Ancient grains help bakers achieve
healthful label claims and give
products value-added appeal.
Bakers use ancient grains to achieve label claims for fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. Ancient grains are genetically older than common wheat, which many consumers perceive as more healthful. Spelt, amaranth, quinoa, millet, chia and Kamut brand wheat are a few of the ancient grains appearing more often in baked products. Ancient grains can be added in whole form, in flake form or as a flour.
“The trend has been to add these grains in the whole form for that piece identity,” says Dan Collins, general manager, TJ Harkins, Bolingbrook, Ill. “Consumers want the texture of the grain. But it is much better from a nutrition standpoint if it is in a ground or a flour form, and it makes formulation and achieving a texture quicker and easier for the baker.”
At French Meadow Bakery, breads containing sprouted grains are the best-sellers. “In some of our breads, like the Men's and Woman's breads, we use a blend of sprouts,” says Mike Simon, senior production manager, French Meadow Bakery, Minneapolis. “We take some of these grains-Kamut brand wheat, spelt, barley-and we'll soak them for 24 to 36 hours, then grind them and add them to the formulation as a sprout mixture. At a smaller percentage they can be added to any bread to make a multi-grain bread. Sprouting adds goodness-you seem to get more nutritional value out of the grain.” French Meadow uses spelt and Kamut brand wheat at 100 percent in breads, and as sprouted grains in other formulas. It also uses some sprout mixtures at as little as 5 percent.
Before incorporating ancient grains, bakers should first decide what label claims they want to achieve. “We aim for the lowest carb we can get with the highest protein and fiber,” Simon says. “We have nutritionists that say, for example, I need a bread with 6 g of protein and this is what percentage of grains you need to use. The formulas might taste great and have the nutritional content, but they don't always make a good loaf of bread with a nice crust dome. So, next you make adjustments using a wheat flour or a sprouted grain or something that has more gluten content because most of the ancient grains have little to no gluten content, which is needed for structure.” When the company began formulating its Woman's bread, the mix first resembled a porridge, but after adjusting the protein levels and changing some flours, the company achieved a quality loaf of bread without compromising the nutritional value of the original mix.
Quinoa may be the most recognizable ancient grain among consumers. “Everyone likes the name quinoa on their label,” Collins says. “Quinoa, in its whole form is a very small seed, so from a texture standpoint it doesn't add a lot. We recommend it usually in the flour form. Or where we've had a lot of success lately is in the flaked form. The flake form gives piece identity, a little bit of texture and, there too, the starches are broken down so the nutrients are more digestible. It can be used as a topping for bread, so it has a nice visual affect.”
Amaranth is relatively high in fiber compared to quinoa, very high in calcium, sells for a lower price and is more readily available. “Of all the grains, amaranth has a unique flavor, but probably the most acceptable flavor. Amaranth is the most commercially available and probably one of the least expensive grains. If you're looking at protein, amaranth has 14.45 g of protein whereas quinoa has 13.1 g,” Collins says. “The true selling point of quinoa is it's a complete protein. It has all nine essential amino acids.”
Quinoa can be added at 15 percent or less without a significant loss in functionality. Amaranth flour can be included in a high substitution rate to wheat flour-optimally 20 percent in a whole grain bread, but sometimes as high as 30 percent, depending on the application. In sweetgoods, the level of amaranth can go a bit higher. Because amaranth is gluten-free, it can't go much higher than 20 percent to 25 percent in bread or the product will be too dense.
Chia may be best known from the commercials of the 1980s that featured clay animal-shaped pots that sprouted Chia grass hair. Almost three decades later, chia is appearing in baked products to boost label claims.
“Chia has 20 percent protein and 25 percent dietary fiber, making it one of the easiest ways to make a claim of an ‘excellent’ source of fiber in a baked product,” Collins says. The oil in chia has the highest natural percentage of omega 3s. Bakers can use about 3 percent chia flour to achieve an omega claim. Chia offers a natural grassy flavor and should be used at less than 10 percent to avoid dense bread. It can absorb seven times its weight in water.
“Chia is a very expensive ingredient, although with chia you may add more water, which makes it more economically viable,” Collins notes. “Once the seed or flour is mixed with water, a gel forms that causes a slow uniform release of carbohydrates, which results in a slow conversion of the carbohydrates into blood sugar (glucose) for energy, so a lot of health food companies are looking at chia for energy bars,”Collins notes.
Amaranth flour and quinoa flour have a white or off-white color. The color of chia, on the other hand, is similar to that of brown flax, which results in a darker bread.
Hemp is more than 10,000 years old and comes from the Cannabis sativa plant, but contains no psychoactive properties. It has a nutty flavor and is the most nutritionally complete seed on the planet, according to The Boulder Hemp Co. Inc. Hemp seed offers 31 percent protein with all nine essential amino acids, is high in dietary fiber, minerals, vitamin E and iron and offers a near perfect composition of omega 3 and 6. Hemp seed cannot be cultivated in the United States.
French Meadow produces Hemp breads and bagels. “Hemp is one of our best selling breads, but we still get resistance from some distributors who don't want a hemp product in their distribution, even though the hemp product itself has no THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol )value,” Simon says. French Meadow tries to educate consumers on the benefits of hemp. The bread offers 5 g of fiber, 13 g of protein per serving, and is high in vitamin B6 and minerals.
Ancient grains are expensive and available in limited supply, which results in challenges for wholesale bakers. When contracting commercial wheat, bakers can be more confident in the consistency and availability of the product. With ancient grains, because less is available, bakers have less control over product consistency and quality. With Kamut brand wheat, for example, a baker might buy from five different suppliers, but all the grain is being grown by the same company.
Especially in today's economy, bakers want to find the most inexpensive formula to make certain claims. “I see bakers try to load up on millet, which is a very inexpensive ingredient. In its whole form, amaranth is about 65 cents per lb.,” Collins notes. Millet is half the price of amaranth, and while it offers a similar texture, does not offer the same nutritional properties.
Bakers should communicate to their suppliers what label claims they want to achieve, and what grains they would like to use to achieve the claim. From there, suppliers can make percentage suggestions taking into account texture, flavor and structure and can give price quotes along the way.