News | February 28, 2024

Making Ancient Grains More Formulation Friendly

Canadian researcher Maneka Malalgoda has identified ingredients and processing approaches that make use of ancient grains in bakery product formulations more feasible.

Bread wheat dominates the bakery industry because of its versatility and functional properties that mean doughs rise, crumb forms, and crusts brown the way consumers like. Modern grains, including wheats, have been bred for high yields, but that’s left them vulnerable to pests and diseases and has also lowered their nutritional content.

Ancient grains like einkorn, millet, and emmer, however, are tough plants that are able to thrive in challenging growing conditions and are more pest and disease resistant than some mainstream grains, mostly because they still retain their genetic diversity. Along with their favorable nutritional profiles, they’re more environmentally friendly to produce.

“Given the recent interest in ancient grains, I thought it [was] a good avenue to explore. These grains have ecological and nutritional benefits as well,” says Maneka Malalgoda, an assistant professor in the University of Manitoba’s Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences.

Ancient grains do have their drawbacks, such as lower yield. For example, emmer produces about half the yield and einkorn 62% of the yield of their modern wheat counterpart. They also have different protein chemistry, explains Malalgoda, particularly lower levels of high molecular weight glutenin, which means that doughs made with ancient grains don’t form well.

“There is very limited research on how to increase the functionality of these grains,” said Malalgoda. “We know that because of the chemistry of these ancient grains, they have limitations to their functionality. So, we wanted to explore how can we increase this.”

Malalgoda, along with graduate student Anashwar Valsalan, published a review that looked at a variety of methods to make ancient grains better suited to use in baked goods. Malalgoda, who specializes in baked goods, within grain chemistry and processing, says they focused on ingredients and processing technologies because they’re relatively easy to implement.

New Approaches
The researchers identified some promising workarounds to help ancient grains work better in baked goods. Hydrocolloids, already used in the bakery sector for formulating with both whole wheats and gluten-free options, aid in water retention. The addition of pectin, for example, can help increase volume, improve water retention, and provide a springier and softer texture with a pleasing mouthfeel. Xanthan gum and guar gum both help dough become more stable and improve volume. Enzymes like glucose oxidase are also useful for strengthening gluten, and emulsifiers like lecithin have also improved loaf volume.

Malalgoda and her team investigated processing techniques, including tempering, flour blending, nonthermal plasma, heat treatments, extrusion, high pressure processing, ozone treatment, and ultrasound. While they all resulted in functional improvements, the researchers found that extrusion and nonthermal technologies held particular promise.

Products formulated with a variety of ancient grains already are available, of course, but they tend toward the higher end for niche markets. That’s likely to continue, at least in the short term, simply because of grain availability; these grains are not grown as much as bread wheat, and so food producers don’t have access to comparable economies of scale.

What’s likely, Malalgoda says, is the use of more blends, that is, mixtures of modern and ancient grains at varying ratios sufficient to retain the desired functional and nutritional characteristics of both. Malalgoda and her colleagues are at work applying some of this research in her lab. They’re focusing on several approaches, including emulsifiers and extrusion. She also thinks new processing technologies hold great promise and hopes to continue exploring that avenue as well.

But to motivate farmers to grow ancient grain crops, food companies need to want to use them in product formulations. “I think the key is to make sure there’s a market for these grains,” Malalgoda reflects. “And to get to that market, we need to make sure that they’re functional, or identify how to make them functional.”

Source: Institute of Food Technologists.