Ancient grains rising in product development

by Jeff Gelski
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Consider adding texture, flavor and nutrition to cereal, yogurt or pizza crust. 
 
American consumers increasingly are waking up to ancient grains, which is evident from recent product launches from Quaker Oats and The Kellogg Co. Beside breakfast items, product developers are focusing on incorporating ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth into yogurt, bars, shakes and pizza crust as well.

Research from the Mintel Global New Products Database gives credence to ancient grain developments. The global number of food and drink product launches containing chia 

increased 70 percent between 2014 and 2015 while the percentage increases were 31 percent for teff and 27 percent for quinoa. Forty-one per cent of U.S. consumers have eaten ancient grain-based cereals.

“Flavorful and nutrient-dense ancient grains have begun to change the negative perception of some carbohydrates by leveraging their nutritional profile and rich heritage,” said Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst at Mintel. “Ancient grains offer an alternative to wheat but also come bundled with functional and nutritional components, and provide new flavors and textures. They are a great way for free-from products to talk about health.”

Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., in April introduced two breakfast items with ancient grains. Quaker SuperGrains Instant Hot Cereal features a blend of oats, barley, rye, flax and quinoa. Quaker Real Medleys SuperGrains Granola comes with oats, wheat, flaxseed, quinoa, sunflower seeds, amaranth and barley.

“As ancient grains’ presence has rapidly grown in the market-place, we’ve seen an influx of cereals launching that contain ancient grains,” said Brian Anderson, PhD, vice-president of marketing and innovation for Bunge North America, St. Louis. “We offer many different functional formats of ancient grains, but puffed varieties are an extremely popular option for cereals. A cereal puff application provides a lighter texture and crisp surface — sensory attributes that people seek in their cereals — while providing the health halo that surrounds ancient grains. It can also bring out a nutty, earthier flavor that consumers are seeking from grains.”

Ready-to-eat cold cereal may use a marketing and nutritional boost.

“Sales of cold cereal are not as robust as they were historically, and companies are in need of innovation and differentiation,” said Zack Sanders, director of marketing for Ardent Mills, Denver. “Quinoa, spelt, amaranth or khorasan wheat are a few examples of ancient grains that are growing in popularity. Quinoa is one of the most used ancient grains in cereal due to its broad popularity.”

For another breakfast innovation, The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., in May launched Special K Crustless Quiches. They are available in three varieties: uncured ham, cheese, quinoa and peppers; sausage, quinoa, peppers, mozzarella and asiago; and portabella, quinoa, Parmesan and kale. Special K Multigrain Crackers with Quinoa, another product launch, come in the two flavors of sea salt original and Parmesan sesame.

Ardent Mills demonstrated how ancient grains may function in pizza dough during the 2016 International Pizza Expo held March 27-30 in Las Vegas. The company sampled a rye and Reuben pizza with ground rye-pumpernickel, quinoa and Ardent Mills Kyrol high protein flour crust topped with pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. A salad pizza featured Ardent Mills Kyrol high protein flour and red quinoa.

“We offered samples of pizza made with doughs that highlight the great nutrition and complex flavors of different whole grain flours, like ancient grains, ground rye and sprouted wheat,” said Don Trouba, marketing director, Ardent Mills. “Our dough recipes featured mixed flours and grains, which we paired with complementary toppings that support different cuisines and culinary styles.”

Some yogurt product introductions come in dual components, one with yogurt and the other with items like grains, nuts, fruit or seeds. Ancient grains might be an option for such products.

“Ancient grains are a simple way to make yogurt even healthier and add texture and protein to a cup without compromising taste,” Dr. Anderson said. “Quinoa, for instance, is a good source of iron, zinc and vitamin B6, as well as an excellent source of folate and magnesium. We’ve been seeing millet, quinoa and sorghum appearing in parfaits and other yogurt dishes more and more frequently as health and wellness values influence food purchases, and as the grains become more familiar to the average consumer.

“Sorghum, in particular, can be converted into a syrup that is excellent when drizzled over a yogurt parfait. A lot of consumers haven’t experimented with it yet, but sorghum is a nutritional, versatile and delicious alternative sweetener and sugar substitute.”

Yogurt add-ins often enhance textures, like crunch and chew, as well as flavor, Sanders said.

“We see great potential in popped ancient grains,” he said. “The popping process transforms grains into something with more eye appeal and varied textures. Popped or puffed ancient grains such as amaranth or sorghum contribute slightly sweet and nutty flavors on their own, and they can also be flavored with honey and cinnamon and clustered with nuts and dried fruit.”

Kathryn Harris, product applications technologist for Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, Mass., said ancient grains are found in many nutritional bars and shakes.

“Chia and flax seeds work great in these applications, not only because they are high in fiber and protein, but because they act as an excellent binder for bars, or as a thickeners for shakes,” she said. “Additionally, grains like quinoa and millet are common inclusions for bars because they add a desirable crunchy texture.”

The non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. status of ancient grains may prove especially beneficial in sports nutrition products, Dr. Anderson said.

“Quinoa is a great option when it comes to sports nutrition, as it contains all nine essential amino acids, which are important to athletes seeking to build and repair muscle, and it also happens to be gluten-free,” he said.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., now offers barGain 700EF and barGain 701EF plant protein blends that combine the nutritional benefits of vegetable proteins in a functional, neutral flavor blend. They may be used in extruded bars, baked bars and clusters. The barGain 700EF is a blend of pea, chia and flaxseed. The barGain 701EF contains a mix of pea protein, identity-preserved soy and flaxseed.

Partnering ancient grains in product development may be another winning strategy.

“Quinoa pairs well with millet or amaranth to allow for a desirable product texture and appearance,” Ms. Harris said. “Chia and flax work synergistically to aid in functionality and contribute a desirable flavor to the product.”

The rising interest in ancient grains apparently has awoken the food and beverage industry in various categories.

“Ancient grains and seeds are still predominantly found in grain-based foods where they can enhance both gluten-containing and gluten-free foods,” said Jessica Wellnitz, product line manager for Bay State Milling. “However, the success in that category and growing consumer demand is driving use in other food categories as well.

“Utilizing interesting functional characteristics, like chia’s gelling properties for instance, can launch these ingredients into new and exciting platforms. These new applications allow ancient grains and seeds to dominate formulations. Whether it’s a chia pudding or a quinoa side dish, there is no question that ancient grains and seeds are becoming the main attraction.”

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