Grains: What’s old is new again

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 22 No. 6
Volume 22
Issue 6

In a market segment as old and enduring as grains, one might wonder if further innovation is possible.

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In a market segment as old and enduring as grains, one might wonder if further innovation is possible. In fact, an exploration of grains reveals that not only has the definition of “grains” loosened and expanded in recent years to include some non-cereal-grass seeds and other plants, such as quinoa and chia, but commercial applications for grains have evolved and changed as well.

Traditional domesticated cereal grains, so-called “ancient grains,” and non-cereal-grass seeds are now all gathered under the “grains” umbrella and are puffed into snacks, blended into other foods, formulated into beverages, and milled into concentrates. Grains are nearly as old as humanity itself, yet their dynamism in the commercial market remains strong.


What Is a Grain?

Conventional grains are the seeds or fruits of various grass crops, particularly the cereal grasses, harvested for human or animal consumption. These include wheat, maize, rice, barley, millet, oats, rye, and triticale, and their history is long, having served as staple foods for humankind for upwards of tens of thousands of years.

Some so-called “ancient grains” are conventional cereal grains as well, such as spelt and khorasan wheat (Kamut). Others, such as amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa, are the seeds of broadleaf plants, sometimes referred to as “pseudograins.”

What’s important, however, is that grains are now regarded and marketed as such based more on their nutritional profile and food application than their botanical classifications. With this newer, more-fluid definition of grains, suppliers and marketers can tailor their grain offerings to consumers seeking lower-gluten or gluten-free choices, higher-protein choices, “cleaner” choices, and convenience.


What’s New in Ancient?

“The growing consumer interest in clean-label ingredients has put ancient grains at the top of all healthy grains,” says Olga Garcia, milling marketing manager for Bunge North America (White Plains, NY). “This demand has shown steady growth over the years.” Bunge’s Whole Harvest Ancients brand adds such grains as quinoa, sorghum, and millet to masa products for wraps, tortillas, and taco shells, thereby conferring the cachet of ancient grains to more conventional food products. Garcia adds that these ancient-grain-enhanced products “can help customers meet growing demand for higher nutritional value, including higher fiber and protein, as well as their demand for gluten-free, non-GMO products.”

In the beverage space, which is a relatively new and interesting market for grains (more on this ahead), Andrew Wheeler at FutureCeuticals Inc. (Momence, IL) says that the company’s ancient grains are among the “major movers.” He adds that “organic and gluten-free have become almost a given expectation.”

At GoodMills Innovation (Hamburg, Germany), Svenja Frank, head of social business and communications, points to ancient grains’ “authenticity” and “naturalness, but with added functional benefits, such as improved intestinal health.” Ancient grains emmer and einkorn, she says, are currently experiencing increased demand at GoodMills Innovation from customers using them as ingredients in bread, rolls, cakes, and muesli. The company is also marketing its 2ab Wheat, which is an ancient grain “consisting only of the genomes A and B-which contain few fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols,” Franks adds. “It is free of the D-gluten found in modern wheat varieties that can be difficult to digest.”

She also points to GoodMills Innovation’s research into and work with ancient-grain variety tartary buckwheat, processed by the company into its RutinX ingredient. “This buckwheat variety is a prehistoric plant, rich in fiber and trace elements such as zinc and rutin,” Frank explains. “Rutin is a naturally occurring phytochemical. We succeeded in reducing the strong, bitter taste of rutin and now deliver it as a versatile ingredient for different application areas.”


Grains by the Glass

“Beverage-ready grains,” such as those offered by FutureCeuticals, are a nutritious, “clean label” way to improve taste and texture of functional beverages, says the company’s Wheeler. Stable across a range of applications and easily incorporated into existing formulations, he explains, beverage-ready grains work well for formulating into protein and green drinks as well as dairy and dairy alternatives. “The USDA-patented TRIM process we deploy takes the normally ‘gritty’ grains and transforms them into a hydrocolloid-like material that masks off notes and delivers a smooth and creamy mouthfeel to beverages,” without the need for artificial gums or fats and oils, Wheeler says.


Is Gluten a Dirty Word?

When asked how the gluten-free trend has affected FutureCeuticals’ grain-powder offerings, Wheeler replies frankly and bluntly: “We don’t sell much barley any more, if that tells a story on how gluten-free has become the expectation.” He elaborates, “BarleyTrim used to be a top global product for us five to seven years ago, but now we see ModCarb (a blend), QuinoaTrim, AncienTrim (ancient grains), and Nutrim (oats)- all organic and gluten-free-as our top products in the beverage-ready-grains space.”

GoodMills Innovation’s Frank speaks along similar lines. “The gluten-free trend definitely plays an important role in our innovative work,” she explains. “The issue of tolerability has formed part of our research for more than 20 years.” The company offers its reduced-gluten 2ab Wheat in addition to gluten-free masa flours and YePea (a European, GMO-free alternative to soybean grist). “Nowadays,” Frank adds, “the hype has led to those who can tolerate wheat or rye well continuing to seek gluten-free alternatives anyway.”

“Making wheat cool again” is the edgy slogan Arcadia Biosciences is using to promote its to-be-launched GoodWheat Reduced-Gluten wheat-flour products. The company’s reduced-gluten wheat, developed through research funded in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders Institute, is the second product to be added to its recently announced GoodWheat-branded ingredients platform, along with its high-fiber resistant-starch wheat lines. The goal of the GoodWheat brand, according to Arcadia’s press materials, is “to add value to the entire wheat supply chain, from seed to table, by enabling a wider range of choices to meet evolving consumer demands”-less gluten being one of them.

Bunge’s Garcia cites research-firm Mintel’s placement of “gluten-free” third among consumers’ trending claims. “This demand has clearly affected all food segments,” she states, “and the grains market has not been an exception.”

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