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The whole grain potential of barley, rye

By Lorraine Heller , 28-Sep-2006

Barley and rye are underutilized whole grains, and although they are considered to be minor cereal grains they have major health benefits, heard food scientists and manufacturers last week.

Speaking at the World Grains Summit in San Francisco, ConAgra's Elizabeth Arndt said that in an environment where whole grains are becoming increasingly popular, barley and rye could be used to add variety to new whole grain foods.

"More than 70 percent of the grains we consume are wheat-based. And whole grain consumption is very low, with people on average consuming less than one serving of whole grains per day; only 9 percent of children are consuming the recommended three servings of whole grains every day. The message we need to get across is: make half of your grains whole," said Arndt.

According to the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (USDA ERS), Americans on average consume 118g wheat per day. Corn consumption is at 27g daily, rice at 18g and oat at 3g. In comparison, most people only consume around half a gram of barley and rye per day.

But Arndt said that incorporating more barley and rye into food and beverage products holds a number of benefits for food manufactures and consumers alike.

For food processing, these include functional benefits in terms of flavor, color and texture. The two cereals are also particularly hardy, adaptable grains, said Arndt, and are more tolerant of adverse conditions, such as dry or cold atmospheres.

Whole grain rye and barley also deliver key nutrients to consumers, she said. Although far above the amounts currently consumed, three servings of whole grain rye per day would provide 28 percent of recommended daily amounts of fiber, 15 percent magnesium, 4 percent potassium, 25 percent selenium and 60 percent manganese. In addition, this amount of rye would provide up to 10 percent of the recommended daily values of copper, iron, thiamin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6 and riboflavin.

Whole grains in general have received considerable attention in the last year, especially in the US where the FDA permits foods that contain at least 51 percent whole grains by weight and that are low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to carry a health claim, which links them to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Whole grains have also been linked to a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes, and are also thought to play a role in weight management.

Indeed, the term 'whole grain' is considered to be more consumer-friendly than the term 'fiber', which leads some manufacturers to favor it on product packaging since it is likely to strike more of a chord of recognition for its healthy benefits.

According to Arndt, ConAgra's barley variety Prowashonupana contains at least 30 percent dietary fiber, of which more than 40 percent is soluble fiber.

Also known under the brand name Sustagrain, the variety is an identity-preserved waxy barley, developed through conventional plant breeding. The ingredient, which is suitable for use in products such as cereals, baked goods, soups and beverages, has undergone a number of studies that have revealed its health benefits, said Arndt.

These include lowered blood glucose and insulin responses, lower absorption levels with implications for weight management, and increased satiety. The product is also marketed for its antioxidant levels, with an antioxidant capacity below artichokes and blueberries, but above strawberries, raisins and spinach.

Traditionally, barley has been used in products such as beer, teas and soup, while rye is primarily used for breads, crackers and alcoholic drinks. Additional applications that barley and rye can be used in include breakfast foods, cereals, tortillas, vegetarian patties and smoothies.

"Today, typical intake levels of barley and rye remain low. But in the future, because of their flexible use across a range of product applications, these could be used to add variety to new whole grain foods, alone or in multigrain applications," said Arndt.

According to Mintel's Global New Product Database (GNPD), a total of 56 new products containing barley were launched globally between September 2005 and September 2006. Most of these were introduced in Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, Japan and Malaysia. The US saw two new soup products with barley launched during the period.

Total global introductions of rye-containing products were set at 77 for the year, with most of these occurring in Finland and Sweden, followed by Germany, Poland and Norway. In the US, four new rye products were launched.

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