Ancient Grains Add New Life

With today’s emphasis on the veg-centric movement and the demand for high protein foods, plant protein is recognized as a healthy way to eat. As diner’s love of ancient grains continues to evolve, it plays a vital role in the focus on plant protein. Today, they are closer than ever to becoming a mainstream ingredient. We see them as standard fare on menus across the country. The term ancient grains refer to the oldest varieties of grain that have not been breed or changed by humans.

Consumers crave adventure but demand authenticity and clean label. This is part of the lure of ancient grains. With today’s added focus on nutrition, grains stand out even more. Many are gluten-free and all contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. They are extremely versatile and can be used in savory, sweet, sour and bitter applications.

Quinoa although not a true ancient grain, is one of the few non-animal complete proteins. It has shifted how Americans think about protein sources. Quinoa has hit star status appearing in bowls, salads, side items, on retail shelves, on fine dining menus and inconvenient store foods. We also see ancient grains like farro, buckwheat, spelt, kamut, amaranth and freekeh used in similar applications across all dayparts.

South American, Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean countries have always relied on ancient grains as a staple in their cuisines. Quinoa is traditional in Peruvian food. Teff and barley are staples in Ethiopia. Freekeh and bulgur are found in Middle Eastern cuisine. With Americans delving into global cuisines, ancient grains are getting even more attention.

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Ancient Grains Add New Life

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  • Peder Bondhus is the brand chef for Flower Child, a West Coast fast-casual chain. He says the health-focused concept’s ancient grains menu items have had massive success. Bondhus thinks ancient grains have staying power, especially since they don’t exclusively cater to vegetarians and vegans. “We can add steak or chicken or tofu to any of these dishes. For example, in California you see more people add tofu, and in Texas they add more steak.” February 2017
  • “About 22 percent of total bowl sales are a base other than pasta, and about 25 percent of those are farro,” says Porano Pasta corporate executive chef Michael Petres. “We let people mix it up however they want, and lots of people add farro to salads as well, which doesn’t figure into those numbers.”
  • Grains can be added to ground beef for reasons of health, sustainability and favor. “Grains are added cooked to absorb the juices released by the meat. It’s best if the grains are even slightly overcooked. You want it to be very tender and not compete with the texture of the meat.” Bruce Mattel, CIA’s senior associate dean for culinary arts 2017.
  • “Whole grains offer a deep, soul-satisfying flavor. These days I’m loving many. If I had to choose, I would say farro, rye and spelled-grains that I can cook or mill.” Chef Michael Fiorelli, Love & Salt, Manhattan Beach California
  • “A test of a great chef is elevating simple ingredients through thoughtful technique. We relish the challenge found in serving these humble ingredients packed with flavor, depth and nutrition.’ Chef George Pagonis of Kapnos, Kapnos Kouzina and Kapnos Taverna In D.C.
  • “Globally-inspired flatbreads are beginning to trend. This year we may see ancient grains emerging as a flatbread trend. “Chef Jake Brach, Rich’s Foodservice
  • Quinoa has seen powerful growth in menu mentions. Since 2010 it has gone up 800%. Datassential Menu Trends
  • Kale is the second most popular vegetable in salads and bowls which feature whole grains. The combination of kale and whole grains has increased by 20% on menus over the past year. Flavor & The Menu 2017
  • Market research suggests that ancient-grain usage in quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are on the rise. Foods like quinoa, chia seeds, bulgur, and farro are increasingly present in bowls, smoothies, and veggie burgers. QSR February 2017
  • More than 700 professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation shared their thoughts on the annual “What’s Hot” survey to give us a peek into which food, beverages and culinary concepts will be the new items on restaurant menus in 2018. Ancient Grains are on their list!
  • concepts will be the new items on restaurant menus in 2018. Ancient Grains are on their list!

thoughts on the annual “What’s Hot” survey to give us a peak into which food, beverages and culinary concepts will be the new items on restaurant menus in 2018. Ancient Grains is on their list!

  • According to Mintel, products marketed as superfoods are on the rise. “Super grains” (arguably all ancient grains) are a growing portion of that category. “Ancient recipes are going to be a dependable source of inspiration for more menu items in the coming year, Analyst Jenny Zegler
  • Porridge has become popular on many menus. Asian porridge, congee is made with rice and can be topped with anything from eggs to nuts, lean meats, herbs and vegetables. We are now creating more grain-based bowls accenting global ingredients not only for breakfast but lunch and brunch.

THE PROS: What they are saying

FACTS: Here’s what you need to know

Transparency and “eating clean and healthy” are buzzwords with diners today. As consumers delve deeper into food choices, they choose to limit additives and processed ingredients and increase organic choices in their diets. As chefs, we inspire to offer an assortment of menu choices made with whole foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and ancient grains. We work with vendors to source less processed products. By taking advantage of ancient grains, we offer menu choices that can help empower our customers to make the right choices for delicious foods with nutritional benefits to live their best.

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Tony Lagana

Chef Tony is a 42-year veteran of the food industry and is often known by his peers as “The New Product Guru.” Throughout his illustrious culinary career, he’s earned several notable titles and positions including Acquisition International’s “Most Influential Product Development Expert, U.S.” in 2019.

In 1997, Tony also founded Culinary Systems Inc., a group of culinary consultants that assist with culinary training, restaurant start-ups, concept development, and more. Since then, Tony and his team have generated over two billion dollars in sales for their clients in restaurants, retail, and manufacturing.

The strategic, technical, and culinary skills of Tony and his team can be seen on the menus of national chains, in the portfolio of national food manufacturers, and on the grocery shelves of products produced by major retail companies.