With updated dietary guidelines likely to favor whole grains, mills are introducing new blends.
Luckily for bakers, the big news regarding this year’s world grain crop isn’t likely to impact wholesale bakers within the United States.
The summer’s severe drought and forest fires in Russia destroyed 13.3 million hectares of the grain crop, around a third of the expected harvest, according to Reuters news service. The Kremlin’s subsequent ban on grain exports triggered a domestic and global rise in grain prices.
While the ban has certainly contributed to volatility in the marketplace, the U.S. has a large grain surplus, so supplies here are not affected, says Lee Sanders, senior vice president, government relations and public affairs, American Bakers Association, Washington, D.C.
“American bakers primarily purchase domestic and some Canadian wheat because of its higher quality. There is no issue with availability at this point,” Sanders says.
In other big news concerning whole grains, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health are set to update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, their food guide to promote healthier eating and a healthy lifestyle for Americans. e governmental departments update this guide every five years.
The Grain Foods Foundation and Wheat Foods Council (WFC) can’t say how whole grains will fare on the food pyramid (or even if the icon would remain a pyramid), although Judi Adams, WFC president, expects whole grains to retain a prominent position in daily recommendations.
As a member of the Dietary Guidelines Alliance, the WFC has been privy to committee hearings regarding the new guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines Alliance, a partnership of health organizations, the government and food industry organizations, advises consumers on how to apply the dietary guidelines.
The USDA will likely release its updated dietary guidelines in spring 2011, and it may even include a new symbol, other than the MyPyramid currently used, Adams says.
"The committee was really positive about consuming more whole grains, so we think they’ll still be a large food group, but at this point in time, we don’t know. We’ve heard the final report is supposed to come out by Dec. 31, with the launch of the new guidelines in the spring, but can’t get anyone to commit to that right now,” she says.
Even without the updated guidelines to nudge consumers, the International Food Information Council found in a 2010 study that 73 percent of consumers said they were trying to consume more whole grains, while 72 percent said they were trying to consume more fiber.
This seems to spell positive news for wholesale bakers who produce whole grain products. Consumers have heard the USDA’s calls for greater whole grain consumption and are more welcoming than ever of whole grain products, Sanders says.
“You see a good number of new, innovative whole grain products, including buns, rolls, crackers, pizza crust, pie crust and a variety of pastas,” she says. “Whole grain white has been in very high demand and is a great alternative that children like, as those products have the texture and taste similar to a traditional white enriched product.”
She expects to see even more bakery products make use of whole grain white flours such as ConAgra’s Ultragrain®. Its milling process retains the fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients concentrated within the bran and germ, while yielding a whole grain wheat flour with a taste, texture, and appearance similar to traditional refined white flour.
In September, pasta maker J.M. Swank introduced a line of pastas made with Ultragrain, paving the way for whole grain white flour to be used in a variety of new food formulations for foods, including baked goods, at restaurants and non-commercial foodservice operations, says Mike Veal, vice president of marketing at ConAgra Mills, Omaha, Neb.
Also this year, Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), Decatur, Ill., began producing a white and a whole grain white sorghum flour to be used in gluten-free products. Sorghum is one of the oldest known grains and originated in Africa and India, where it is commonly used in a variety of foods.
Sorghum flour’s light color and neutral flavor is ideal for gluten-free cakes, cookies and breads, says Brook Carson, ADM’s technical products and market development manager.
The global market for gluten-free products is expected to reach more than $4.3 billion within the next five years. “With sorghum flour, we can offer customers an economical gluten- free solution,” Carson says.
The company featured its sorghum flour in a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie at IBIE in September to give bakers an idea of how such a product tastes. The cookie also included VegeFull bean powder, which can replace a percentage of flour to lower the amount of fat used in baked products like breads, crackers. snacks and cereals.
Other whole grains like spelt, buckwheat, bulgar, barley, quinoa and a multitude of other grains also can be milled. As a result, bakers are turning to the previously little-used ancient grains as well. ConAgra Mills, for instance, recently introduced a new line of ancient grain flours, including amaranth, millet, quinoa and teff. The latter also are gluten-free flours.
These products are aimed at the expanding whole grain and glutenfree markets. In some cases, these markets overlap, says Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at the Whole Grains Council, an Oldways educational program, Boston.
“But the other thing I see getting a lot of play right now is sprouted grain,” Harriman says.
Sprouted grain is, as the name implies, a grain that has been allowed to sprout. Some of the interest in sprouted grains, specifically sprouted spelt, comes from consumers seeking gluten-free products.
“Others are interested in sprouted grains because there’s some credible evidence that sprouted grains give you additional health benefits,” she adds. “We have a few members that make sprouted grains products. But when we did the research for the April grain of the month, I was surprised by recent research. It’s not only the ‘hippie’ crowd interested in these grains.”
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But sprouting grains isn’t easy, she adds. The right amount of time, temperature and moisture is necessary to start the germination process. Too much moisture and the grain can drown. Too much time allowed for sprouting and the sprout becomes a grass stalk, which humans cannot digest.
Grains need to be sprouted under conditions that include the right amount of moisture and warmth until the important enzymatic processes are at their peak, and then the sprouted grains are used to make baked products, Harriman says. Innovative bakeries, such as Food For Life Baking Co. Inc., Corona, Calif., are beginning to make sprouted grain bread.
While both the white whole wheat and ancient grain product introductions are proving popular, customers aren’t specifically demanding these grains so much as they’re demanding the health benefits these grains produce.
“They aren’t saying, ‘I want some white wheat.’ They’re saying, ‘I want the specific properties of whole wheat, but not the stronger taste,’” she says.
Supply chain challenges
The rise of ancient grains creates some obstacles for wholesale bakers. Beyond introducing consumers to new flavors, millers and bakers must ensure they’ll have plenty of access to new grains.
“We may see that some grains that used to be really weird five years ago, like amaranth, may have brothers and sisters we don’t know about yet,” Harriman says. “But when they do become available, we have to look at supply. When amaranth and quinoa were first used, so little of it was grown there were supply issues.”
Large mills like ConAgra had to navigate supply chain roadblocks before rolling out a national campaign for those whole grains.
Marketing whole grain products can be tied into another consumer trend, says Bonnie Harry, field and bakery consultant at Great Harvest Franchising Inc., Dillon, Mont. Consumers are increasingly looking for locally produced baked products made from sustainable crops, she says.
“The whole grain movement started quite a few years ago, but now people are looking for freshness and simplicity; no preservatives or additives,” she says. “It seems to be a real trend. Local is huge–people are looking at foods they can get in the market that are like what they would make at home if they had time to.”
Harry, Harriman and Adams concur that baked products made with whole grains are here to stay. The challenge for the future will be introducing consumers to new and exciting products formulated with “new-to-you” grains.