Ancient grains: Health versus history

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Manufacturers can win by communicating the backstory these ancient grains have, says Datamonitor
Manufacturers can win by communicating the backstory these ancient grains have, says Datamonitor

Related tags Ancient grains Cereal Nutrition Wheat

The heritage and authenticity behind ancient grains is a key selling point that bakers should work hard to communicate, says Datamonitor.

Famed for their nutritional punch, ancient grains have boomed in recent years with grains like quinoa, teff and amaranth now relatively well known among consumers and increasingly used in baked goods, cereals and snacks.

Other less known grains include kãniwa (a close relative of quinoa cultivated in the Andes), the high protein wheat variety emmer and low-gluten wheat grain einkorn.

“There’s huge appeal for these ancient grains because they have a lot more to offer in terms of nutritional profile. They are also natural, not genetically modified or hybrids. They are much more wholesome; or at least that’s a security people feel, whether real or perceived,”​ Katie Page, senior analyst at Datamonitor, told

Comforting, compelling backstory

But as ancient grains become more established in the bakery sector she said manufacturers can win by communicating the comforting backstory these grains have.

“These are the old versions of grains resurrected from the dust. They are not mass-produced,”​ she said, and companies need to tell this story – about where they come from, how they differ from commercial mass-produced grains and push the idea that they are intact.

“Heritage grains provide food manufacturers with an opportunity to draw on product ‘backstory’ and provide consumers with a compelling brand narrative anchored in heritage and authenticity,”​ she continued.

Pushing the heritage of a bakery brand like that goods are handmade or made in small batches is increasingly common, she said, and consumers really buy into this.

The trend towards local is also fairly strong, she said, with farm to fork stories on the rise. “However, what’s interesting around ancient grains is that their heritage stories can be quite exotic; for example teff flour has Ethiopian origins,”​ she said.

Page said that these exotic origins give manufacturers a point to paint a compelling backstory about the grains.

Side-step on health

However, she warned that despite the temptation to push the health aspect of the grains hard, manufacturers should be selective.

“I think there is a danger of focusing on health,”​ she said.

“You do need a little bit of science and credit but there are better ways than with pack copy. Avoiding scientific words or matching those functional claims with something else that a consumer can buy into – like wholesomeness and heritage – can be very powerful.”

Page said that functional foods in general that carry a lot of health claims can be quite off-putting for consumers.

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How about edible chestnut?

Posted by Virginia,

Chestnut is really a grain that grows on trees and is a highly nutritious, self sustaining food, but is mis-labeled by USDA as a nut. This kernel needs to be refrigerated post-harvest.

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Just for your information

Posted by Jack,

Quinoa and amaranth are not grains. Both are related to spinach. All grains are seeds of grasses.

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