Bowl of whole grains
Ancient grains, heirloom wheat varieties and popcorn may provide ingredient inspiration.

KANSAS CITY — Looking back, the whole grain category has grown considerably for more than a decade. Looking ahead, food companies might find more success by looking back — to older raw material sources. Ingredients suppliers are promoting ancient grains and heirloom wheat varieties. Popcorn, a long-standing whole grain snack, also may serve as an ingredient inspiration in whole grain product introductions.

The rise of the whole grain category dates to about 2005. Around that time the Dietary Guidelines for Americans began urging more strongly greater whole grain foods intake, and the Whole Grains Council, Boston, launched the Whole Grain Stamp as a way to promote whole grain levels in products in the United States. Now, that stamp is found on more than 11,000 products in 55 countries.

The annual International Food Information Council Foundation’s food and health surveys show steady consumer interest in whole grains. The 2016 survey found 59% of respondents said they were trying to consume whole grains, which was up from 56% in 2015 and 53% in 2014.

“Consumers are looking for ingredients that are recognizable and that they can feel good about,” said Gerrie Bouchard, director of marketing for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago. “They are also looking for ingredients that provide multiple benefits, and grains are a great way to deliver on that. Whole grains offer ‘real food’ credentials along with important nutrients they provide — fiber, protein and minerals.”

Restaurants are introducing people to whole grains in the form of ancient grains, which draw their name from the fact ancient civilizations ate them. The “What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast” from the National Restaurant Association, Washington, listed ancient grains as the hottest trend among all pasta and grains. The survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs, all members of the American Culinary Federation, found 62% of respondents considered ancient grains a hot trend.

Following ancient grains among all pasta and grains were non-wheat noodles/pasta and farro, another ancient grain. The survey showed 48% of respondents considered farro a hot trend.