CHICAGO — Alternative grains may have a mild flavor, or a much stronger flavor. They generally may have a consistent supply from year to year, or weather conditions may impact supply from one year to the next. The supply may allow for incorporation into products under national brands, or, depending on the grain, it may not.

In a word, alternative grains are diverse, judging by comments from Ajay Bhaskar, PhD, R&D director, product development for PepsiCo, Inc., and Keith Petrofsky, PhD, director R&D for Ardent Mills, in a July 11 presentation in Chicago at IFT FIRST, the Institute of Food Technologists’ meeting and exposition.

IFT panelDr. Ajay Bhaskar, right, and Dr. Keith Petrofsky. 

 Dr. Petrofsky said he considered cereal grains such as sorghum, millet, rye and barley as alternative grains as well as heirloom wheat varieties such as spelt, emmer and Khorasan. He counts non-cereal grains, like amaranth and quinoa, as alternative grains, too. Dr. Petrofsky even put pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and yellow peas in the alternative grains category.

“All of these really fit into a big broad category that people call alternative grains,” he said. “There are a lot of different colors, flavors and textures, and nutritional benefits.”

Dr. Bhaskar said alternative grains in PepsiCo products are more likely to appear in brands like the company’s Simply portfolio than in more mainstream brands. Peas and chickpeas, since they are grown in North America, are more available.

“So there’s a very nice supply chain,” Dr. Bhaskar said.

Other alternative grains are grown in smaller regional areas and by a fewer number of farmers, Dr. Petrofsky said.

“From one year to the next it may be difficult to maintain the same composition and quality because they are environmentally affected,” he said.

Whether alternative grains will work in an application depends on the food category, Dr. Bhaskar said. Pasta, being a high-moisture food, gives formulators more opportunities to mask any off-flavor caused by alternative grains. Low-moisture foods like snacks present more challenges.

“From a flavor standpoint, there are other important differences as well,” Dr. Petrofsky said. “Some are more mild than others.”

Treatments may help alleviate flavor problems, he said, giving the example of roasted chickpeas having less of a beany flavor.

As consumers become more aware of alternative grains, their use in food should increase.

“Alternative grains are becoming more well-known, both as in the category and individually,” Dr. Petrofsky said. “You might have heard of quinoa. Well, 25 years ago, how many of you had heard of quinoa?”