Confetti. 

Latvia-based 2Wheat is rolling out whole grain protein concentrate. It has applications in baked goods, cereal and bars.

“Our whole grain protein concentrate is made using specialized equipment to clean the grains while making sure the nutrients are protected and maintained,” said Ilona Paula, marketing and sales, 2Wheat. “Impurities are removed, and then the grain is turned into a flour full of protein, fiber and carbohydrates. This flour is mixed with water and fermented under tightly controlled conditions.

“After fermentation, an advanced centrifugal system removes the carbohydrates while maintaining the fiber, protein, vitamins and other valuable ingredients,” Ms. Paula said. “Under specific conditions — by controlling the temperature and physicochemical performance of intermediate products — a technological process transforms the bulk of the fiber and protein into pellets. The pellets are crushed into a powder and carefully packed up.”

ADM has expanded its portfolio of sustainably sourced whole grain options, according to Paula LaBine, marketing director, milling and baking solutions, ADM. This includes whole grain wheat and sorghum products, such as sorghum flour and crisps, and Food Alliance-certified sustainable whole wheat flour.

“We can also source from farmers who are implementing regenerative agriculture practices and mill whole grain flours at our net carbon neutral facilities for a comprehensive approach that appeals to today’s environmentally conscious consumer,” Ms. LaBine said. “A recent ADM study showed that sustainability claims like ‘sourced from regenerative agriculture’ resonate with consumers and have a strong impact on their purchase decisions.”

ADM engages growers in its supply chains to adopt regenerative agriculture practices that reduce environmental impact, such as increasing crop diversity, planting cover crops, minimizing soil disturbance as well as complex crop rotations. These practices can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase soil carbon sequestration, improve water quality, promote biodiversity and enhance soil health. Furthermore, regenerative agriculture practices can support food security and protect resources for future generations. 

“Looking ahead, we anticipate that more bakery and snack brands will emphasize transparency in their product narratives, highlighting their efforts to source responsibly grown ingredients and enhance their sustainability initiatives,” Ms. LaBine said. “This type of brand storytelling can boost consumer perceptions of quality and better-for-you attributes of finished whole grain applications, including hearty bread loaves, rolls, buns, crackers and pizza crusts.”

This article is an excerpt from the December 2023 issue of Baking & Snack, a sister publication of World Grain. To read the entire feature on Whole Grainsclick here.