Ancient grains are a truly modern trend, showing up in everything from breads and rolls to crackers and chips. Grains traditionally unknown to most, such as spelt and amaranth, have become popular ancient grains for their health-boosting attributes and unique tastes and textures.
Unlike corn, rice and modern varieties of wheat, which have been selectively bred over time so that they don't much resemble those of their ancestors, ancient grains have remained essentially unchanged for millennia. While grains are technically grasses, some so-called ancient "grains" are really seeds or herbs that would correctly be termed pseudograins.
In addition to spelt and amaranth, ancient grains include flax, millet, barley, buckwheat, rye, milo (grain sorghum), quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), teff and khorasan wheat.
As consumers look to include more whole grains in their diets, ancient grains are finding their way into baked goods. Not only are they high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, unique phytochemicals and omega-3 fatty acids, but they add interesting tastes and hearty textures that consumers crave. Some, notably amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and teff, also lack gluten—an appealing trait for people with gluten intolerance.
Cargill is helping its customers meet this demand by adapting its baked product formulations to include ancient grains in both flour and whole formats. Because flour made from ancient grains doesn't have the gluten structure required to make bread, we use our technical expertise to modify their formulation by adding whole-wheat flour, white flour or vital gluten. Unleavened products such as crackers and chips don't need extra gluten.
If our customers want to use ancient grains in their whole form, we have the expertise to soften them through soaking without losing crunchiness. For customers wanting to make a claim that a product contains ancient grains, we can incorporate ancient grain flour for as little as 15% of total flour. For those who want to make nutritional claims or who want the grains to be visible in the finished product, we can increase the percentage to as much as 50% using our gentle blend procedure.
Cargill's bakery blends bread base and bread mix, which feature combinations of ancient grains, give customers what they need to create great-tasting products. For example, one customer launched an all-natural wide-pan bread using one of our ancient grain blends in early 2011, and it quickly became one of the top selling items on the commercial bread wall.
As demand for ancient grains has increased, farmers of ancient grains have more incentive to grow these unique varieties—which lowers the cost for food manufacturers to incorporate ancient grains into products. Of course, some brands have been reaping the benefits of ancient grains for years – Cargill’s Innkeeper's Bed and Breakfast® 8-grain bread, which utilizes key ancient grains, has been selling well for over 20 years.
The nutrition, taste and versatility of ancient grains have been valued since antiquity. With a track record like that, there's every reason to believe the role of ancient grains in great food is truly timeless.
Larry Soter, technical services specialist, has been with Cargill for the last 7 of his 30 years in the baking industry.