Whole grains are appearing more often in high-end restaurants where chefs are experimenting with the health benefits and hearty tastes they can provide, according to Baking Business.
These experiments include adding rye to brownies and chocolate chip cookies and buckwheat in streusel topping, Kelly Toups, director of nutrition for The Whole Grains Council, told the publication. Recipes such as these are giving consumers the plant-based proteins they're looking for, she indicated.
"If you think of a plant-forward plate with the emphasis on whole grains and perhaps black bean tofu, it becomes exciting and hearty; the customer feels satisfied and not short-changed," Toups said.
A new wave of alternative foods and beverages is redefining "healthy," and at the forefront of this trend are a variety of whole grains. Besides rye and buckwheat, quinoa, farro, bulgur wheat, sorghum, teff and millet have also become popular. Along with their hearty tastes and textures, such ingredients often bring higher protein and fiber levels and, in the case of quinoa, complete protein to dishes.
Consumers seek out products containing whole grains because of their health halo, along with the interesting textures and flavors they provide. According to a 2016 survey, 27% of people said they eat more whole grains than they did in the previous six months. The global whole grain foods market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.7% between 2017 and 2021, according to Technavio.
Despite the increased interest, though, studies show consumers around the world are confused about how much whole grains they should be eating and which foods contain them. A recent global study by General Mills and Nestlé found that of the more than 16,000 people surveyed, 83% said they weren't sure how many grams they should be getting and 47% thought they get enough whole grains. This could be an opportunity for manufacturers to include grabbier whole grain call-outs on their product packaging.
Serving "intact" whole grains without separating the germ, endosperm and bran enhances their nutritional profile and their sustained energy benefits, Michael Holleman, director of culinary marketing for InHarvest, told Baking Business. InHarvest, based in Bemidji, Minnesota, provides rice and rice blends, exotic grains and legumes to chefs and restaurants.
Holleman noted that consumers are increasingly asking about nutrition, calories and protein and fiber content of the company's products — and he emphasized there are also financial advantage to switching out meat for whole grains.
"The cost comparison is kind of obvious — to replace beef or chicken with grains and legumes — they’re about 15 cents to 30 cents per serving on the plate. Plus, they’re not immediately converted to sugar, so with a slower burn, the diner feels fuller," he said.
Big food companies are paying attention to this trend and are starting to incorporate whole grains into their products. According to Innova Market Insights, quinoa was the No. 1 ingredient among them, appearing in 44% of all U.S. product launches involving grains last year. In 2016, Quaker brought out its SuperGrains Instant Hot Cereal featuring oats, barley, rye, flax and quinoa, while the company's Real Medleys SuperGrains Granola offered a mix of oats, wheat, flaxseed, quinoa, sunflower seeds, amaranth and barley.
Along with the nutritional advantages, price benefits, taste and texture appeal and fullness factor, consuming more whole grains from alternative or traditional sources also has the government's seal of approval. The latest Dietary Guidelines recommend that whole grains make up half of all the grains consumers eat and that people limit their intake of refined grains and products made with them — especially those high in saturated fats, added sugars and sodium such as cookies, cakes and some snack foods.