New food and beverage products featuring ancient grains are appearing on markets worldwide, reports Datamonitor's Productscan Online, bringing new opportunities for lesser known types of grain.
According to the database of new product launches, the number of new food and beverage products introduced worldwide featuring ancient grains like quinoa, spelt, kamut, amaranth and chia rose from 257 in 2005 to 515 in 2007, representing a 50 per cent rise.
Compared with 2004, when they were only 112 new products that used these grains, the rise is even more striking, representing a five-fold increase.
In the context of raising health concerns, one of the reasons behind the increased popularity of whole grains is that modern consumers are looking for foods which are less processed, more natural and offer more distinctive flavours.
Over 63 per cent of American and 58 per cent of European consumers surveyed in 2006 said that it was either "important" or "very important" to reduce consumption of processed foods, according to Datamonitor.
With consumer tastes constantly evolving, ancient grains also address the consumers' needs for novelty.
Rediscovering chia seed
Chia is in the lead of ancient grains which have found renewed popularity among modern consumers.
It is the edible seed of the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. The plant grows in southern Mexico.
In pre-Columbian times, chia seeds formed an important part of the diet of Aztec and Mayan populations. After a long period of neglect by mainstream consumers, chia seeds are now rediscovering the health benefits of the grain.
Chia seed is high in easy-to-digest protein and in omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains vitamins, minerals and provides fibre (25 grams give you 6.9 grams of fibre).
Another advantage is said to be that the seeds do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body.
A range of new products containing chia seeds have already been launched, according to Datamonitor, such as Ruth's chia goodness cranberry ginger breakfast cereal from Canada-based Ruth's Hemp Foods.
Quinoa, the 'mother of all grains'
Modern consumers are also rediscovering the benefits of the quinoa seed, which is increasingly used in food and beverage products such as breakfast cereal, pasta, soup, and chips, Datamonitor reports.
Quinoa originates in the Andean region of South America, where it has been part of the diet for 6,000 years. The crop was considered as sacred by the Incas, who referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or 'mother of all grains'.
Quinoa is appreciated for its nutritional value. It has high protein content (12-18 per cent) and it contains a balanced set of essential amino acids. It is a good source of dietary fibre and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is also gluten free and is considered easy to digest.
Ingredient suppliers are already emphasising the advantages of ancient seeds to market their products. In late 2007, America's ConAgra Mills introduced five flours containing ancient grains for commercial use including quinoa, teff and sorghum flours. According to the company, the "flours' distinct flavour profiles will better inspire 'next-generation' whole grain products".
As ingredient suppliers strive to provide customers with innovative products with good nutritional values and health benefits, there may be good potential for more ancient grain-based products in the future, Datamonitor concluded.