Prepared Foods talks ingredient rice and grain trends with Chef Michael Holleman, director of culinary development at InHarvest, a Bemidji, Minn., supplier of rice, grains and legumes to retail, foodservice and in-store deli operators. Holleman also is chairman of the Whole Grains Council’s culinary advisory group.


Prepared Foods: What grains trended up on 2017 menus? Why?

Michael Holleman: Whole-grain anything is king, and quinoa is still holding the strongest placement on menus across the board. When quinoa was first introduced to chain-restaurant menus, it often was blended in small percentages with varieties of white or brown rice, which allowed the diner to try it mixed with something already familiar to them.

This made it a little easier for the less adventurous, yet restaurants could still market the benefits of quinoa and capitalize on its upward trend while increasing profitability. White quinoa is still the primary volume mover in the United States, but red quinoa—with its nutty flavor and brilliant hue—continues to be a chef favorite.

Farro, an Italian heirloom wheat that is typically pearled for quicker cooking and softer texture, also is gaining placement as diners look for alternatives to commodity wheat. Another wheat varietal that saw a major increase last year was spelt.


PF: What’s your prediction for 2018 ingredient grain trends?

Holleman: Sorghum is emerging as a strong frontrunner this year. In late 2016, Datassential reported 110% menu growth over four years, and we have continued to see solid growth in 2017. We experienced firsthand the excitement behind this emerging grain when we were given the opportunity to showcase our Naked, Wild & Free Blend (white sorghum, red sorghum, wild rice and naked oats) with the Sorghum Checkoff Council at Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) last October.

Amaranth and teff also are gaining ground as nutritional powerhouses, though most chefs agree their versatility is more limited than that of sorghum, which explains the slower growth pattern we have been seeing.


PF: What’s one way to use grains and/or rice in new ways?

Holleman: New-product development often is driven by established trends, but sometimes by identifying potential gaps in the marketplace. I think InHarvest’s Chef Coleen Donnelly identified a gap when she developed recipes for fruit-and-grain shakes. These are not in retail yet, but they are getting rave reviews from our foodservice customers.

We have flavor offerings such as Matcha Pear Quinoa Cardamom, Brazilian Black Rice Acai, Strawberry Quinoa (popular for K-12) Caramel Mocha Farro and Black Barley & 5-Spice Berry (see photo).


PF: What’s trending with rice?

Holleman: Black rice usage is up as more varieties enter the market—with Chinese black rice paving the way. Nerone (Italian Black Rice) is one such variety that skyrocketed in 2017 to a level that caused a supply shortage mid-year. The brilliant indigo hue of cooked black rice—combined with its sweet, nutty flavor and aromas of fresh-baked bread—seems to have captivated chefs and consumers alike.

As consumers continue to look for more whole foods with a healthful halo, expect sprouted rice to finally get the spotlight it so deserves.

Originally appeared in the February, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as First Person.