To understand the emerging grain revolution, it is worthwhile to understand there are ancient grains (like einkorn and teff that trace back to the dawn of civilization), heritage or heirloom grains (like Turkey Red, the predominant variety in Kansas first planted in the 1870s) and local, modern grains that offer improved disease resistance and higher yield potential than predecessors.

In Seattle, George DePasquale, co-founder of The Essential Baking Company, says his wholesale bakery uses Expresso variety wheat in a new single-origin bread line that includes three products: a miche, baguette and pan bread.

Together with Metropolitan Market, the Seattle-based bakery recently launched new artisan breads under The Skagit Valley Artisan Reserve Line, made exclusively with single-origin wheat grown in Washington.

“There is a network building a lot of enthusiasm about local wheats,” DePasquale says. “The whole inspiration to this is, wouldn’t it be great to have a flavor specific to the Pacific Northwest? It’s such a great thing for a community to have an identity like that.”

DePasquale points out the new line is “still small production — we’re in the hundreds of loaves per day,” but he is excited to say that enthusiasm is high.

“We want bread to be an important part of the meal, and having bread being inspirational to that conversation is what it’s all about.”

Working with 7-store operator Metropolitan Market is another key component to the program’s success. Throughout its 47-year history, Metropolitan Market has earned a stellar reputation among loyal customers for its cozy neighborhood stores that offer one-of-a-kind bakery, deli and other fresh food products, whether it be Yukon Gold potato bread from local Grand Central Bakery or Met Market’s own Burrata & Prosciutto pizza.

The Skagit Valley Artisan Reserve Line consists of 1-kilogram loaves made with Expresso variety wheat, which is distinguished by its rust resistant qualities and semi-dwarf height. The hard red spring wheat variety is grown mainly in eastern Washington but in other parts of the state, and is considered to be in ample supply. The origin of the variety dates back to 2004, according to the Washington State Crop Improvement Association.

“You can identify the flavors. It’s a good wheat,” DePasquale says. “I’ve been playing around with different flavors, wherever I can find heritage wheats. We needed to make this work commercially. We’re a mid-size bakery, so a certain amount of bread has to be pretty consistent. We can’t say to the customer that this will be available when it’s available.”

Similarly, Scott Fox, vice president of bakery for three-store Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, Ohio, speaks with great enthusiasm about the Turkey Red variety wheat they use in their bread program at the DLM Bakehouse. They sell a Turkey Red Wheat Bread made from local grain that’s grown 20 miles from one of their supermarkets.

“The farmer mills it fresh for us and delivers fresh flour two or three times a week,” Fox said in July. “They just harvested this year’s crop last week, and yield was up from 35 bushels to 45 bushels per acre. The protein levels were over 14 percent, which is amazing from wheat grown in this area.”

Danny Jones, the farmer, grew 50 acres of Turkey Red wheat this year, up from 10 acres a year ago and 2½ acres the first year of the program in 2016.

“I was shocked at how well the Turkey Red performed here,” Fox says, noting that the variety is typically grown in the central plains, not as far east as Ohio. “It has a sweet, nutty flavor. Our head baker uses it to make a poolish for a French style bread. We are really inspired by sourdoughs. We have started a sourdough from Turkey Red. All of our bread is baked for today.”  

Dorothy Lane Market has partnered with local farmers Ed Hill, Dale Friesen and Jones to grow the wheat, which has been a great source of pride for all parties involved. Turkey Red wheat carries with it a rich history and it’s a hard winter wheat not typically grown in Ohio. When milled, it yields a flour that is slightly sweet and nutty. Skilled DLM artisan bread bakers work it into dough and bake this Turkey Red Wheat Bread on a European hearth oven for a one-of-a-kind flavor, available while supplies last each year.

“We demo it and tell the story of the bread,” Fox says. “Our customers love it. For foodies, they enjoy knowing we are using heritage grains and that it’s grown locally. They want to do business with local people.”  

The DLM Bakehouse operates nearly 24 hours a day with the mission of providing stores with the freshest bread possible, delivering product every morning. What the Bakehouse does not sell from the previous day is donated to various organizations to feed the needy, so that every piece of bread that is placed in the case for sale is always just a few hours old.

Bellegarde is a bakery in New Orleans providing fresh flour and bread to more than 100 restaurants and markets in Louisiana, including James Beard nominees and winners Alon Shaya (provides pita dough daily for Saba), Nina Compton (Compere Lapin) and Justin Devillier (La Petit Grocery). With the only stone flour mill between Asheville and Arizona, Bellegarde actively preserves the wholesome properties of wheat by stone milling all whole grain flours in-house, providing the highest-quality product while preserving the dietary quality of whole grains like wheat, corn, rye and rice.

“Like any good ingredient, flour is best when it is at peak freshness,” says Morgan Angelle, one of Bellegarde’s head bakers. “Within 48 hours of milling, our grains become bread headed out the door to customers. Because we know who grew, harvested, shipped and milled our flours, we have the special advantage of knowing the ins and outs of our products that would not be possible without our own mill. We are producing nearly 5,000 loaves a week six varieties consistently, with the top sellers being our Country and Baguette.”

The ancient grain movement

Ancient grains are another component of the grain revolution, as consumers gain awareness of the nutritional benefits and unique flavors.

Teff, farro, and sorghum offer unique flavors, colors, and textures that can help differentiate breads and pastries, according to Tess Brensing, food scientist and technical product manager at ADM.

Teff is a very small grain which can be used as a whole-grain or as a flour with a dark tan color. Farro is ancestrally similar to wheat; it can be used for an ingredient call-out and add a textural component when used as a whole-grain. Sorghum is an easy to incorporate ancient grain that is more neutral in appearance and offers an earthy flavor.

“Teff and sorghum are also gluten-free, so they are great to use when creating foods without using wheat flour,” Brensing says. “With the use of these grains, developers can appeal to health-conscious consumers looking for purposeful, closer to nature ingredients that can help deliver nutrition consumers desire in creative platforms with great taste and a feel-good benefit. ADM offers a wide range of on-trend ancient grains in a variety of formats to meet a variety of baking needs.”

Ardent Mills has a deep history of cultivating lasting relationships with farmers, university research teams, customers and partners to identify, source, grow and pioneer leading-edge ingredients. Ardent Mills is committed to creating what’s next in a new era of grain, including ancient and heirloom grains, such as spelt and White Sonora in flours, crisps and Individually Quick Frozen (IQF). Ardent Mills Great Plains Quinoa is grown in North America and available in whole seeds, whole grain flour, crisps, IQF and flakes.

Further, Ardent Mills operates The Annex by Ardent Mills. The Annex is a team of experts dedicated to bringing a broad portfolio of plant and specialty grain innovations to the industry, including ancient and heirloom grains, pulses, barley and organic products available in unique formats such as crisps and IQF grains, perfectly cooked and ready for culinary inspiration.

“Our goal is to complement and leverage the capabilities of Ardent Mills by innovating with ancient and heirloom grains, pulses, and new product formats,” says Shrene White, general manager of The Annex. “We are in this space to provide diversity to the family farms we work with and to support innovation and cultivate ideas to help build our customers’ businesses, in fresh or packaged prepared foods, snacks, sides, bakery, beverage and more.”