Supergrains! Why quinoa, farro, chia and amaranth should be in every formulator's toolkit

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'Super grains' - from farro, spelt, kamut, millet, quinoa and amaranth to chia, freekeh and teff - are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. They also come with a great backstory, a wholesome, whole grain image and in many cases, gluten-free credentials.

But are ancient grains a flash in the pan or a sustainable growth trend? And which ones have the most potential?

The most popular are probably farro, spelt, quinoa, millet and chia, which are now being incorporated into everything from yogurts and crackers to beverages, says Datamonitor innovation insights director Tom Vierhile, who caught up with Elaine Watson at the Supply Side West show in Las Vegas.

"Quinoa is trending very highly at the moment. It's also very easy to use. If you can boil water, then you can cook it.

"It's also got a lot of protein and calcium, and it's gluten-free, so we're seeing it appear in breakfast cereals, cereal bars, bread and rolls, cookies, crackers, pasta and even chocolate."

Of all the super grains, chia has been the fastest grower

New product launches featuring chia have doubled in the past year on a global basis

Interest in chia, which is packed with fiber, protein, and omega-3s, meanwhile, has also exploded in the past year, with global new product launches featuring the grain doubling as product developers seek to cash in on its superfood credentials, says Vierhile.

"Of all the super grains, chia has been the fastest grower. It's also one of the most versatile. We've seen it used in everything from babyfood and cookies to a pineapple gelatin dessert."

There were 76 new product launches featuring chia in the US market between January 2010 and September 2012; compared with 56 featuring amaranth or kaniwa; 137 with quinoa; 50 with farrow or spelt; 21 with kamut; and 10 with teff.

Feeling freekeh?


One of the most interesting super grains to watch is freekeh​, or wheat that has been harvested early - while it is still green - and then roasted and cracked, he says.

"It's high in protein, fiber, ​[gut-friendly] resistant starch, vitamins and minerals, plus​ [eye-friendly] lutein and zeaxanthin. It's a nutritional powerhouse​."

While freekeh is niche right now - Datamonitor has only logged four new products featuring the grain in its database since 2010 - it has a lot of potential, says Vierhile.

"If you introduce a freekeh-based product right now, you'll have the market to yourself!"

According to Minnesota-based Freekeh Foods (pictured), Freekeh has significantly higher levels of fiber and almost twice as much protein as brown rice.

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