These grains can pack
baked products with
added nutrients and
While all grains are ancient in origin, common grains are genetically younger than many alternative grains, having been bred to meet the demands of the food industry. “When breeders breed new wheat, they cross two varieties and select the best from that offspring,” says Rene Featherstone, marketing, Lentz Spelt Farms, Marlin, Wash. “In the selection process, breeders follow the direction of the wheat industry, which wants to please its key customer: the makers of white flour and white bread.” But not all grains have been bred for white flour. Many so called “forgotten” or ancient grains are likely to still exist in their original form and possess more minerals and antioxidants. These grains include Khorasan wheat, spelt, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff, among others. They also are known as alternative grains as they offer an alternative to common wheat.
Much like we need several different vegetables in our diets to gain certain nutrients, we also need a variety of grains, says Cynthia Harriman, director, food and nutrition strategies, Whole Grains Council, (WGC), Boston. “People say ‘eat more whole grains,’ and we run out and eat more whole wheat. Then we're not getting the range of different nutrients that comes from different grains. So, making these grains more widely available and putting them in more foods is great for health.” Consumers who eat whole grains can reduce their risk of heart disease by 25 percent to 36 percent, reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by 21 percent to 27 percent, reduce their risk of digestive cancers by 21 percent to 43 percent and reduce their risk of stroke by 37 percent, according to WGC.
“Whole grains, or foods made from them, contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed,” Harriman adds. Refined white flour is missing the bran and germ along with many of the essential nutrients found in flours made from ancient grains. As more attention is paid to whole grains, and manufacturers look to alternative grains to add market value, more consumers are becoming aware of their existence.
Each grain has different properties and functions differently, which means bakers can't simply swap one for another. Amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and teff, for example, are closer to complete proteins than other grains. “Quinoa has a distinctive flavor and comparably more protein, while teff, which is a tiny round seed, is notable for its calcium and magnesium content,” says Elizabeth Arndt, Ph.D., manager of research and development, ConAgra Mills, Omaha, Neb.
Quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are not cereal grains botanically, but are known as pseudo grains. “The FDA, the WGC and the American Association of Cereal Grains all agree they are grandfathered into the grains category because they have a similar nutrition profile and similar uses in cooking and baking,” Harriman says.
Amaranth and quinoa have a grassy flavor that can be unfavorable in sweet baked products. Such grains work better in savory applications or can be successful when combined with a flavor that can bridge the sweet and savory gap, such as ginger, says Susan Miller, director, baking education center, King Arthur Flour, Norwich, Vt. Barley also works well in savory applications. While barley does not contain gluten, it swells, absorbs moisture and coheres the way oats do, and so it can be used successfully in pie crusts and quick bread formulations.
“I would caution bakers to look at these alternative grain flours as additions to an existing dough rather than a replacement for wheat flour in a dough. They don't have the strength to make a loaf rise as wheat flour does,” Miller says. As bakers increase the portion of ancient grains in bread, loaves will become denser and require more moisture because they absorb more water than traditional white flour, and mixing times may need to be decreased.
“Ancient grain flours are often used to replace 10 percent to 20 percent of the existing grain ingredients in baked products. For customers developing products for gluten-sensitive consumers, amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and teff flours, and ConAgra's five-grain blend are gluten-free and can be used as the primary grain ingredients in gluten-free baked applications,” Arndt says.
“Whole grains have the capacity to add a lot of flavor and interest to a line of baked products. It will to require years of people experimenting and seeing what works and what doesn't work,” Miller says.
Two markets exist for spelt in the United States. In the East, spelt is used mainly as a component of multigrain products. In the West, spelt is used for pure spelt bread. “Bread baking is a challenge because spelt has to have really good gluten or it doesn't bake as well as a stand alone flour. Whereas, in the East, spelt quality does not have to be as high because it is mixed with other flours,” Featherstone says.
Spelt is encased in a hull. When industrial agriculture started, hulled grains were ignored in favor of wheat, which is free-threshing. Spelt contains higher levels of protein, soluble dietary fiber and minerals than modern wheat. The bran in the kernel's outer layer provides this nutrition, but also makes spelt challenging to bake with. Compared to wheat, spelt has a much shorter mix time. “Once you reach the peak where you start to overmix, spelt drops off quickly. Wheat declines more slowly,” Featherstone says. Because it is a specialty crop, mix time for spelt can vary.
“Spelt should have a mix time of four to five minutes, or maybe six minutes for a really good spelt, but some commercial spelts have a mix time of less than two minutes. So, it is important to know where your spelt is coming from and that it has baking quality,” he adds. Spelt is easier to digest than wheat and many people with wheat allergies can eat spelt without a problem. Spelt, however, contains gluten and therefore is not advised for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. For more on spelt, Featherstone suggests the book, Specialty Grains for Food and Feed, published by the American Association of Cereal Chemists.
Few consumers know the term khorasan wheat, but many recognize the trademark Kamut, used to market the ancient wheat, a relative to durum, that originated in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia. The Kamut trademark means the grain is organic, has not been hybridized and is non-GMO. Khorasan came to Montana from Egypt and is tall, low yielding and susceptible to diseases, but it does offer excellent flavor and a nutritional profile not found in modern wheat. Most consumers with wheat allergies and sensitivities can eat it without difficulty. Because khorasan contains gluten, it is not safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It offers more protein than common wheat, high selenium and one-third more minerals than modern wheat, says Bob Quinn, president, Kamut International, Big Sandy, Mont.
Making bread with khorasan is challenging because it behaves like durum flour instead of wheat flour. The gluten breaks down easily, so it must be mixed slowly and for as short a time as possible, and additional water is generally required. “It really lends itself to an artisan-type bread because bakers making artisan breads are usually working with their hands or watching it very closely. They can watch what is happening and see what needs to be done,” Quinn says.
In chocolate chip cookies, soft white wheat allows the cookies to spread and flatten. Khorasan wheat would not achieve the same result, but it works well in brownies, flatbreads, cupcakes or shortbread cookies where rising isn't needed, Quinn adds. “Rather than forcing it to do everything, it's best to find what [an ancient grain] does best and stick with that.”
The biggest challenge in incorporating alternative grains is the limited supply. A company might develop a product only to realize its large-scale production would use up the world's entire amaranth supply in three months. “We can't do something on a large scale with some of these grains. ConAgra has a new line of ancient grain flours, which means a major company has committed to making sure there is an ongoing supply,” Harriman says. “So we're seeing a much better supply chain than in the past.”
Another issue is consistency. Nationwide, farmers produce mass quantities of wheat, which flour companies test and blend by the railroad-car load, resulting in a consistent product every year. Ancient grains, such as spelt, however, are grown on only a few small farms, so this type of blending is impossible, which means bakers need to adjust formulas each year, and product from one supplier may function differently than another. “With specialty grains you just do not have the consistency big wheat flour companies are able to achieve,” Featherstone says.
Price is another challenge, as the price hike of wheat also has caused the price of alternative grains to skyrocket. “If you grow a specialty crop you're taking a risk because less is known agronomically and the market moves more slowly. Bankers lending farmers money for operating loans would rather the farmer grows wheat, which is a safer bet,” Featherstone says. The base price of a crop per acre is determined by the price of the regionally grown commodity, usually wheat. If a farmer wants to grow something other than the regionally grown commodity, he will need to price it higher than the base value, as it has more of a risk.
Still, consumer demand for alternative grain products is growing, both with groups of consumers with various food allergies or intolerances, as well as with health conscious consumers who believe heritage or non-hybrid foods are more healthful, a trend led by the slow food movement.
The popularity of ancient grains may allow us to solve the mystery of certain health problems, such as wheat allergies.
“It's giving us an opportunity to compare something ancient that has never been changed with modern grains that have been changed enormously,” Quinn says. “We don't understand why people have allergies and sensitivities to modern wheat and not to ancient grains.” Kamut International is doing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of preliminary research in Europe to gain answers to some of these questions.
Amaranth is native to Latin America and Mexico, where it was used for tortillas before corn. Does best when combined with other strong flavors. Earthy flavor. Gluten-free.
Buckwheat originated in Southeast Asia in 6000 BC and moved to Europe in 4000 BC. Its use in the United States declined with the introduction of nitrogen fertilizer because wheat and corn crops became easier to grow. Related to rhubarb, not wheat. Strong flavor. Gluten-free.
Millet comes in two different strains, one that originated in Africa and one from Asia. It was used in Egypt to make flatbread in 3000 BC and used in Asia long before rice. Mild flavor. Takes on other flavors. Gluten-free. Easy to digest.
Quinoa originated in the Andes more than 6,000 years ago. Came to the United States in the 1970s. It is related to beets, spinach and chard and can be ivory, brown, red or black in color. Its bitter outer coating called saponins makes it resistant to pests. Must be rinsed before use. Gluten-free.
Sorghum originated in the African savannah. Grown where it is too hot and dry for other crops. Has a milder, more neutral flavor compared to other ancient grains. Increasingly used as an all-purpose, gluten-free flour (with appropriate additions).
Teff is a tiny grain native to Northeast Africa, and means “lost” in the Ethiopian languge. Made of mostly bran and germ, teff is nutrient-packed. It comes in ivory, tan, red and brown. The lighter color is considered more elite in Ethiopia, where it is used to make injera, a sourdough flatbread. Red teff has the most iron. Ivory teff has a milder flavor than dark teff. Usually found in multigrain configurations. Gluten-free.
Information courtesy of Whole Grains Council.
|Daily Value||Protein||Fiber 28 g||Calcium 1000 mg||Potassium 4000 mg||Manganese 2 mg|
|Average, all whole grains||6.3||5||25||192||1.4|
All values per 50g dry (about 1 cup cooked) source: USDA SR20
Courtesy of Whole Grains Council, created with data from USDA SR 20 Nutrition Database.