Ancient grains and seeds such as barley, buckwheat, quinoa, chia, sorghum, millet and spelt have the potential to move beyond grain-based items and become innovative and nutritional ingredients in a wide range of foods and beverages, according to Food Business News.
Some prospective uses are yogurt toppings or mix-ins, protein bars, baked goods and plant-based beverages. Grains and seeds not only supply an appealing crunch, but they pack a nutritional impact with fiber, proteins and minerals that complement dairy products, Vanessa Brovelli, senior manager of product development for Bay State Milling, told Food Business News.
"The active cultures in yogurt can use the prebiotic fiber in grains or seeds as fuel, thereby enhancing their benefits on gut health," she said. "Grains could also add unique texture, such as the use of rice in rice pudding. Millet or buckwheat in ancient grain granola may add a unique crunch atop an otherwise soft-textured yogurt or ice cream."
The market for ancient grains is increasing as consumers look for interesting add-ons to product labels and manufacturers respond by including them in more innovative ways. Some of this interest is due to sensitivity to gluten protein, which is in wheat, rye and barley. For others, the nutritional benefits, fuller flavors and textures of ancient grains are attractive.
Adding them into yogurts, milks and performance snacks increases the health that the products have. A probiotic yogurt, for example, could benefit from the additional nutritional benefits that ancient grains bring, while giving it texture in the form of a crunch. It also helps the product stand out from its competitors on the market and gives consumers a new, more innovative item to try. As CPG companies look to juice up sales and improve their positioning in the better-for-you space, it would not be a surprise to see even more products turn to ancient grains.
According to Innova Market Insights data cited by Food Ingredients First, ancient grains started to see serious growth of 11.6% between 2015 and 2016. The top global category was bakery, comprising 30% of global launches in 2016, while the most commonly used ingredients were quinoa, chia and buckwheat. Common marketing approaches mentioned more energy and alertness, lower sugar, no added sugar and a high source of protein.
The trend continued into 2017, with Innova reporting that seeds were included in nearly one-third of U.S. product launches of snack nuts and seeds. Quinoa appeared in 44% of all U.S. product launches containing ancient grains in 2017, while chia seeds (which Innova tracks as a grain) appeared in 37% of them.
Around this time, major food manufacturers started to take notice and include more grains and seeds in their products. Campbell Soup got on the bandwagon in 2017 with its Well Yes! brand of ready-to-eat soups featuring quinoa and other healthy ingredients.
More recently, SNAAK Bar has introduced bars containing chia seeds, and KIND Snacks includes them in several bar varieties. Mondelez's Enjoy Life Foods offers an ancient grain pizza crust; Van's, owned by Kohlberg & Co., makes gluten-free ancient grain waffles; and Costco sells Kirkland Ancient Crackers.
There are manufacturing challenges when it comes to formulating products with ancient grains and seeds. Chia seeds are relatively expensive, so the amount of them added to a recipe is likely to be small. They would still be prominently displayed on the label, though, which could help food and beverage makers with marketing and shelf appeal.
The projected market growth for ancient grains is extremely encouraging. According to Stratistics MRC, the global market in 2017 was valued at about $450 million but was expected to hit $6.52 billion by 2026, for a compound annual growth rate of 34.6%. If more ancient grains are added to yogurt, milk, performance snacks and other products, these new uses could go a long way toward reaching this goal and further popularize these ingredients.