Adventures in ancient grains
Simplot's Good Grains premium blends feature ancient grains like amaranth, khorasan wheat, black barley and red quinoa.

Colors and textures

“Apart from the healthfulness that ancient grains bring to any dish, they also introduce colors and textures,” said Mike Holleman, director of culinary development for Bemidji, Minn.-based InHarvest and chair of the advisory board for the Whole Grains Council.

Jason Ziobrowski
Jason Ziobrowski, corporate chef with InHarvest

“If you can add them, you’re going to stand out,” said Jason Ziobrowski, corporate chef with InHarvest. “We all know ancient grains are gaining ground with diners, as more and more Americans are interested in better-for-you menus, cleaner labels, sustainability and authenticity. Getting grains into recipes without going against the grain of the well-intentioned, yet less-adventuresome customer can be challenging.”

Some of his favorite applications include adding ancient grains into the stuffing base used in grilled or baked vegetables such as heirloom tomatoes, poblano peppers and portabella mushroom caps. Another suggestion is to add the grains into a batter mixed with seasonal veggies to give a healthy spin to fritters and hush puppies.

“Prepared salads for the deli or salad bar are a great vehicle for ancient grains," Mr. Ziobrowski said. “Research certainly points to changing consumer behavior about healthful choices. But the larger imperative is flavor and eye appeal.”

Adding grain salads that are well composed and colorful entice and invite diners. For consumers who are unsure about trying new grains, it makes sense to use them in familiar recipes.

“I’ve helped food service operations set up stir fry stations where ancient grains take center stage right alongside many varied rice forms,” Mr. Ziobrowski said. “Consumers know that grains are good for them and appreciate the opportunity to mix and match the familiar rice with an unfamiliar grain. One of my favorite combinations is tri-color quinoa with short-grain brown rice.”

The familiarity of oatmeal makes steel-cut oats an interesting grain for use in familiar side dishes and prepared entrees.

“Grainful was actually born when I finished a pot of jambalaya, didn’t have white rice on hand and swapped in steel cut oats,” Ms. Sacco said. “Since, I’ve learned that steel cut oats are a great canvas for bold flavor profiles such as curry, but subtle enough to complement cheese.”

Side dishes are a smart choice when experimenting with new ingredients, as consumers don’t feel like the commitment or investment is as great as it is with an entree. That’s what Simplot Food Group, based in Boise, Idaho, is banking on with its new Simplot Good Grains. The frozen pre-cooked and seasoned blends of grains and vegetables are in portion packs small enough that consumers are willing to try. The line includes an ancient grains and kale blend with brown and red rice, kale, red quinoa and black barley.

SK Food Ingredients quinoa puffs
SK Food offers a puffed, crisp ingredient that may be used in cereals, clusters, confections, salad toppings, snacks and yogurt toppings.

Differentiating with the grain

“Culinary professionals are quickly learning how to incorporate these grains into many dishes, adding texture, flavor and variety. They are a great tool to add new life to old dishes,” said Jonathan Dendauw, chef instructor, The French Pastry School, Chicago.

Ancient grains are an easy way to differentiate and adopt premium positioning in a crowded marketplace. For example, McDonald’s and Starbucks made handmade yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits a popular grab-and-go food. But items are similar, that is, until new grains are added.

SK Food International Inc., Fargo, N.D., a business unit of Healthy Food Ingredients, offers a puffed, crisp ingredient that may be used in cereals, clusters, confections, salad toppings, snacks and yogurt toppings. The whole grain, gluten-free ingredient is milled and extruded from a blend of ancient grains, including amaranth, quinoa, sorghum and millet.

InHarvest paradise ancient grains blend
InHarvest offers a blend of heirloom Kamut Khorasan bulgur wheat, buckwheat groats, heirloom Colusari red rice, quinoa flakes and brown flax seed.

InHarvest offers a blend of heirloom Kamut Khorasan bulgur wheat, buckwheat groats, heirloom Colusari red rice, quinoa flakes and brown flax seed.

“This can be used instead of granola in yogurt parfaits to deliver additional protein and omega-3 fatty acids, while also adding flavor and sustained energy for busy diners,” Mr. Holleman said.

Something as simple as breakfast cereal may be upgraded with ancient grains, according to Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills, Denver. “They can be mixed with something more familiar, like oatmeal or wheat for added nutrition, or with sweet, roasted and nutty flavors,” he said. The grains add visual interest to a morning bowl.

“Flour forms of gluten-free grains make great batters and breadings,” Mr. Emery said. “I like to add coarse grinds to traditional batters and breadings, as well as gluten-free ones, to give the recipe a flavorful twist. Blending ancient grains allows for a signature flavor, and with fried foods, the inclusion of ancient grains gives the product an element of healthfulness.”

Quinoa-crusted chicken
Quinoa may be used as an alternative for breading on chicken.

Mr. Ahrens said, “Quinoa or amaranth flakes make a perfect alternative for a traditional breading or panko breadcrumb. The ancient grain flakes maintain a desirable crunch when baked or fried.

“Ancient grain flours are finding their way into pasta. These flours can replace some of the semolina to produce traditional pasta noodles or the flours may be used as a direct replacement of semolina to create gluten-free pastas, and even wonton wrappers.”