Ancient grains
Ancient grains, heirloom wheat varieties and popcorn may provide ingredient inspiration.
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Looking back, the whole grain category has grown considerably for more than a decade. Looking ahead, food companies might find more success by looking back — to older raw material sources. Ingredients suppliers are promoting ancient grains and heirloom wheat varieties. Popcorn, a long-standing whole grain snack, also may serve as an ingredient inspiration in whole grain product introductions.

The rise of the whole grain category dates to about 2005. Around that time the Dietary Guidelines for Americans began urging more strongly greater whole grain foods intake, and the Whole Grains Council, Boston, launched the Whole Grain Stamp as a way to promote whole grain levels in products in the United States. Now, that stamp is found on more than 11,000 products in 55 countries.

The annual International Food Information Council Foundation’s food and health surveys show steady consumer interest in whole grains. The 2016 survey found 59% of respondents said they were trying to consume whole grains, which was up from 56% in 2015 and 53% in 2014.

“Consumers are looking for ingredients that are recognizable and that they can feel good about,” said Gerrie Bouchard, director of marketing for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago, Illinois, U.S. “They are also looking for ingredients that provide multiple benefits, and grains are a great way to deliver on that. Whole grains offer ‘real food’ credentials along with important nutrients they provide — fiber, protein and minerals.”

Restaurants are introducing people to whole grains in the form of ancient grains, which draw their name from the fact ancient civilizations ate them. The “What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast” from the National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C., U.S., listed ancient grains as the hottest trend among all pasta and grains. The survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs, all members of the American Culinary Federation, found 62% of respondents considered ancient grains a hot trend.

Following ancient grains among all pasta and grains were non-wheat noodles/pasta and farro, another ancient grain. The survey showed 48% of respondents considered farro a hot trend.

Quinoa leading the way

“Quinoa has helped elevate the popularity of other grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, sorghum, hemp and teff,” Bouchard said.
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The ancient grain quinoa penetrated, or was found, on 8.8% of all menus that market research company Datassential covered in its MenuTrends service in 2016. Farro was found on 3%.

“Quinoa has helped elevate the popularity of other grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, sorghum, hemp and teff,” Ms. Bouchard said.

Several ingredient suppliers mention teff as a potential break-out ingredient in 2017.

Teff and rye both could have big years, said Katie Harris, product development specialist for Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S. Teff has gained in popularity because of its micronutrient content, including high amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium, she said. It offers a well-rounded flavor profile.

“Unlike most grains, it lacks raw grain taste and bitterness, making it appealing to consumers because it has a nutty, toasted flavor profile,” Harris said.

The flavor profile allows teff to work well in sweet goods. It also may boost flavor and nutrition in dark bread like pumpernickel.

“Obtaining a desirable flavor in gluten-free products can be challenging, but teff can deliver flavor to these applications,” she said. “In its whole grain format, teff is also a small grain that is easy and quick to cook, making it a great inclusion for a porridge, side dish or topping to baked goods.”

Rye also has a desirable flavor profile along with high fiber content, she said. It may be the main ingredient in both commercial and artisanal bread. A nutty flavor profile makes rye a good fit for sweet goods, and rye may boost the fiber content of a porridge or a side dish.

“Rye has less gluten-forming proteins than wheat, which can make it challenging for some manufacturers to work with,” Harris said. “However, many bakers embrace this difference and produce excellent artisan-style bread with rye, which are becoming more popular with the general public.”

Jeff Stopa, senior scientist and research chef for ADM, mentioned teff and farro.

“The earthy flavor and crunchy texture of teff adds interest to crackers and cereals, and teff flour adds complexity to leavened and flat breads,” he said. “Farro contributes a luxurious texture and tender bite to chilled grain salads and complex cooked-grain side dishes. Also, 100% whole grain sorghum flour offers good water-binding capacity and texture for cookies and biscuit applications.”

Amaranth and teff have room for growth, and ancient wheats like farro, emmer and einkorn have unique appeal, said Beth Arndt, a formulator for Panhandle Milling, Dawn, Texas, U.S.

“There is even more opportunity for breakout growth in grains that are prepared in a manner to change their typical flavor and texture,” she said. “Freekeh, which originated in the Middle East, is immature/green wheat that has been roasted and then dried. The roasting and drying of the green wheat imparts smoky, roasted notes, a chewy texture and longer shelf life.

“Bulgur, prepared from the cooking and drying of wheat, is another example of how the preparation method can influence the flavor and texture to create something that stands out from the norm.”

Efforts to grow quinoa domestically — it more frequently is grown in South America — are reducing criticism of quinoa being imported and traveling far distances from origin to table, said David Sheluga, director, consumer insights, Ardent Mills, Denver, Colorado, U.S. The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, New Jersey, U.S., featuring quinoa in one of its new Well Yes! soup varieties also signals an increasingly more mainstream appeal, he said.

Quinoa, sorghum, amaranth and millet are trending, said Brian Anderson, Ph.D., vice-president of innovation and marketing for Bunge in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. The ancient grains may contribute texture, flavor and sustainability stories, he said. Bars, yogurts, cereal and baked foods are potential applications.

“Some ancient grains impart an earthy or nutty flavor that many find appealing and can contribute an enjoyable, crunchy texture, as well,” Anderson said. “From a color perspective, it depends on the grain. Ancient grains are also a great way to incorporate natural colors in an application. We offer both red and white millet, white sorghum and white quinoa.

“Not only do ancient grains deliver desirable taste, texture and color, they also have compelling stories of origin, bringing a unique appeal to the foods that many people consume every day.”

Whole grain items may differ by the source of wheat variety, too.

“Red and white whole wheat differ in both color and flavor,” said Rachel Warner, director of national accounts for Grain Craft, Chattanooga, Tennessee, U.S. “White whole wheat is much brighter due to the characteristic light colored bran. In addition, white whole wheat has a milder flavor due to the absence of bitter tannins associated with red colored bran in red whole wheat. In both types, finer texture or granulation seems to be preferred as bran particles in finished products are less obvious.”

The heirloom allure

Heirloom plants are those that were planted long ago, perhaps more than 100 years ago, and now are being grown again. Heirloom wheats such as triticale and spelt will allow people to try different wheat varieties, said Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills.

“There is an allure to trying foods that were popular over 100 years ago,” he said. “They have a history, a locality and an ethnic tradition that many consumers find comforting and reassuring.”

Heirloom wheat varieties could be examples of “un-novation” that Daniel Marciani, executive development chef for Ardent Mills, talked about Sept. 26, 2016, at the Whole Grains Council conference “Whole Grains in Foodservice, the Next Frontier” in Rosemont, Illinois, U.S.

“It’s rolling back and looking at history and saying, ‘What’s worked in the past? Maybe we can go back to that and see what’s good,’” Marciani said.

He demonstrated how to incorporate both triticale and rye into a whole grain bun. Marciani said triticale has the baking quality of wheat as well as rye’s ability to grow well in the field.

Popcorn in bars, mixes

Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet popping corn, a brand owned by Conagra Brands, Chicago, Illinois, U.S., earlier this year demonstrated how popcorn may add whole grain content to snacks.

Spices such as cinnamon may enhance popcorn, and bolder options such as Buffalo wing sauce, chili powder, wasabi, sriracha and curry powder are becoming more popular. Popcorn may join peanuts, seeds and dried fruit in trail mix.

Bars represent another opportunity. Popcorn, oats, cinnamon, brown sugar and dried cranberries may be combined into an energy bar. Kung pao crunch bars may feature popcorn, chow mein noodles, sesame oil and red pepper.

“Popcorn lovers appreciate that Orville Redenbacher’s is a whole grain snack with 0 grams of trans fat per serving,” said Kristin Reimers, Ph.D., director of nutrition for Conagra Brands.