Consider ancient grains, pulses and almonds as functional flour sources.

KANSAS CITY — Ways to make flour more functional are flourishing. Flour blends in 2016 are being sourced from amaranth to almonds, coffee pulp to pulses. Incorporating a certain percentage of various functional flours with traditional wheat flour may boost the levels of protein and other nutrients in finished products. Blends of different gluten-free flour blends also may add to the sensory appeal and nutritional benefits of gluten-free items.

Innovation shows no sign of slowing.

Ancient alternatives

The histories of ancient grains, many gluten-free, date back centuries. The Aztecs in Mexico ate amaranth. Incas in South America grew quinoa. Teff long has been a staple in Ethiopia.

U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers have incorporated amaranth and chia, an ancient seed often called an ancient grain, into cookies and cookie dough. The March issue of the U.S.D.A.’s AgResearch magazine featured their work.

Amaranth has a protein content of 13% to 14%, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston. Amaranth flour contains lysine, an amino acid, according to the U.S.D.A.’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.

The U.S.D.A. researchers in Peoria tested amaranth-oat flour blends, amaranth flour alone and wheat flour alone in gluten-free sugar cookies and cookie dough. Amaranth and its composites had improved water-holding capacities compared to wheat flour. Differences were found in the hardness and shapes of doughs and cookies. No significant differences in color and flavor were found among all cookies.

“Our amaranth-oat cookies were acceptable in all aspects,” said George E. Inglett, a U.S.D.A. chemist. “They had improved nutritional value and physical properties along with gluten-free uniqueness.”

For chia-oat composites, the researchers dry-blended Nutrim (a commercial product made from barley or oats), oat bran concentrate and whole wheat flour with finely ground chia.

“Whole chia seeds are not easily absorbed in our systems because of their hard outer coats, but they are pretty good when ground in with other components,” Mr. Inglett said. Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, that help lower blood cholesterol and prevent coronary heart disease, he said.

Ardent Mills, Denver, continues to explore flour possibilities with its line of ancient grains.

Amaranth and chia may be incorporated into flour blends to improve the nutritional qualities of cookies.

“While it’s true that some of Ardent Mills ancient grains are comparatively higher in protein, such as amaranth and quinoa, and have high levels of phytonutrients like the calcium and magnesium found in teff, for us and our customers the excitement starts when you combine these grains and target specific benefits,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills. “For example, all ancient grains are considered whole grains and thus deliver the benefits of whole grain nutrition.”

Ardent Mills’ Sustagrain may complement ancient grains. A barley variety, Sustagrain contains more fiber than any whole grain available and is particularly high in beta-glucan, Mr. Trouba said.

“Combining ancient grain flours with Sustagrain can deliver a variety of nutrients and fiber in finished foods that make an excellent source for fiber claims, or approved health claims related to beta-glucan,” he said.

Ancient grains may add color and flavor along with enhanced nutritional content, he said. Many of them do not contain gluten, which means developers will need to consider the impact of such gluten-free ancient grains on volume and crumb structure in finished baked applications.

“Typically when gluten-containing ingredients are decreased due to the addition of ancient grains, mix times are usually shorter,” Mr. Trouba said. “For gluten-free applications, it’s important to remember these ingredients usually hold more water than native starch. So adjustments to moisture are often needed, and although some structure can come from ancient grains, other starches and protein are usually still necessary.”