Bakers need look no further than their flour system to deliver. Variety flours help raise ordinary baked foods to premium status. This can be accomplished by either replacing a portion of traditional wheat flour or using a proprietary blend.
“When people think of flour, they think mostly of traditional white flour found in many households; however, there is more out there for developers and consumers to explore,” said Shrene White, director of specialty grains and risk, Ardent Mills.
Take White Sonora wheat as an example. The grain’s origins date back to Mexico in the 1700s. Zachery Sanders, director of marketing, Ardent Mills, said its value is rising thanks to its heirloom status. Another example is triticale wheat.
“Triticale is more than a century old and is a hybrid of wheat and rye,” he added. “With characteristics of both, it has a subtle rye flavor and balanced sweetness and is well-suited for use in a variety of baked items and ideal for sweet and savory pastry applications.”
While cost and available supply of heritage or heirloom grains are always key considerations, flavor and functionality also must be considered.
“Heritage wheats such as White Sonora, Rouge de Bordeaux and Red Fife add subtle nuanced flavors over traditional wheat varieties, while ancient grains such as quinoa, teff, amaranth and sorghum add stronger, more pronounced flavor,” said Tim Howdeshell, product development scientist, R&D, Ardent Mills. “Machinability and functionality must also be considered. Certain wheat varieties such as spelt have high mixing tolerances and a highly functional gluten, whereas other flour additions may necessitate adding more gluten to support the dough structure.”
Spelt and rye are gluten-containing ancient grains, said Colleen Zammer, senior director of market and product development, Bay State Milling.
“Rye has exceptionally high levels of fiber at greater than 15% (whole rye) and has an earthy flavor that is distinct from other grains but blends with other flavors as well,” she said. “Spelt is an ancient wheat that is on the higher end of the protein scale at close to 15%, and while some of that protein is in the form of gluten, the ratio of gliadin to glutenin is different than bread wheat, which makes it more extensible and great for flatbreads.”
Many grain-derived variety flours are available in sprouted form. This improves the nutritional profile while still being controlled for baking performance.
“Our point of difference with sprouted wheats is that we maximize and optimize the germination process to provide the perfect balance of flavor and performance in baked goods,” Zammer said. “Controlling the germination process results in a wheat flour that outperforms traditional whole wheat flour, requiring fewer additives, which results in a cleaner label.”
Consumers are seeking alternatives to wheat for a variety of reasons, be that perceived nutritional or health related, or just looking for unique flavors and textures to entice the palate.
“Many of these variety flours also tip the scale in favor of protein and fiber, which are nutrients that consumers of all ages are seeking to increase in their diets, and therefore, can make for easy nutritional enhancements to grain-based foods,” Zammer said. “Sprouted takes this benefit a step further by making better-for-you more available to the body and better tasting as well.”
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“Many hold more water than native starch, so experiments with moisture adjustments are especially important,” said Don Trouba, director-marketing at Ardent Mills. “Adding other starches and protein is often necessary.”
Ardent Mills offers numerous flour options, including ancient grains such as spelt, teff, amaranth, buckwheat and sorghum. Most recently, the company introduced a line of colored barleys.
“These colored grains add visual appeal and subtle flavor variations,” said Zachery Sanders, director of marketing, Ardent Mills. “They also can provide a clean label option for color replacement. Our purple barley and blackjack barley are water soluble and give a rich purple or a slate black color to applications.”
Barley is an underappreciated player in the grain world, Sanders said. Grown in the United States, this powerhouse ingredient has the potential to be the next “super grain” in terms of overall nutrition, versatility and sustainable growing. Quinoa already has reached super-grain status. In response, Ardent Mills has invested in the crop.
Since 2014, quinoa has experienced enormous growth on menus and in consumer-packaged goods. As most quinoa is imported from South America, it can lend itself to supply challenges and year-over-year price fluctuations.
“Our North American-grown quinoa solves this problem with supply assurance, predictable pricing and quality that our customers can count on,” White said. “And, even more importantly, it supports family farms in this new, lucrative market.”
The quinoa is available in whole seeds, whole grain flour, crisps and flakes. The seeds are small, light-colored, round grains with a unique pop or snap in texture. As one of the most popular ancient grains, it assists product formulators to make multigrain claims, enhance nutritional profiles and increase fiber.
Use of sorghum flour has picked up pace in the baking and snack sector. It is gluten-free, non-GMO and easier to digest than wheat flour.
“Sorghum is also high in fiber and provides antioxidants like phenolic compounds and anthocyanin, which helps reduce inflammation and lower free radical damage,” Mr. Stephanian said. “It’s a great solution for bakery applications like breads, crackers and snacks.”
Several chefs have been known to work with sorghum to deliver subtle sweetness. With a variety of unique and culinary-forward ways to use this versatile ingredient, sorghum is popping up in bread, baked foods, classic pastries and more.