Bakers Journal

Modern traditions, ancient grains

June 23, 2021
By Elaine O’Doherty

Heirloom grains see a revival in new applications

Ancient grains are making appearances everywhere – from traditional applications like breads and bars, to pizza crusts and beyond. Why? 

More than ever before, consumers have the option to choose foods that align with their individual values, whether that’s personal health, planetary health or transparency. Because of ancient grains’ versatility, they are positioned well to reshape the way we think about food. Let’s dive into how this popular trend is making its way into the baking category. 

Ancient grains are gaining strong traction with consumers.

It’s no surprise that health-conscious consumers remain at the forefront and continue to push baking trends and innovation. Plant forward is a significant trend we are seeing play out in the better-for-you category. Ancient grains can play an important role here since they can provide protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, B vitamins and antioxidants, depending on the grain. Ancient grains such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff and millet are also gluten-free, which is another draw for consumers with dietary restrictions and those who perceive gluten-free products as healthier. 

Bread and baked goods are an easy way to incorporate these ingredients and capitalize on this trend. However, even in perceived healthier products, taste still rules the day. An easy way incorporate an ancient grain flour into your favourite recipe, is by replacing a portion of the traditional flour. Starting with something simple like spelt is a great way to begin. Spelt flour performs similarly to traditional wheat flour and is an easy swap; you can begin with larger amounts than other grains. As you become more comfortable with ancient grain baking start swapping out small amounts of flour for other grains such as teff, millet or amaranth.  


Consumers are are interested in the story behind ancient grains. Where does it come from? How is it grown? 65 per cent of consumers want to know the story behind the food and drinks they buy (source; Innova Jan 2020). Ancient grains offer a unique story to tell, not only in terms of its rich history and versatility, but also in sustainability. A great example is quinoa, we’ll discuss that in more detail below.  

Quinoa is THE ancient grain

Quinoa is one of the most popular grains on the market today and is also seen as the healthiest (Cargill Ingredientracker, 2021). Why? It’s extremely versatile, can be used in a seemingly endless number of baking applications, it’s a great source of protein, fibre and omega-3’s, and it’s sustainable. 

Quinoa only needs about 8-12 inches of water, is a highly resilient plant and thrives where no other crops are viable. Our North American quinoa, grown in Colorado, is a great example of that. For every 1,000 acres of quinoa planted, approximately 366M gallons of water are saved compared to a traditional crop rotation – the equivalent of 555 Olympic sized pools. 

And, when it comes to baking, quinoa can be easily incorporated in many ways from flour and flakes, to seeds, and more. It provides versatility and gluten-free options and a perceived healthier halo for the finished product. A few interesting ways we’re seeing quinoa being used in baked goods is in biscuits and muffins, cookies and granola. One of our favourite applications right now is using cooked quinoa in items like cakes and muffins. A decadent dark chocolate cake with cooked quinoa in the batter adds just a little something extra.

What about the other grains?

Teff, millet, sorghum and amaranth are ancient grains to keep an eye on. We predict these will become increasingly popular due to their unique flavours, applications and versatility. Teff is great because it offers a slightly sweet, molasses-like flavour that’s compatible with other grain flours. Millet is also ideal for blending with other grain flours. Sorghum is highly versatile and can be formulated easily into baked goods. And finally, amaranth has an appealing peppery flavour. Using these ancient grains, or ancient grains blended with conventional flour, can provide an easy way to add flavour, interest and texture to bread and baked goods. 

Ancient grains have limitless potential in bread and baked goods. With increased fibre, new and unique flavours, and gluten-free options, it’s safe to say that this trend is here to stay. Ardent Mills is proud to offer a broad range of ancient grains and specialty ingredients that help you meet this consumer demand. As an added bonus, ancient grains work very nicely blended with our traditional flour offerings. And, you can count on our team of technical experts for formulation questions, application troubleshooting, and more.

Elaine O’Doherty is the Marketing Manager, Canada at Ardent Mills.

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