Ancient grains expansion

by Jeff Gelski
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Ancient grains are the star of General Mills' new Cheerios variety.

Ancient grains are showing up in bars and beverages, salads and cereal. What about frozen novelties?

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., plans to sample ice pops with chia seeds at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition July 11-14 in Chicago.

“There are lots of uses in chia in the beverage category,” said Marilyn Stieve, business development manager for Glanbia Nutritionals. “We’re trying to come up with some unique sort of form outside of beverage.”

Other ancient grains like quinoa, teff and amaranth continue to star in product introductions as well. The functional benefits of ancient grains may be leveraged across nontraditional categories, said Zachery Sanders, director of marketing for Ardent Mills, Denver.

“The granular appearance, mouthfeel and nutritional benefits can add new dimensions to beverages, specifically the smoothie and energy drink segment,” he said. “Ancient grains also can be used to give a new twist in the baked goods and dessert arena. Teff seed, for example, with its sweet molasses-like flavor profile, can be added to upscale desserts and/or snack cookies to give a unique flavor. Amaranth, tied to Aztec civilizations, can be used in Latin baked goods such as taquitos or empanadas to give a subtle peppery flavor.”

Although no specific regulatory definition exists for ancient grains, they are typically non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. and often organic, said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing for Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass. Many ancient grains are gluten-free.

“Therefore, they fit well in products geared toward millennial consumers who are seeking these benefits,” she said. “Ancient grains have been used fairly broadly in baked goods to date, but we also see applicability in side dishes such as hot or cold grain salads, soups and even dessert items. Their flavors are diverse from earthy to peppery, and therefore they can add flavor and texture dimension to a wide range of sweet and savory foods.”

Ms. Zammer said Bay State Milling at the I.F.T. event in Chicago plans to showcase nutrition bars that use ancient grains in a variety of formats, including whole inclusions and puffed grains that contribute a range of flavors and textures.

Besides the ice pop, Glanbia at I.F.T. plans to sample cookies featuring crisps with ancient grains. The crisps may contain sorghum, quinoa, amaranth, chia or flax. The addition of vegan protein allows the crisps to reach protein levels of 50% to 60%, Ms. Stieve said.

For one more ancient grain idea, spreads may be based on quinoa, flax or chia instead of peanuts, she said.

“With ancient grains already having a permanent spot in certain food segments, particularly ones that traditionally contain wheat, we are seeing them being incorporated into foods beyond baked goods, bars and cereals,” said Rikka Cornelia, product manager at BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif. “As with most ingredients, once consumer familiarization is established, the more innovative stage begins. In the past year or even just the past few months, there have been several product launches that feature ancient grains in beverages.”

She said ancient grains are prominent in fruit and vegetable beverages for two reasons. For one, they complement the health halo of the beverages. For another, they provide texture.

“Other categories that ancient grains are more commonly being incorporated into are pouches and soups,” she said. “They are even popping up in chocolate bars, salad dressings and meat alternatives, but not as prevalently.”

Boosts for cereal and yogurt

Recently, product launches for cereal and Greek yogurt featured ancient grains.

Minneapolis-based General Mills, Inc. launched Cheerios + Ancient Grains, which contain oat and quinoa clusters, puffed spelt and Kamut brand Khorasan wheat.

“There are lots of ways to put the ancient grains into cereal applications,” Ms. Stieve said. “You can use them in a milled form and put them into extruded cereal. You could also use the crisp form in clusters and unique texture products.”

For Greek yogurt, Chobani launched an item with quinoa, buckwheat, chia seeds and amaranth.

“The easiest way for manufacturers to use ancient grains in yogurt is as a topping,” Ms. Cornelia said. “If manufacturers want to go beyond that, harder ancient grains can be incorporated into the yogurt itself since their texture will more likely hold up because of their tough exterior. For example, whole quinoa seeds would still have a little crunch while quinoa flakes would become soft.”

Quinoa may be the current queen of ancient grain innovation.

Newk’s Eatery, Jackson, Miss., this month launched a red quinoa and kale salad. Blog posts this year from Honeyville, Inc., Brigham City, Utah, featured quinoa in recipes for such items as donuts, cheesecake bites and snickerdoodle energy bites.

Newk’s Eatery launched a red quinoa and kale salad this month.

Keen Ingredients, Denver, offers quinoa ingredients in several forms. Organic quinoa bran may be used in nutritional supplements, gluten-free snacks and toppings for bakery products. Organic quinoa flour may be used in baked foods such as bread, muffins and scones while other possibilities are batters and breadings, snacks, cereal, soups, sauces and gravies. Quinoa protein concentrate may be used in nutritional supplements such as bars and beverages. Quinoa fiber may be used in rolls, bread, cakes, sweet goods and tortillas.

Laurie Scanlin, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Keen Ingredients, will speak about quinoa on July 12 at the I.F.T. event in Chicago.

Shelf life, supply concerns

When working with quinoa or any ancient grain, take shelf life and supply into consideration.

“They all have their unique challenges,” Ms. Stieve said. “Some of the ancient grains do have flavor profiles that have to be overcome.”

Flax and chia have higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a healthy omega-3 fatty acid but also an acid that may lead to rancidity in products.

“That is a fatty acid that can result in some off-flavors if it’s not treated properly or handled properly,” Ms. Stieve said.

Ancient grains experienced a significant spike in popularity in a short period of time, Ms. Cornelia said.

Food and beverage companies thus need to manage inventory well, she said. Companies should provide a forecast to their ingredient suppliers and be realistic with pricing.

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