Whole grains have made gains in supermarket aisles, but the foodservice industry is lagging behind, according to the Oldways Whole Grains Council. In an effort to close the gap, the group gathered chefs, researchers and nutrition professionals for its Whole Grains Away from Home conference last week in Chicago. Here are five takeaways that can help your operation get more whole grains on plates.
1. Explore the modern side of grains
Heirloom and ancient grains have gotten a lot of attention lately, but some of the newer crops offer more flavor, said Stephen Jones, director of The Bread Lab at Washington State University. “Modern wheat not only has better yield and lower cost, but many varieties are cultivated specifically for flavor,” he said. Jones also pointed out that grains can embody terroir, just like wine—a characteristic chefs are starting to take advantage of in recipe development and promote on the menu.
2. Make whole grains your default
According to a survey by the Whole Grains Council, students in the K-12 age range now expect and accept the taste of whole grains in their burger buns, breads, pasta, pizza crust and other foods, meaning that younger generations are growing more accustomed to the ingredients. Jones of The Bread Lab attributes this to the improved flavor of whole-wheat flours. Pairing the proper variety of wheat with the end product also is key. Recently, Jones worked with New York City schools to test a whole-grain burger bun made with a strain of red wheat.
3. Grain-based snacks are popping
Ever thought of popping something other than corn for a snack? Sorghum and millet both can be popped for a healthy munch on their own, or to add to trail mix or granola. Toasting grains is another way to widen their appeal; toasted quinoa or teff (the world’s smallest grain) both make a crunchy garnish for mac and cheese, soup and other dishes.
4. Grain-train the line
Chefs understand the importance of whole grains, but it’s a challenge educating hourly employees, said Jennifer Roberts, dietitian and senior director of nutrition communications for Compass. To engage cooks and bakers at Compass’ foodservice venues, she created videos explaining why the company wants to increase whole grains and providing ideas for incorporating them into menu items. “The employees are now talking to guests on the line, explaining the initiatives, and promoting whole grains,” she said.
5. Encourage distributors to mix cases
Say an operator wants to introduce farro, amaranth or black barley for customizable grain bowls, or add sprouted wheat or triticale flour to breakfast pancakes. “Distribution is a challenge,” said Lisa Feldman, director of culinary services for Sodexo, noting that broadliners often require a minimum, and 20 cases of amaranth may be overkill if it doesn’t work out. Mixed cases containing variety packs would motivate operators to experiment. Some attendees also liked the idea of sourcing cooked grains for convenient use in salad bars, bowl stations and build-your-own breakfasts.