by Jenny Marino and James Marino
Sprouted grains are one of 2015’s hottest trends, but unlike many trends, this ingredient has quickly become a staple amongst new health food products. Between 2012 and 2014, sprouted-grain product introductions doubled and 2015 has seen a flurry of innovation in this category—including introductions from major players such as Panera, Kellogg’s and Champion Foods. Industry experts are predicting further category expansion as well—U.S. sales of sprouted-grain products are on track to increase eight-fold in the next five years. It’s obvious this ingredient has staying power, but why?
Although this ingredient is far from new, it didn’t gain momentum with mainstream America until last year when Panera introduced its sprouted grain rolls and bagel flat. Health-conscious consumers jumped on the sprouted-grain bandwagon, realizing this minimally processed, nutritionally superior ingredient filled a void in their diets left by traditional flour-based breads. However, the real power behind the sprouted grain movement lies in its connection with another expanding trend: functional foods.
Industry influencers are calling sprouted grains the naturally functional ingredient trend of the year. The key word here is “naturally." In an effort to fill a nutritional void, many of our staple food and beverages are made to be functional through fortification, which means more processing. Now health-conscious consumers are cautious. They want real food, and naturally nutrient-dense sprouted grains fit the bill.
In addition to adding naturally functional benefits to food products, sprouted grains increase nutrient bioavailability. While unsprouted whole grains have a layer of anti-nutrients that block the body’s ability to fully absorb its nutrients, sprouting breaks down this barrier—unlocking the full nutritional value of the grain. A handful of bread brands in the United States, such as Angelic Bakehouse and Ezekiel, have found a way to maintain the nutritional value of the grain through to the end product. They combine real sprouted grains directly into the bread dough, while other brands use sprouted grain flour. Although still superior to unsprouted flour, sprouted grain flour requires the grains to go through more processing, which can result in nutrient deficits.
In addition to becoming more attentive to their diet, consumers are more aware of nutrient intake and deficiencies. The spotlight is shining brightest on protein, which is viewed as a healthy energy source, part of a well-balanced diet and weight management solution. Similar to sprouted grains, 2015 has seen an upsurge in protein-focused product introductions as well as alternative protein sources, including plants and insects (for example, this cricket flour-based baking mix). Unsurprisingly, not all consumers are ready to add crickets and mealworm into their breakfast routine. Protein is another nutritional void consumers can turn to sprouted grains to fill; studies show sprouting increases protein content compared to unsprouted grains. Also, many sprouted grain products are made with multiple grains so the end result is a more complete protein.
But protein isn’t the only nutrient that gets a boost during the sprouting process, studies also show the amount of soluble fiber in sprouted grains nearly triples compared to unsprouted grains. With two of the top health concerns focused on heart and digestive health, fiber has become just as important, if not more, than protein. As the number one cause of death for U.S. men and women, heart health has been a top medical concern for many years. Soluble fiber is key to maintaining healthy cardiovascular function because it helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Research has shown a direct correlation between the consumption of sprouted grains, seeds and nuts with other cardiovascular benefits as well, including decreases in blood pressure and anti-inflammatory protection.
Although it’s become more of a recent concern, digestive or gut health is no less important than heart health for today’s consumers, and sprouted grains can provide a solution. Due to chemical changes that occur during the sprouting process, these grains are easier for the body to process. Sprouted grains, and products containing the ingredient, have also helped alleviate some of the diet restrictions brought on by food allergies. For example, some people who suffer from gluten intolerances have been able to digest sprouted grain bread more easily—another benefit of the sprouting process, which predigests gluten proteins. The low glycemic index of sprouted grains makes them a safer option for diabetics, as well.
Since sprouted grains have hit mainstream markets, they’ve been called many things—including the new quinoa and “hippie" grains. But looking ahead into 2016 and considering the demands of the growing health-conscious population, it’s clear that sprouted grains are more than a functional food “trend," but rather a functional food of the future.
Born and raised Milwaukeeans, Angelic Bakehouse owners Jenny and James Marino first entered the food industry with their purchase of Angelic—then called Cybros the Sprouted Bakehouse—in 2009. Prior to this, Jenny worked in various customer service positions, including department head of the five-star Five Diamond Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. James has an extensive background in sales in the mortgage industry, including six years with Accredited Home Lenders and head of operations for a number of companies owned by Citadel, a global multi-strategy hedge fund. Since purchasing Cybros, rebranding the bakery, and changing the name to Angelic Bakehouse, the Marinos have grown sales ten-fold in five years, and projections for the next five show a similar scale of growth.