In 2021, trends toward health and plant-based foods are driving product developers to formulate a wave of new products with grains and seeds. According to Innova Market Insights, grain product launches had a 7% average annual growth rate in the period from 2014 to 2018. The company’s data show that the top market category for new global product launches with grains in 2018 was bakery (31%), followed by ready meals and side dishes (16%), snacks (10%), cereals (8%), and confectionery (6%).
Notably, seeds and grains are even making their way into the baby food category, lending an air of sophistication to purées with combos such as pumpkin-blueberry with ground chickpeas and mango with ginger, oat, and flaxseed. Meanwhile, chickpeas have been named “the new cauliflower.” The fiber- and protein-rich legume is being drafted for a variety of product types, from pasta to cereal and even baking flour. Chickpea flour is also rich in vitamins and minerals and has 25% fewer calories than refined wheat flour. It delivers a slight bean-and-nut flavor that is especially appealing when lightly toasted.
Though chickpeas in many forms are proving popular, their classic use in falafel mix is getting updated in trial formulations with additions of other grains and seeds. These include domestic quinoa, red quinoa, purple barley, white Sonora wheat berries, spelt, and high-fiber barley, along with coriander, toasted cumin, mustard seed, curry, and lemon. The grains and seeds give the falafel a flavor twist and add to overall texture improvements.
“Grains and seeds have been the food staple of humans from time immemorial,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways Preservation Trust/Whole Grains Council. “We’ve noticed an upward spiral in the whole-grain content of foods appearing on grocery shelves. Uncommon grains such as quinoa, chia, amaranth, and millet have become more mainstream.”
As an example of this rising trend, Oldways reports that between 2011 and 2020, the number of grain product launches containing quinoa grew from 3% to greater than 10%. “Overall, the popularity of unique grains has increased over the past several years,” emphasizes Baer-Sinnott. This also is evidenced by the increased prevalence of the Whole Grain Stamp on products.
An updated standard
For applications in which the flavor and texture of refined wheat is needed, there is a variety of hard white spring wheat that boasts up to 10 times the dietary fiber of traditional wheat flour. According to the 2016 Felt-Gunderson study, “Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap,” Americans only consume 50% of the recommended daily amount of fiber. By utilizing a high-fiber flour that performs like a traditional, all-purpose flour, manufacturers have the opportunity to create muffins, breads, and other baked goods, as well as pizzas, tortillas, and pastas that are high in prebiotic fiber and low in net carbs.
These types of flour are milled from specific varieties of wheat bred to increase the amount of amylose, a starch that resists digestion and acts as dietary fiber. An advantage is that the high-amylose flours perform similarly to conventional wheat flour in most baking applications, although they absorb more water than conventional wheat flour, so liquids used in formulations should be increased accordingly.
Formulators can choose how much conventional wheat flour to replace with the high-fiber flour and how much additional liquid to use. Depending on the inclusion rate, it’s possible to achieve claims of “good source” or “excellent source” of fiber in food products.
A new, identity-preserved high-fiber barley-based flour product recently launched and has proven so versatile it is being used to give a nutritional boost to smoothies. It combines barley, quinoa, and spelt and has been mixed with a variety of yogurts and purées to create drinks that are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as protein.
In the breakfast category, where the average consumer gets the greatest portion of their daily grains and seeds, grain bowls are still going strong. These typically include quinoa, chia, farro, amaranth, and other ancient grains in countless combinations of flavors and textures. While sweet breakfast bowls that include such stir-ins as fruit (including avocado), yogurt, almond or coconut milk, and nuts are in demand, savory breakfast bowls have been trending of late. These are made with such ingredients as barley, mushrooms, poached or scrambled eggs, and plant-based sausage or bacon.
Quinoa, chia, and millet are among the seeds that are popular in nutritious flour forms. They are prized for use in gluten-free baking. Many gluten-free products are made with rice flour and potato starch, creating a product that is sub-par in nutritional benefits. To change this, developers turned to flours made from the above seeds and grains, as well as experimenting with whole-grain and malted versions of those seeds and grains.
Malting grains and seeds like quinoa not only adds to their nutritional benefits, but also brings textural improvements. When formulators replaced about one-third of the standard flour in a formulation with whole quinoa flour, it positively impacted several of the characteristics, from volume to crumb structure.
As with quinoa, chia seeds also seeing their popularity and uses increase. According to Market Insights, the global chia seed market is estimated to reach US$9.3 billion by the end of 2027. The presence of minerals, antioxidants, fibers, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients make chia seeds a superfood that is attracting more consumers.
Major food companies have been involved in strategies to retain their position in the market or to strengthen their product portfolio by hopping on the new grain and seed bandwagon. For example, in February this year, Campbell’s Soup Co.-owned snack brand Late July launched vegetable tortilla chips made with ingredients such as carrot and chia seeds.
Makers of plant-based beverages have been tapping into the growing demand for nutritious and delicious grain- and seed-based milk alternatives. Oat milk is gaining momentum, recently surpassing soy milk to reach the No. 2 spot. US oat milk consumption climbed more than 170% during the 52-week period that ended February 13.
Oat milk manufacturers also claim that switching from cow’s milk to oat milk can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 73%. Growing oats is said to be much easier on water and land resources compared to almonds and soy as well. Moreover, oats are regarded as a valuable part of crop rotation systems. This makes oat milk a more environmentally appealing alternative, which is a driving force for many consumers these days.
In addition to its benefits on the sustainability front, oat milk can be enjoyed by consumers, including those with a nut allergy, who are unable to drink the likes of almond milk or hazelnut milk. Oat milk is shelf-stable, sweet in flavor, with a texture similar to cow’s milk, making it ideal for a variety of applications. The growth of milk analogs from seeds such as flax and hemp also is continuing apace, with other sources coming out each year. Analogs from sesame, millet, and chia are now on the market and attracting consumer interest.
Whole grains and seeds will continue breaking through barriers as dairy analogs, pastas, flours, and whole-seed components of a full spectrum of healthful and flavorful foods and beverages. As consumers’ understanding of these superfood sources increases, product makers will be limited only by their willingness to take advantage of this incredibly versatile ingredient category.
Regular contributor Marisa Churchill is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and studied advanced pastry skills at the Culinary Institute of America. She has worked in some of California’s top restaurants and appeared in a number of Food Network shows. Churchill currently consults on recipe and product development for multiple food companies and is the author of My Sweet & Skinny Life (Patakis, 2015) and Sweet & Skinny (Clarkson Potter, 2011). Find more of her articles at www.preparedfoods.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A healthy dose of grains and seeds
According to the research group Innova Market Insights, increased health-consciousness among consumers has opened up big opportunities for nutritionally dense grains and seeds. Both manufacturers and consumers stand to benefit from new product formulations that offer flavorful ways to boost whole-grain intake. Formulating with grains helps manufacturers increase fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy lipids, antioxidants, and other nutrients. Plus, grains and seeds appeal to consumer demand for more plant-based food options.