Grains are a fundamental ingredient for snack and bakery products. With consumers seeking better-for-you snacking options, grains—which fit squarely into plant-based trends—provide a great combination of flavor, texture and nutrition.

Grains, particularly whole grains, are recommended as part of a healthy diet and are associated with several health benefits. According to the 2019 “Food & Health Survey” from IFIC, more than 80 percent of consumers perceive whole grains as healthful, and fiber and whole grains topped the list of foods and nutrients consumers would like to eat more of. In fact, according to a July 2019 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, whole grain intake as a proportion to total grain intake increased 26 percent among U.S. adults from 2005 to 2016.

Consumers want good-for-you options that are also good for the environment. Consumers have become much more mindful of the choices they make and want transparency on the origin and sourcing of the food and ingredients. Interest in ingredients that help replenish the soil are on the rise with progressive consumers. The area of regenerative agriculture is emerging. This includes farming practices that can be used to restore the soil and nutrients that have historically been depleted, by planting and harvesting crops and these practices can provide an overall benefit for the environment. Such details can factor into ingredient and end product marketing and messaging.


Grain innovations

Healthy Food Ingredients (HFI), Fargo, ND, in partnership with The Land Institute, Salina, KS, has recently become the first North American commercial processor of Kernza perennial grain. Kernza was developed by The Land Institute after decades of research and extensive plant breeding. “Kernza is a perennial grain that lives for several years and is a type of intermediate wheatgrass, a relative of annual wheat. Kernza requires much less soil work than annual grains, leading to a reduction of greenhouse gasses omitted into the ozone. Kernza’s long root system benefits the soil by helping store nutrients and water, while preventing erosion and reducing the leaching of nitrogen into the ground and surface waters. It touches upon the demand for regenerative agriculture due to it being a perennial grain and thus having a lower carbon footprint,” says Joni Huffman, senior vice president of sales & marketing, HFI.

Kernza has a nutty flavor and a nutritional profile comparable to wheat, but contains less gluten than traditional wheat. It can be used in a wide range of applications, including breads, crackers, cookies, chips and nutritional bars.

Ancient grains—loosely defined as grains that have largely remained unchanged over the last several hundred years—continue to trend forward. Ancient grains are viewed as cleaner, simpler ingredients that have great nutritional value and are also naturally gluten-free.

According to 2018 research conducted by HealthFocus International, half of shoppers are interested in ancient grains, and nearly 40 percent say they use ancient grains at least once a week. HFI offers ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet and flaxseed available in flake, crisp and flour formats. These ancient grains can be used in breads, chips, crackers, cereals, energy bars, and as a topping.

Brolite Products, Bartlett, IL, notes a shift from bakers using “on the shelf” grains to developing products using signature whole-grain blends. The company is expanding its offerings with new grain and seed blends to meet customer needs. Each blend can create a unique taste, texture and appearance.

“Grain blends can have applications for all types of baked products, from breads and buns to tortillas, crackers and snack foods to even muffins and cookies. The main difference between these types of baked goods is knowing what size granulation is best for the specific product,” states Jeff Nelson, western vice president of sales, Brolite Products.

“Ancient grain blends are still very popular, and many customers want varying combinations of these grains,” says Nelson. “Quinoa holds a lot of interest still, but the traditional whole-grain blends are still in demand. Although the growth trend in whole grains started with the added health benefits and the better-for-you category, now consumers are asking for the unique taste grains can give a product. Grain-filled products are not only being purchased because they’re healthy. Consumers like the flavor profiles and the new textures.”

Quintessence Nutraceuticals, Indianapolis, leverages its patented process to create all-natural ingredients that deliver holistic health and wellness. One example is NutraIso, a 100-percent natural, plant-based ingredient. “NutraIso is a potent extract of the pharmacological isolates from the bran and germ layers of rice. Sourced from 100 percent non-GMO Calrose rice grown in the Sacramento Valley, NutraIso is not rice bran, but rather is a highly bioavailable and bioactive complex of nutrient dense phytonutrients,” says Laura Tagliani, director of science and compliance. The ingredient is developed through a patented, all-natural hydrolyzation process and is labeled as “rice bran.”

NutraIso has a robust nutritional profile that comprises 70 antioxidants, 13 percent hydrolyzed proteins, dietary fibers and several essential amino acids. It is a water-soluble, light-tan powder that has a mildly sweet and nutty flavor profile. The ingredient can be used in a range of different bakery and snack applications. The company has recently developed prototypes for granola bars, cookies and brownies. NutraIso is all-natural, gluten-free, hypoallergenic and works with clean label.

Cargill, Minneapolis, continues to build its portfolio of customized masa flours utilizing proprietary milling processes. This enables the company to offer a variety of masa flours with different taste, color and texture attributes, as well as unique processing efficiencies and enhanced nutrient densities. “There are a number of abundant nutrients in maize, including antioxidant properties, rich proteins and great fiber. Traditional maize processing to masa flour can strip or reduce these nutrients, but our proprietary masa manufacturing allows us to make a functional, nutrient-rich product,” notes Keith Smith, regional technical service lead.

While masa flour is a staple in applications like tortillas, Smith notes seeing other creative uses. “Customers are thinking more broadly as to how they can incorporate this ingredient, which is packed with flavor and zest, into such things as crackers, pita bread, muffins and other baked goods.”


A safe solution

Food safety in today’s industry is of utmost importance. Field-grown grains are raw and can harbor harmful microorganisms. “Historically, steam pasteurization and chemical gas (i.e., propylene oxide) have been used to control pathogens in grain ingredients,” says Rob Wong, president, Agri-Neo, Toronto. However, these methods can have drawbacks. “High levels of heat from steam pasteurization ‘cook’ grains, degrading their sensory and nutritional quality,” he suggests, “and propylene oxide is toxic to humans.”

Agri-Neo identified a market need for a better pasteurization solution that maintains the integrity of the grains while still delivering taste and nutrition, and has developed Neo-Pure, an organic, non-thermal pasteurization technology for a wide range of low-moisture foods. “The Neo-Pure pasteurization process provides a validated 5-log (99.99 percent) reduction of pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria by combining Neo-Pure, an organic solution, with a system specifically designed for food processing. Since Neo-Pure does not use heat or chemical gas, the natural taste, sensory, nutrition and germination of the food is preserved,” says Wong. Neo-Pure biodegrades after eliminating the pathogens and is approved by FDA and Health Canada as a processing aid; no labeling is required. It is suited to use in certified-organic, kosher and halal products.

Neo-Pure can open up new applications in bakery products. “When pasteurizing grain ingredients with Neo-Pure, they are safe and truly raw. Therefore, bakers no longer need to ‘cook’ all ingredients to ensure food safety. Raw nuts, seeds and grains can be added to their recipe without any food safety concerns. With Neo-Pure, bakers can offer products made with truly raw ingredients that are full of natural flavors and nutrients,” says Wong.

Later in 2019, Agri-Neo will launch Neo-Temper for grain milling. “Neo-Temper is an organic, non-thermal kill step for wheat flour that eliminates pathogens such as E. coli,” says Wong. “It is an organic liquid solution that is integrated into tempering during the flour milling process. It breaks down pathogens, and then completely biodegrades, so the milling characteristics, quality and functionality of flour remain unchanged.”