Altered grains are “sprouting” up in unexpected places and in increasing numbers in the U.S. -- in baked goods, cereals and snacks, even in spreads, dips and gravies. According to Innova Market Insights (www.innovamarketinsights.com) for the period 2013 to 2017, U.S. food and beverage launches that contain sprouted grains posted an impressive compound annual growth rate of 20.3 percent.
Sprouted grains are available as mash or pulp, cracked kernels, granules, flakes, whole kernels or milled into a flour – at least for use in baked goods and snacks. However, according to Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. (www.briess.com), malted barley, destined for use in brewing and distilling, accounts for its largest volume of sales for a sprouted grain product.
“Malting is an extended sprouting process that produces products with well-defined end specification,” says Bob Hansen, Briess’ manager of technical services. He says more than a billion pounds of malted barley is produced and sold annually within the U.S., with just five percent of this finding its way into food products.
Following malted barley, wheat accounts for the second highest volume among sprouted grains. Hansen said that wheat is a low-cost commodity that is easy and safe to sprout, although manufacturers are experimenting with all types of grains as well as legumes and even nuts like almonds.
What is a sprouted grain?
A sprouted grain is exactly that — a grain kernel that under the right temperature and moisture conditions produces a sprout. According to Caroline Sluyter, program director of the Whole Grains Council, “a whole host of chemical changes happen as the germ, which is like the embryo inside the grain, starts to consume the endosperm material and grow. Those chemical changes cause a corresponding change in the nutritional makeup of the kernel.”
The key and the challenge is to stop the sprouting at the point of peak functionality, thereby delivering enhanced flavor, dough performance and nutritional bioavailability – so says Peter Reinhart, author of Bread Revolution and baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University (www.jwu.edu). He believes the optimal point is “typically at the sprout’s first emergence and no longer than one-quarter-inch. Beyond that length I think the grain’s starches become too compromised to produce a good loaf without the addition of pure vital wheat gluten.”
A strong advocate of sprouted grains, Reinhart adds, “The mission of the baker is to evoke the full potential of flavor from the grain.” Bakers use a variety of fermentation tricks to achieve this, to give the grain a chance to release its hidden flavors “via biological fermentation that produces gas, alcohol and acids, as well as through enzyme activity that releases sugars from the complex starch chains in the flour,” says Reinhart.
And in terms of sprouted grain, “Its best feature is that it maximizes the flavor potential of wheat and other grains.” Sprouting accomplishes this by increasing the enzymatic process prior to fermentation. “But it’s tricky,” says Reinhart, “because too much enzyme activity will cause the bread to become sugary and gummy.”
Finding the middle ground, he states, is a balancing act that bakers constantly perform. Currently the FDA has no guidelines dictating the amount of sprouted grains that need to be included in order to list them on the label. Some companies use a small amount while others use 51 percent, says Reinhart, so it is the first ingredient listed.
When using flour from a sprouted grain within a baking environment, the key factor for formulation adjustments is the quality of the grain used for sprouting. When used as an adjunct flour, “There could be minor changes in mixing or absorption, but they are relatively easy to incorporate into baked goods, the way a baker would make adjustments with any type of flour,” according to Aaron Clanton, manager of baking training quality for AIB International (www.aibonline.org).
“However, the nutrient bioavailability is greater and the flavor is better as well,” he adds. The end result, he says, is a product that is softer and more tender, with an extended shelf life.
Hansen says that processing and formulary adjustments can depend on the amount of sprouted ingredient used. “Slightly sprouted wheat products can be successfully used as the main ingredient in many baked goods like bread with minor adjustments to water, proofing time, etc.”
However other sprouted flours, roasted, pre-gelled or highly enzymatic, cannot be used as the main flour, but play a more minor role for a specific effect, such as dough conditioning or flavor. “It (processing or formulation adjustments) really depend on the type of sprouted ingredient and how it was made,” says Hansen.
Any type of grain kernel can be sprouted. To Your Health Sprouted Flour (www.healthyflour.com) uses quite a few; sprouting 28 different grains, seeds, legumes and even almonds. In almonds, “Sprouting brings out the sweetness of the nut,” says founder and president Peggy Sutton.
To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co. sprouts quinoa in a dedicated gluten-free facility. According to Sutton, ancient grains are trending and “oats are huge right now.” The company only uses certified gluten-free oats. All of its products are sprouted, then dried, in a highly controlled environment. Sprouting the grains and legumes, according to Sutton, aids with ease of digestion and enhances flavor.
Briess offers a variety of sprouted products that come in many possible forms, such as flours, powders, flakes, grits, etc. The company’s offerings currently include a toasted line, with the grains sprouted then roasted to create flavors and color. These non-enzymatic flours have flavors ranging from bread crust to toast and nutty and are used mainly in gravies, roux, sauces, soups and in smaller amounts in baked goods for flavor and color. Hansen notes they could not play the main role in a baked good because the toasting process has disrupted the grain structure and gluten and partially pre-gelled some of the starch.
The company also offers red wheat flakes and malted wheat flakes, with the malted variety a highly enzymatic ingredient option. Hansen says the malted wheat flakes offer greater sweetness and rich flavor compared to red wheat and can be “used by bakers to standardize flours or to improve proof, color and flavor from a minor ingredient.”
In addition to the baking category, the biggest area of growth seen by members of the Whole Grains Council is in the snack food category. “Everything from chips to crackers and energy bars,” says Sluyter, and in grains of every variety.
At the Whole Grains Conference in Seattle last month, Carlee Kelly, head of nutrition and product innovation for Lettuce Eat Real (www.LettuceEatReal.com), presented the latest research related to the nutritional profile of sprouted grains, focusing on the increased bioavailability of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as well as their lower phytic acid content. She also touched on the potential functional applications and uses within the consumer packaged-goods industry particularly in terms of enhanced sensory qualities and sprouted grains’ impact on shelf life.
Hansen is in favor of more research and having products marketed with health benefits that are backed by science and clinical studies. “I think this could add to the legitimacy of the benefits of the sprouting process.” Sometimes health benefits of sprouting, such as increased vitamin or enzyme content, can be eliminated during cooking.
Overall, though, Hansen says, “I see a general increase in acceptance and desirability of sprouted grain products.” And as plant-based foods and proteins increase in demand, he believes “there are unique benefits to be gained in products from sprouting.”