Grass ingredient advances: New findings in wheat grass and barley markets
In the last year, products with wheat or barley grass as a primary functional ingredient generated more than $47 million in U.S. sales, according to the market researcher SPINS.1 The juvenile leaves of wheat and barley plants garner this kind of attention because of their rich nutritional content, a long-established health halo, and especially fast harvest cycles. Though the ingredient options within the grass category are limited to just a few (namely wheat, barley, oat, and alfalfa), there’s opportunity for innovation and scientific discovery. A few findings of late may grab your attention.
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What are grass product manufacturers doing to distinguish themselves in a well saturated market? Amazing Grass, a recognizable brand in the space, has been extending its product line for years with new product applications, target audiences, and added ingredients and flavors. Its latest adaptation is to add protein and collagen to a variety of wheatgrass and kale products.
“Recently, we’ve seen explosive growth from animal-sourced collagen peptides for beauty benefits but felt there was an unmet need for female consumers seeking protein alternatives more tailored toward overall wellness,” said an Amazing Grass spokesperson regarding the company’s recent launch of Amazing Protein Glow. “With Amazing Protein Glow, we wanted to provide a plant-based solution to this collagen trend, while making sure consumers still received the protein benefit sought for satiety and lean muscle support.”
How is Amazing Grass accomplishing its plant-based feat with protein and collagen? It’s doing so by incorporating an organic protein blend featuring pea and brown rice protein, and B vitamins and amla (Emblica officinalis), both of which are associated with collagen production in limited published research.
Photo from Amazing Grass
Grass Drying Methods
Drying grass ingredients is an essential step in producing shelf-stable grass powders. Depending on the budget and available resources, a manufacturer may choose to dry grasses either by shade, oven, or freezing. Not surprisingly, as evident in a new study, different drying methods can yield grass powders with different levels of nutrients.2
Researchers at Punjab Agricultural University in India dried fresh wheat grass using shade, oven, and freezing methods. They then performed nutrient analyses on each dry powder. When wheat grass was frozen, it maintained superior amounts of vitamin C, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, and antioxidant activity. Shade drying resulted in the greatest amount of iron, and oven drying maintained the most zinc and tannins.
Though freeze drying didn’t have top scores for all nutrients, its multiple benefits may be an indicator as to why most large-scale ingredient suppliers prefer this drying method over others.
2. Devi CB et al. “Effect of drying procedure on nutritional composition, bioactive compounds, and antioxidant activity of wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum L.).” Journal of Food Science and Technology, vol. 56, no. 1 (January 2019): 491–496
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Though it doesn’t carry the same name recognition as wheat grass, barley grass (Hordeum vulgare) is a popular grass ingredient that’s sold in standalone juice and supplement products and as part of combination grass and green formulas. It’s slightly more bitter than wheat grass, but its nutrient contents are comparable. In some cases, they may even be superior.
Barley and wheat grass are significant sources of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and antioxidant compounds. In comparing the two ingredients, however, researchers at the Ayub Agricultural Research Institute in Pakistan recently determined that barley grass juice had a greater antioxidant profile and greater free radical–scavenging activity than wheat grass juice when prepared and analyzed in a lab setting.3 It’s worth noting that, like all foods, wheat and barley grasses can contain different nutrient compositions depending on seed varieties, soil conditions, farming practices, and other factors. The present findings, however, suggest that barley grass is at least nutritionally competitive against wheat grass, despite its lesser fame.
3. Qamar A et al. “Exploring the phytochemical profile of green grasses with special reference to antioxidant properties.” International Journal of Food Properties. Published online October 30, 2018.
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Sidebar: A Novel Spinach Extract
Leafy greens are regularly formulated into grass products because of their complementary nutrients and similar marketing appeal. For companies interested in premium ingredients with added value, a specialty organic spinach extract may be worth considering.
Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA) recently introduced Solarplast. It’s a spinach extract made using a proprietary enzymatic process that unlocks and preserves spinach nutrients that are normally destroyed by conventional extraction processes. With Solarplast, the end result is reportedly an extract with greater antioxidant capacity. “This antioxidant power is exponentially greater due to the presence of enzymes that facilitate the glutathione pathway of antioxidant generation,” says John Deaton, PhD, the company’s vice president of science and technology.
While the ingredient may have many applications, Deerland is particularly keen to market this ingredient for healthy aging and “beauty from within” use.
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