Could puffed, crisped or popped intact whole grains replace extruded rice and grains? They will likely coexist, but they do offer points of differentiation worth considering in your next snack-ideation session.

What is an intact whole grain, you ask? We define it as any whole rice or grain with all its bran, endosperm and germ still intact.

With all the momentum of the whole-grain movement, we are seeing a huge surge in products that are formulated with further-processed whole grains. They might be great products, but some of the nutritional benefits of intact grains are lost in that translation.

One lost benefit is that breaking down a grain alters its glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly foods can be converted into blood sugar. Foods with a higher GI can make maintaining a healthy weight more difficult, which over time might lead to other consequences like obesity, heart disease, increased stroke risk, diabetes and more.

Conversely, when the kernel is left intact, it “burns” at a slower rate than a processed grain in the gut. That sustained burn extends energy while creating a greater, longer-lasting feeling of fullness and satiety.

There’s a reason that when we hear the phrase, “snap, crackle, pop,” we know exactly which brand and product is associated with it. Brilliant marketing? Yes. But more than that is why the marketing resonates with customers.

The focus is on sensory, which everyone can relate to no matter their taste preferences. Instead of targeting the taste or flavor of the product, the manufacturer chose to focus on sound/hearing. Yes, that sound happens when you add the milk to this extruded-rice cereal, but we identify that sound with crispy, as well—hence the name.

Crispy—crisp or appealingly crunchy. Crispy is also a form of texture. This attribute is found in puffed, crisped and popped intact whole grains, but many of these take texture to the next level: crunchy.

Crunchy—making a crunching sound when chewed or pressed. Whole Foods included puffed and popped snacks among its top 10 trends for 2018. The company’s trend experts state, “Crunchy snacks are perennial favorites, but new technology is revolutionizing all things puffed, popped, dried and crisped.” Though the focus was on extrusion, the expansion of extruded-rice and extruded-grain snacks has opened the doors for intact whole grains that have been puffed, popped or crisped.

Texture refers to those characteristics of a food that create the mouthfeel that can be felt with your tongue, palate and/or teeth. The true texture of food comes alive when you take that first bite, but the sensory journey continues all the way through the last chew.

Imagine the light and airy crunch of a crisped quinoa that is packed with the nutrition of a complete protein. Or the roasted earthiness and maximum crunch factor of wild rice. Or the brilliant hue and antioxidant values of a puffed red rice. The R&D possibilities are endless.

In our own kitchens, we have been using such products to add texture, color and flavor to myriad products. Some are the obvious longstanding snacks we all enjoy, whereas others deliver innovation in unexpected ways.

Beyond snack bars, crackers, chips and cookies, here are a few considerations to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Savory Popped Sorghum Clusters
  • Puffed Wild Rice Cocktail/Bar Snack Mix
  • Power Bites (think nut-butter scoops coated in crispy quinoa or amaranth)
  • Sweet & Savory Red-Rice Waffle Bites
  • Savory Brown Rice & Quinoa Crispy Treats

More and more of us who work in product development are gaining a new understanding that appealing to all of the senses can have a direct and positive impact on customer enjoyment, brand loyalty and, of course, sales.