Functionality and Applications of Sprouted Grains


Sean Finnie, Senior Manager, R&D
Sneak Peek 3 – Sprouted Grains as a Food Ingredient

This is the third blog in a series dedicated to providing a preview to a book chapter written by Vanessa Brovelli, Darrel Nelson and Sean Finnie from Bay State Milling’s Research and Development Team. The chapter will appear in the book Sprouted Grains: Nutritional Value, Production and Applications. Editors; Hao Feng, Boris Nemzer and Jon Devries. Published by AACC International.  This initial blog focuses on providing an introduction to sprouted grains with a discussion of what happens in the seed during the sprouting process.  The next two blogs will cover the processing of sprouted grains and the functionality and applications of them.

Product Differentiation

Sprouted grains can be incorporated into various food applications, often with minimal formulation changes, and can offer several benefits for product differentiation.  After a whole grain kernel has been sprouted and dried, it can be further milled into flour or processed to create various granulations including grits, coarse meals, or flakes.  As long as the germ is intact, any of the following grains or pseudocereals can be sprouted and included in various food applications:  Wheat, rye, spelt, barley, brown rice, oat, sorghum, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth.  Common applications may include bars, cereals, granola, bread, tortillas, frozen dough, sweet goods, snacks, side dishes, soups, and pasta.  Sprouted sorghum, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, and purity protocol oats are naturally gluten free, and can be utilized to improve the nutrition of gluten free foods as well. The variety of grains that can be, and have been successfully sprouted commercially, gives bakers, food scientists, and chefs tremendous versatility for innovation.  It is important, however, to understand and consider the functional differences between sprouted grains and their unsprouted counterparts for successful formulation, processing, and finished product characteristics.

Specific Applications and Inclusion Rates

The inclusion rate of a sprouted grain in a formula is variable based on food manufacturer’s preference for desired finished product attributes and labeling call-outs.  There is currently no minimum level of sprouted ingredients required in a finished product to label the product as sprouted.  However, the FDA encourages clear and non-deceptive labeling (U.S. FDA 2017), and typical sprouted inclusion rates range from 20-100% of the grain percentage in a food.  The type of application can help determine which sprouted grain to use and inclusion rate. The use level and form of the sprouted grain plays a role in determining the ingredient’s impact on the formula as well.  For example, a sprouted wheat flour used as a one-to-one replacement for 100% of the wheat flour in bread may have a more dramatic effect as part of a reformulation than a sprouted whole quinoa that may be added as an inclusion at a 10% use level.

Yeast Leavened Bread and Tortillas

Wheat is typically the primary sprouted ingredient in bread and tortillas, due to availability, functionality, and cost, and can be added up to 100% of the flour.  Other sprouted grains can be added at lower use levels to boost nutrition, flavor, or for labeling reasons.  Gluten strength and performance is critical in these applications, and analyzing farinograph data is a helpful guide.  It is important to analyze flour particle size and color for finished product visual requirements, and also for processing considerations.  Amylase activity, or falling number (FN) of a flour is an important factor to understand when formulating, but the old theory that a FN of lower than 250 will not bake is being falsified by sprouted grains.

Sprouted wheat may work in straight doughs or long fermentation formulas.  A poolish made using Reinhart’s formula and fermented for 12 hours at ambient temperature, showed active fermentation and gluten strand formation.  Using Pyler’s frozen soft roll dough formula as a starting point, a successful roll was made with 100% sprouted wheat flour as well as 2% each of sprouted quinoa, millet, amaranth, and sorghum flours.  This roll was slightly bolder with less pan flow than the same formula made with unsprouted grains.

For bread, bakers may see a slight reduction in proof time or increased absorption, which could improve yields.  The potential for sprouted wheat to improve the likability of bread and tortillas could increase whole grain consumption overall, which would be a tremendous milestone in human health, especially because these staples are typically consumed daily.  According to Peter Reinhart, an American Artisan bread revolution begun in the 1980s and bread continues to evolve since, with sprouted ingredients at the forefront of innovation.

Gluten Free Bread and Tortillas

Rice flour is often the primary grain in gluten free (GF) bread and tortillas (typically 20-50% inclusion rate), and can be supported by millet, sorghum, corn, oat, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth flours (typically 1-10% inclusion rate).  Sprouted versions of these grains exist in varying degrees of prevalence.  In the absence of gluten, starches from these grains play a large role in the strength and structure of gluten free breads and tortillas.   Without gluten, a supplemental protein network is usually required such as soy, egg, or milk.  This protein network is additionally important as insurance, especially with the addition of sprouted GF grains because of enzyme degradation of some of the functional starches and gums that make up the majority of GF bread formulas.

Due to the use of white rice and starches as the major components in gluten free bread, the nutrient density of gluten free products is often low.  This information, coupled with the fact that Celiacs required to eat gluten free foods often have intestinal damage that limits nutrient absorption provides an opportunity for improved nutrition with sprouted whole grains in place of white rice and starch.  There is also potential to improve nutrients such as protein, fiber, and polyphenols, while decreasing starch and antinutrients as part of the sprouting process as shown in sprouted amaranth, corn, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and rice varieties


Corn and rice, and to some extent sorghum, are three grains commonly used in extruded direct expanded snacks.  The starches in these grains gelatinize during extrusion, and exhibit elasticity for superheated water entrapment, which creates an instant increase in volume or “puff” out of the extruder die.  Grits are generally used in single screw extrusion, or flour if a twin screw extruder is used.  More research is needed to confirm any differences in starch expansion properties of sprouted corn, rice, and sorghum versus their unsprouted counterparts.

Crackers and tortilla chips are snacks where sprouted ingredients are prevalent already.  Sprouted grain inclusions such as quinoa and amaranth are common, and offer visual particulate show, yet are small enough to avoid tearing the sheeted masa or cracker dough.  Typical use levels are 2-20%.  It is important to monitor cracker dough activity and feel during lay-time because enzyme activity could modify the sheeting properties of the dough during relaxation.  Hard pretzels offer a growth opportunity for sprouted grains, and with their use, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate the malt (diastatic and non-diastatic) that is typically added, because of the natural enzyme activity and flavor contribution of sprouted grains.

Side Dishes and Main Meal Incorporation

Sprouted whole grains can be boiled in soups or prepared as side dishes to replace their unsprouted counterparts.  Shorter cook times are possible, and many of the nutritional and sensory advantages discussed earlier can be utilized in this application.

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