As we enter 2016, consumers aim to start off the year right by eating healthy. A healthy diet is a well-balanced one that incorporates fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods. In fact, USDA recently released a new set of dietary guideline recommendations that can be found at Health.gov.
Grains are a source of vital nutrients and vitamins, such as fiber and potassium. While the majority of the population continues to consume traditional grains through baked goods and snacks, ancient grains also have become more common in customers’ dialogues, as well as on store shelves, in recent years. Whole and enriched grains continue to serve a pivotal role in the daily diet, but ancient grains are offering consumers more variety when choosing their grains.
Mintel’s “Global Food and Drink Trends 2016” report found that consumers are looking for products that contain natural ingredients and are presented as having basic ingredients. According to Jenny Zegler, global food and drink analyst, Mintel, Chicago, this consumer-driven desire has helped boost both the sales and recognition of ancient grains.
While there is no formal definition of what qualifies a grain as an ancient grain, grains categorized as “ancient” or “heritage” typically have been around for thousands of years and often have cultural significance. Varieties classified as ancient include quinoa, millet, teff, farro, amaranth and spelt, to name a few. While only select grain types have gained widespread recognition, there continues to be a steady and expanding interest in ancient grains that has resulted in them showing up on more dinner tables, as well as in more products.
A number of large bakers and snack producers are now highlighting ancient grains used in their products. Companies such as Pepperidge Farm and Dave’s Killer Bread have incorporated a variety of ancient grains into their breads. Additionally, both the Kellogg Co. and General Mills received press attention last year for unveiling new ancient grain cereal varieties that include quinoa, Kamut wheat, rye and spelt. With numerous well-known brands getting into the ancient grain business, it won’t be long until we see an increase in snack bars, bakery items and other goods featuring ancient grains. But do these grains really offer more health benefits?
Much like whole and enriched grains, ancient grains offer a number of essential nutrients. While the nutrient composition of each grain type varies, overall, ancient grains tend to offer roughly the same amounts of fiber, protein and other nutrients, like calcium, as more-common whole grains, according to the Whole Grains Council. While there is no significant nutrient benefit to using ancient grains, there are benefits when trying to offer grain-based, gluten-free product options. Select ancient grains, such as quinoa, millet, teff, chia and amaranth, are gluten-free and a great ingredient option for manufacturers trying to meet consumer demand for gluten-free options.
Increased interest in and use of ancient grains will likely continue throughout 2016, as more bakers experiment with ingredients and more consumers seek out these grains. While the health benefits alone aren’t substantial enough for consumers to give up more-common whole and enriched grains, these varieties provide options that were never before readily available. While there is definitely a market for products made with ancient grains, it is still too soon to tell how long the rise of these “supergrains” will continue, and how large an impact they will have on the bakery and snack industries as a whole.