Formulators may take several paths when creating whole grain snacks with visual, texture and taste appeal. A direction for texture may involve the small particle size of the ancient grain amaranth or the use of extrusion to create a puff. A search for flavor may lead to added spices or seasonings or even a buttery, corn flavor from whole grain corn flour.

“From a formulation standpoint, whole grain flours and inclusions fit well in many snacks, and (fit) better than in many bread products because volume and rise is not as important,” said Colleen M. Zammer, director of product marketing for Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, Mass. “In addition, snack foods are all about flavor and texture satisfaction, which can easily be delivered through various forms of many traditional whole grains, including wheat, rye and brown rice but also from their ancient counterparts amaranth, millet, sorghum, buckwheat and quinoa, many of which have been ‘popped’ and eaten as snack foods in their originating countries.”

The June 28 Federal Register brought news that may lead to more whole grain snacks in schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture published an interim final rule to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, other than food sold under the lunch and breakfast programs. The requirements included that a grain product contain 50% or more whole grains by weight.

Innovation may be an asset when achieving a desired whole grain level in snacks. New types and combinations of spices and seasonings may be created, Ms. Zammer said. For example, a snack from Mexico called alegria combines amaranth with honey, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Blending whole grains may add different colors, flavor profiles and textures to a finished grain-based food, said Jeff Casper, R.&D. manager for Horizon Milling. Blends also may improve the healthy image of the ingredient list. Horizon Milling and Cargill are working together to understand the benefits of blending Cargill’s whole grain corn flour under the MaizeWise brand with white whole wheat flour under Horizon Milling’s WheatSelect brand.

The blends have been tested in bars, rolls, bread and pasta. In some instances the whole grain corn flour went through a partial pre-gelatinization process, which led to the starch behaving in a desirable way.

Chad Rieschl, snacks and cereal, senior food research technologist for Cargill, said whole grain corn flour works well in extruded products, such as cereal products. It may provide a buttery, corn-type flavor and a nice aroma. The whole grain corn flour may pair well with savory seasonings, too. For one example, Cargill created sour tropical punch snack puffs that have 10 grams of whole grains per 30-gram serving.

Grain Millers, Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., also has worked with whole grain blends in snacks. The company is able to partially gelatinize some starches in grains and flours by using different processing techniques, said Rajen Mehta, senior director of specialty ingredients for Grain Millers.

“Some grains and flours take a little longer to cook,” Dr. Mehta said. “We can pre-cook them.”

Corn flour is one ingredient that often is pre-gelatinized, he said.

The right level of gelatinization may allow products, especially ones that are gluten-free or whole grain, to form together properly, Dr. Mehta said. If the starch fraction in a product, such as a cracker, is not gelatinized properly, it will not be cohesive enough. The cracker may not hold together.

Particle size reduction may help prevent any grittiness in snacks.

“Particle size is where the industry is today, controlling the particle size,” Dr. Mehta said.

The fiber level may vary by whole grain type. Grain Millers offers a FiberMaxx line of insoluble and soluble fibers that may be used to boost the fiber level and optimize texture in whole grain products.

ConAgra Mills, Inc., a business of Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Inc., offers ancient grains in flours, seeds and blends, which then may be used in snacks, said Don Trouba, director of marketing for ConAgra Mills. For example, historically Latin American ingredients like quinoa and amaranth flour may be used in multigrain tortilla chips to add a sense of culinary adventure.

Ultragrain whole white wheat flour and Sustagrain, a proprietary identity-preserved barley variety, are two other ConAgra Mills’ ingredients that may boost whole grain level in snacks, especially crackers. ConAgra Mills has been exploring adding Sustagrain into extruded snacks such as a puff or extruded crisps, Mr. Trouba said.

White whole grain sorghum flour from Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., has a light color and neutral flavor that makes it easier to incorporate whole grains into a variety of products, said Brook Carson, director of R.&D. at ADM Milling in Overland Park, Kas.

“The taste difference normally associated with whole grains is due to the additional tannins found in the bran of the grain,” she said. “White whole grain varieties typically contain fewer tannins, which results in a less bitter taste. The bitter taste of whole grains can also be overcome with added sweetness or with a masking agent in the product.”

Spices and seasonings are other ways to overcome any off-flavor associated with whole grains.

Mr. Rieschl said formulators creating whole grain food items like working with a base material that is bland enough to carry flavors and flavor profiles. When formulating snacks, coatings and seasonings may be used to cover up any off-flavor associated with whole grain content. Formulators therefore may be able to pack more whole grain content into snacks.

“Extreme flavors are really popular with the kids,” Mr. Rieschl said.

QualiTech, Chaska, Minn., offers Flav-R-Grain, a granular corn germ product designed to enhance the appearance of multigrain products and offer a roasted corn/nut flavor and aroma, said Ron Heddleson, director of technical services for QualiTech, Chaska, Minn. It has 19 grams of fiber per 100 grams and works well in snack bars, tortilla chips, multi-grain snacks, crackers, cookies, taco shells, cereal, bread, batter and breadings.

Dough rheology and shelf life are two other areas of concern.

“When adding whole grain to snack products, such as crackers, the dough can become more difficult to process,” Ms. Carson said. “ADM’s Prolite wheat protein isolate is very helpful when formulating with whole grain to improve dough rheology, mix times and finished product quality, while increasing the protein content of the product.”

There are strategies to keeping an adequate shelf life in snacks with whole grains. Beth Arndt, director of R.&D. for ConAgra Mills, said to use fresh ingredients that have been stored under the conditions recommended by the supplier — choice of oils is important. For example, using high-oleic sunflower oil may give a cracker a longer shelf life than when compared to using regular sunflower oil.

“Another strategy that can help to lengthen the shelf life of whole grain-based snacks is to add antioxidants, such as rosemary extract or mixed tocopherols to the formula,” Ms. Arndt said. “The type of packaging used also plays a role in helping to prolong freshness of snacks. Finally, it is important that the snacks are stored under cool, dry conditions, and the packages should be tightly sealed.”

Following proper formulation and packaging strategies for whole grain items may pay off, and not only in the case of whole grain snacks.

“Whole grain consumption is going to continue to increase,” Mr. Casper said. “I think we’re going to see more of a cultural shift. As people become more used to whole grains, they will seek them out and not just for health benefits. People will actually start seeking out whole grain products for their texture and flavor.”

School meals take a leading role in whole grain charge

Getting whole grain products into school meal programs is not the easiest of tasks. School food service personnel want to appeal to a common denominator, or as many students as possible.

Some children are raised on whole grain products at home, said Chad Rieschl, snacks and cereal, senior research food technologist for Cargill. Others are not and are making the transition to whole grain product through school meals. Five to 10 years from now, high school students may be more familiar with whole grain products than the high school students of today, he said.

School food service operators currently tend to play to a common denominator, he said. They want to find foods that most children will eat.

“Their goal, their mission is making sure kids get the nutrition they need, and doing it on a very limited budget,” Mr. Rieschl said.

ConAgra Mills, Inc., a business of Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Inc., has had success getting its Ultragrain white whole wheat flour into school meals. In its school food service efforts, ConAgra Mills partners with food service programs, other ingredient companies and food companies, said Don Trouba, director of marketing for ConAgra Mills.

Many districts are into scratch baking and cooking, he said. ConAgra Mills partnered with Denver Public Schools to help them adjust their formulas. The Denver Public Schools now use Ultragrian All Purpose Flour Blend T-2, a flour blend that is 55% Ultragrain and 45% enriched white flour.

For one example of partnering with other ingredient companies, Azteca Foods, Inc., Summit-Argo, Ill., uses Ultragrain in its tortillas. Ultragrain also is found in whole grain snacks from Pepperidge Farm, Inc., Norwalk, Conn., and in Domino’s Pizza Smart Slices designed for school meal programs.

Pasta is another successful school meal entry. JM Swank, another ConAgra Foods business, uses Ultragrain in its Ultragrain Pasta. Sales of Ultragrain Pasta to school food service programs are up 100% for the 2013-14 school year when compared to the 2012-13 school year, Mr. Trouba said. Ultragrain Pasta contains 51 grams of whole grains per 100 grams of dry pasta.

Ultragrain Pasta Plus also will be offered to schools for the first time this school year. The whole grain-rich pasta is an excellent source of fiber and a good source of protein, which allows it to qualify as a meat alternate when served in conjunction with a creditable meat/meat alternate.

Breakfast items are another avenue for whole grain growth in schools. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, breakfast average daily participation increased nationally to 13.15 million students from 12.81 million students over the past year.

The June 28 Federal Register brought news that may lead to more whole grain snacks in schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture published an interim final rule to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, other than food sold under the lunch and breakfast programs. The requirements included that a grain product contain 50% or more whole grains by weight.

“The number of servings allowed has been a limiting factor of grain-based foods in schools as sandwiches, wraps and pizza are favored over side dishes while also leaving room for some healthy grain-based desserts,” said Colleen M. Zammer, director of product marketing, Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, Mass. “White whole wheat continues to be a mainstay for formulating these items as it results in a food product with a relatively light color and minimal flavor contribution from the bran.

New varieties of white wheat with improved baking quality and consistency will enable a greater range of applications than are available today, and as the regulations expand to require 100% of grain servings be whole grain-rich, other sources such as spelt and rye may also be used to enhance the nutrition, tastes and texture of school meals.”

Promotion combinations possible for whole grains, gluten-free and organic

Adding whole grain items to a company’s portfolio seems like a smart marketing strategy, but companies do not have to stop there. Whole grains in some cases also may be gluten-free and/or organic.

While the Whole Grain Stamp now appears on more than 8,600 products worldwide, according to the Boston-based Whole Grains Council, the compound annual growth rate for the gluten-free category was 28% from 2008 to 2012, according to Packaged Facts. Meanwhile, 81% of U.S. families say they are purchasing organic at least sometimes, according to the Organic Trade Association.

Larger food companies are looking into using whole grains that are non-bioengineered and/or organic, said Rajen Mehta, senior director of specialty ingredients for Grain Millers, Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., Some want whole grains that are gluten-free.

Ancient grains work well in gluten-free formulations, said Don Trouba, director of marketing for ConAgra Mills, Inc., a business of Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Inc. Ancient grains in ConAgra Mills’ portfolio that are also whole grain include amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, teff, millet and buckwheat.

ConAgra has the ability to create gluten-free, ancient grain mixes for a number of applications, Mr. Trouba said.

“There is a marketing angle there to be sure,” he said.

Pizza restaurants and other food service companies may investigate ways to offer their customers a gluten-free pizza crust with whole ancient grain flours, rather than traditional rice or potato flour.

“People always appreciate the ability to have choices when it comes to dining out,” Mr. Trouba said.

Pricing and supply issues are causing growing pains in the whole grain category and milling in general, Dr. Mehta said. Some grains may be gluten-free. Some may be non-bioengineered. Some may be organic. However, some, such as quinoa, also may be in short supply.

“It’s an interesting time for the milling industry in general,” Dr. Mehta said.

Grain Millers, Inc. offers blends of such ancient grains as amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff, einkorn, emmer, spelt and Kamut.

“There are so many grains and flours to deal with,” Dr. Mehta said. “It’s not like in the old days, when you had corn, and you had wheat, and you had soy and oats.”