Sprouted grains are “so popular these days, and yet it is a Wild West out there. How do we know what we’re getting when the package says ‘sprouted grains?’” said Cynthia Harriman, the director of food and nutrition strategies at Oldways.
She explained that currently 208 products with the Whole Grain Stamp have sprouted grains, which may not sound like a lot, but it is up from only one eight years ago. Indeed, the number of new products featuring sprouted grains is growing so fast that sales from them are predicted to grow more than eight times from $30 million currently to $250 million by 2018, according to food and nutrition expert Julian Mellentin.
Unfortunately, Harriman said, “whenever something gets popular, everybody tries to put it on their label … and some are legitimate, but some of them are not,” which is why companies that sell sprouted grain products asked Oldways to help them set standards for the ingredient.
“The whole point of a standard is to make sure consumers are being protected and getting what they want, pay for and are promised,” she added.
For example, she noted that without a standard some companies are mixing sprouted and unsprouted grains but not disclosing the percentage of sprouted grains, which promise increased nutrient bioavailability, longer shelf life and a sweeter taste.
Without a standard, manufacturers and millers also might be at risk of buying grain that accidently sprouted in a silo because of damp storage conditions, rather than grain that was sprouted intentionally under safe conditions that control for bacteria.
A standard also would protect manufacturers, most of whom would rather do the right thing, from potential false claims allegations if they did not make products with a percentage of sprouted grain that met consumers’ perceptions of the claim.
With that in mind, Harriman hosted a conference call Aug. 6 with 22 participants from 13 companies to identify what issues the standard should address.
“At this point, we aren’t actually defining the standard, but rather are coming up with as many questions as we could about what would be in a standard if there was one,” she said.
The participants identified five areas for consideration, but are open to adding more as they move forward. They include:
- Redefining sprouted grain to include a maximum and minimum sprout length. Currently, the American Association of Cereal Chemists International and the Whole Grains Council define sprouted grain as a whole grain “as long as sprout growth does not exceed kernel length and nutrient values have not diminished,” Harriman said. The idea is a longer sprout would count as a plant, which might be harder to digest.
- Defining lab tests to verify a grain has sprouted. One idea is to use a falling number test, which already is used to test for “sprout damage” caused by damp or rainy conditions during a crop’s final maturation stage.
- Establishing nutrient tests as a way to determine when a grain has sprouted.
- Establishing what percentage of grains must be sprouted to make the claim.
- Setting microbial and safety tests for sprouting grains. Harriman explained that grains are sprouted in warm, damp conditions that also are conducive for bacteria growth.
The next steps in the process likely will include establishing sub-committees that can research and flesh out each standard, Harriman said.
She added that while the initial group of participants was by invitation only, “as we gain momentum we welcome other people to join in the effort so that the standards are based in as much experience as possible and have buy-in from the people who might be affected by them.”