One of the trendiest performers in the bread category has been around for thousands of years.

Ancient grains —quinoa, amaranth, farro, sorghum, teff, emmer, spelt and others —have been top of mind for many in the bakery world for years, and 2017 was no exception. According to new data from Chicago-based research firm the NPD Group, case shipments of ancient grains by broadline distributors to U.S. foodservice outlets enjoyed double digit growth in the 12 months ending in October.

Quinoa, the most popular ancient grain, saw 18.5 percent growth. Spelt and farro also increased by double digits, and movement of amaranth, a staple food of the Aztecs, shot up 19.4 percent.

As ancient grains continue to gain market share, millers and bakers continue to find new uses for these old-but-good ingredients —including many destined for instore bakery products.


The aim of Denver-based Ardent Mills’ Great Plains Quinoa program is to develop a reliable supply of quinoa produced in North America. (Most quinoa is grown in South America.) The program shows “tremendous potential,” says Don Trouba, Ardent Mills’ senior director, go-to-market lead for specialty products. In particular, the company is excited about new food concepts, co-developed by Chef Jason Gronlund and Ardent Mills customers, that take advantage of the grain’s unique sticky qualities.

“This makes it ideal as a rice supplement or replacer in sushi applications, or as its own binder in gluten-free pie crusts,” Trouba says.  

To make Great Plains Quinoa more accessible, Ardent Mills is introducing crisps and individually quick-frozen (IQF) products made from the grain, Trouba says. IQF is an excellent option for bakeries and foodservice applications, he says.  At retail, product marketed under the Tiny Hero brand is beginning to hit shelves. “As more consumers become familiar with this type of quinoa, it will accelerate adoption in the retail and foodservice spaces,” Trouba says.

Ardent Mills’ investment in ancient grains extends far beyond quinoa. Demand for heirloom wheat, driven in large part by the renaissance in artisan bakeries, is also up, Trouba says. Also popular are spelt, rye and more unique varieties like Ardent Mills’ new White Sonora Wheat — a soft wheat with a Southwest lineage that’s long been popular in tortillas and is becoming popular among distillers.

Ancient grains enjoyed another year of big growth in 2017, and 2018 shouldn’t be any different, says Ashley Robertson, market manager for breads and rolls for Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion. Many of today’s consumers, she says, prefer products made with ancient grains because of their high plant-based protein content. Ancient grains are also high in resistance to starch, which acts like fiber and can be helpful in weight loss. Another factor putting ancient grains on the hot list, Robertson says, is the fact that several of them, including quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet and sorghum, are gluten-free.

“Ancient grains are becoming a prominent ingredient in the bakery industry as demand for healthy, nutrient-dense products continues to rise,” Robertson says. “The bakery trend started with quinoa, but in 2017, sorghum and teff quickly made their way onto shelves as the new ‘it’ grains.”

And with increased demand for gluten-free and non-GMO bakery products, four other ancient grains —kamut, spelt, amaranth and lupin — also are becoming more popular, Robertson says.

San Leandro, California-based La Brea Bakery, a division of Aryzta LLC, has been using ancient grains in a number of its breads since the ‘90s, says Jonathan Davis, the company’s senior vice president of R&D.  Quinoa, farro, spelt and emmer are among the grains used to make breads in La Brea’s Bakery Reserve line.

La Brea also uses ancient grains for breads in other product lines, Davis says. Quinoa and amaranth, for instance, have been used in the company’s Multi-grain, Italian 5 Grain and Whole Grain loaves for years.


Ancient grains were in the spotlight throughout 2017, and in 2018, based on various trend forecasts, they will continue to be very popular, Davis says. That demand will be driven not only by consumers’ search for healthier foods, but also by increased recognition of how good foods made with ancient grains taste.

“Ancient grains are low in fat, high in protein and a great source of carbohydrates, but they’re also known to give foods a chewy texture and great taste,” he says. “We’ll continue to see bakeries introduce new variation of breads and pastries made with ancient grains.”

In 2018, Corbion expects ancient grains to show up more frequently in breads and sweet baked goods. Sweet baked goods, Robertson says, often benefit from the addition of the slightly nutty flavor ancient grains deliver.

The instore bakery items most likely to substitute ancient grains for flour include breads, bagels and muffins, Robertson says. But other instore items —spiced breads, scones, pastries —also can be enhanced with ancient grains. Whatever the item, Corbion will be there to meet the need. “We are continually expanding our ancient grain portfolio in order to better fit the needs of our customers,” Robertson says. “This includes offering products that fit other growing segments, such as organic and high fiber.”  

For Ardent Mills, gluten-free and multigrain breads are the top bakery items incorporating ancient grains, says Trouba, who adds that while quinoa is widely used in the production of snacks, it’s still a relative newcomer to the bread world. “There continues to be room for growth.”

In 2018, Trouba says, look for the continued incorporation of heirloom wheat varieties into a wide variety of products. “Bakeries are somewhat familiar with spelt, but other varieties, such as White Sonora, with unique flavors and stories will increase in demand.”