Ancient grains, modern gains?

Gael Delamare, ingredient scientist at Campden BRI, explains how pseudocereals can be used to improve nutrition in everything from snacks to desserts.

21 February 2019
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image credit: Getty Images

Meet the Expert

Who: Gael Delamare

What: Ingredient scientist

Where: Campden BRI


Maintaining an awareness of emerging ingredients is a must for the food and drink industry if it wants to remain innovative and competitive. There is also a need to identify solutions to deliver nutritious products that meet dietary needs and to reformulate products to remove allergens.

Ancient grains could help industry meet these goals, forming the basis for a variety of new products.

What are ancient grains?

Unlike wheat, rice and corn, ancient grains have not been extensively changed through selective breeding. Some, including amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat, are known as pseudocereals because they resemble true cereals, though they are genetically unrelated. As well as pseudocereals, ancient grains also encompass underutilised cereals such as sorghum and millets.

Where are they from?

Quinoa originates from the Andean region of South America and has been cultivated for over 7,000 years. Amaranth was one of the basic foods of the Aztecs and Incas in pre-Columbian times in South America, but the association with many rituals, legends and human sacrifices led to its disuse by the Spanish Conquistadors, and it was replaced with maize and beans. Buckwheat originated in Asia and expanded into Europe in the 15th century.

How can ancient grains boost nutrition?

Some ancient grains are gluten-free and are high in beneficial nutrients. Quinoa has a balanced composition that is high in the minerals iron and calcium as well as dietary fibre. Amaranth has a unique and unusually high fat content compared to true cereals whereas buckwheat possesses a vast array of phenolic compounds. Underutilised tropical cereals and ancient wheat varieties also offer higher qualities and quantities of protein with a well-balanced nutritional profile.

However, a diverse cultivation history and wide range of ecologies has led to a variable composition range, which may have an impact on the functional properties and potential of utilising these grains in new product development.

Why the interest now?

The food industry faces various challenges, such as: nutrition and health, new product innovation, food security and gluten alternatives. These, and other factors, have all contributed to an increased interest in cereal alternatives.

When compared to true cereals, ancient grains and pseudocereals have superior nutritional profiles, with better-quality amino acid and fatty acid compositions, plus higher starch and protein digestibility. Yet they have similar applicability to wheat processing, making them functional foods for gluten-free applications. Add to these advantages modest production costs, innate pest resistance and the ability to grow in a range of harsh environments, and you can see that they have even greater potential.

How can ancient grains be used?

One of the main areas of experimentation is composite flour technology. Recent research conducted by Campden BRI investigated the use of two ancient grains, quinoa and buckwheat, in extruded snacks. Results showed that it is possible to make nutritionally enhanced snacks by using ancient grains with similar, if not improved, characteristics compared to extruded corn snacks.

Campden BRI has also successfully developed a chocolate pudding and drink containing 19% extruded quinoa flour. The chocolate pudding had a good dessert texture and rich chocolate flavour, while low in fat, low in saturated fat, salt free, source of phosphorus and source of copper claims were able to be made.

The chocolate drink had a strong, malty and earth flavour and was able to make salt free, source of potassium, source of phosphorus, high in phosphorous, source of magnesium, source of copper and high in copper claims.

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