Ancient times meet 21st century tastes

Jill Frank, food scientist and food industry expert at UL, takes a closer look at some of the ancient grains currently enjoying a revival.

Ancient grains were popular centuries ago among the Aztecs, the Egyptians and the Chinese. Having almost been forgotten, these grains are now experiencing a spectacular boom as they meet most modern consumer needs for natural and healthy diets, and they support vegetarian and vegan lifestyles as well as trends such as free-from.

The millet family: health promoting all-rounders

An ancient grain which is increasingly coming into the spotlight is teff, a member of the millet family. Teff can be processed into flakes or flour, making it suitable for breakfast cereals, bars, cookies, breads and other baked goods.

The tiny grain (150 times smaller than wheat kernels) has a lot to offer, including a very high calcium content, significant amounts of magnesium and iron and a low glycemic index, which means that it supplies glucose energy to the body for several hours.

This ancient grain is a perfect ingredient for products aimed at endurance athletes, as well as for ‘fuller longer’ snacks for weight conscious consumers.

Sorghum, also part of the millet family, is high in unsaturated fats, protein, fibre and minerals. It is also rich in antioxidants, which are associated with lowering the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Flaked sorghum pieces can be used to enhance toppings or can be included in bars and cookies, whereas puffed sorghum resembles miniature popcorn and can be eaten alone or as a cereal.

Sorghum flour is ideal for use in bread recipes and batters, where it produces a crispy coating, and the grain itself functions as a barley replacer in brewing.

Sorghum syrup helps to sweeten beverages, baked goods and sauces.

Quinoa: an outstanding protein source

Quinoa is an ancient grain that has already successfully established a foothold in the industry, but the potential is still far from being exhausted.

Quinoa scores particularly due to its high and comprehensive protein content; it has balanced levels of all essential amino acids – something that is very rarely seen in plant protein sources – making it an excellent addition to vegetarian and vegan menus. In addition, the wholegrain has excellent freeze thaw stability, which makes it a good choice for frozen entrees.

It also contains more fibre than most other grains, as well as significant amounts of vitamin E, riboflavin, iron and manganese.

Suitable for clean label applications, quinoa starch can be used as an alternative to modified starches for ready meals and snack foods. Quinoa flakes can also be used as an alternative to rolled oats, with the great advantage of being gluten-free.

Gluten-free: a growing market

In recent years, gluten-free products have grown from niche items for sufferers of coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity to better for you products for consumers looking for healthier choices. Even those without an intolerance see gluten-free products as a possible means of losing weight and reducing the symptoms of ADHD and inflammation. Thus, the market potential is rising and more and more companies are using the term on their labels, when applicable.

But manufacturers still face certain challenges. There is no one size fits all method of replacing gluten in a formula; developing successful products means choosing the right ingredients and having the required processing expertise.

For manufacturers looking for ancient grain raw materials and supplier contacts, food ingredients database Prospector offers access to technical, nutritional and safety data as well as supplier contacts. In total, the database contains details of more than 70,000 ingredients from 1,500 suppliers, and is constantly growing. In the field of gluten-free ingredients, Prospector lists more than 1,000 products – more than 300 of which originate from ancient grains.

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