Sprouted grains – a solution to gluten allergies?

Baked goods manufacturer Everfresh is looking to improve digestibility, boost nutrition and increase shelf life without additives, all using sprouting techniques.

18 July 2019
ambientbakeryfunctional foodgrainsgut healthhealthnutrition

Could sprouted grains provide a solution for people with gluten sensitivity or intolerance? It’s an interesting idea, one that Tom Russell hopes to explore further. The managing director of Everfresh Natural Foods says that he is regularly contacted by people who normally react adversely to gluten, but who claim his company’s products, made from sprouted wheat, do not trigger a reaction.

“When you sprout, the gluten goes through a change and you’re not developing the gluten in the same way that you are when you knead a dough,” Russell tells Food Spark.

This peculiar attribute is one of the things Everfresh will explore as part of investigations into the health benefits of foods made from sprouted plants, in collaboration with Campden BRI and Holmach Ltd. The trio were recently awarded a £650k grant from Innovate UK to fund the research.

“Within the natural community, there’s a huge groundswell of people looking at the nutrients that are released when something is sprouted, much in the same way as there has been a surge in sourdough bread as opposed to slice white bread,” notes Russell.

Both Bol Foods and Rude Health have said that it’s an area they are experimenting with at the moment, with the latter currently stocking its Sprouted Porridge Oats in Waitrose.

Sprouted Genius make a range of crackers from sprouted amaranth, while Dr Mary’s Sproutin is a vegan-friendly chocolate spread alternative made with sprouted wheat and no added sugar. MozzaRisella, meanwhile, makes a cheese product from sprouted brown rice.

Getting granular

According to proponents, germinating grains at a specific humidity and temperature makes them more easily digestible. When they begin to sprout, enzymes start to break down the starch into simpler sugars.

It’s also thought that nutrients are easier to absorb in sprouted grains, due to a reduction in the phytic acid that binds to minerals. Dr. Laura Wyness has previously told Food Spark that sprouted nuts and seeds can improve the absorption of iron – a useful fact for vegetarians and vegans, who may find it challenging to get a sufficient amount without eating meat.

Everfresh hopes to find the best ingredients possible to produce an optimal baked product, both in terms of taste and texture and in terms of nutrition. To that end, Campden BRI is exploring a whole range of foodstuffs, starting with the wheat, spelt and rye already used in Everfresh’s products, including its core range of loaves, which come in flavours like sunseed, carrot and raisin, and hemp.

It also wants to trial oats and barley, as well as pulses.

“Chickpeas, mung beans, lentils, fava beans, peas – basically anything that’s not a grain, we have been trying and doing things with!” reveals Russell, adding that what eventually makes it into new products will also be based upon price considerations, so that it can become a mass-market item.

Everfresh has already launched a new range of cakes, featuring a mixture of fruit-based options as well as a chocolate variant. Debuting in the spring, the natural sweetness that arises from the sprouting process means that these do not require added sugar.

By around September, Russell hopes to add a brand-new savoury range, which he says will be a “complete departure from where we are and take us into a completely new sector.”

In addition to experiments with sprouting, Everfresh is also working with Holmach to make its goods less processed while improving shelf life. The brand prides itself on being free from additives and preservatives, so has had to find alternative methods to ensure product longevity and reduce food waste.

“We’ve been able to significantly reduce the pasteurisation time because of the equipment we’ve bought with the Innovate money, and that reduction in time means nutrients aren’t being subjected to heat for such a long period of time,” comments Russell. “We weren’t able to do that before because we didn’t have the level of sophisticated measuring equipment that we have now.”

Production challenges

There’s no set definition of what constitutes a sprouted grain or legume at the moment, which has led to some consumer confusion. Different companies have experimented with a range of temperatures and humidity levels in order to optimise nutritional gain, but in some ways companies like Everfresh are treading fresh ground, with no clear guidebook to follow.

“Every time we get a new batch of grain, they perform slightly differently, because they might be drier, they might have been overwintered differently,” notes Russell.

Everfresh has had a lot of challenges with getting a consistent product, but it’s one of the areas the business has improved by using more precise equipment that can help to control environmental factors.

Consistency is of course key to scalability, and as the process is more keenly honed, Russell believes sprouted grains will only become more common.

“Sprouting has always been in the slightly more esoteric area of health food, rather than mainstream food. And I think that is beginning to change. I think we’ll be seeing more sprouted-type products appearing.”

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