Claims About Sprouted Grains
Updated: Feb 13, 2019
Looking beyond the nutrition facts panel.
As a manufacturer of sprouted grains and seeds, many times we are asked by product developers if there are approved label claims that can appear on retail packages containing sprouted ingredients. From our perspective, the word “sprouted” can be used to effectively communicate to the consumer that the product has been through the transformative process of germination.
The reason there are no clear government approved label claims at this time is no doubt as complex as the science of seed germination itself. Terms such as "bioavailability" are subjective to the individual and difficult to quantify scientifically. Regardless, the demand that has driven the use of sprouted grain and seed products speaks to this complexity and matters beyond the nutrition facts panel. Sprouting is a natural process that taps into several shifts in consumer trends in the food industry, many of which can not be encapsulated in a label claim, but rather are re-framing how we view the integrity of food.
There is no debate, or should not be, over the fact that the sprouting of a seed radically and permanently transforms its biochemical structure regardless of how it is further processed beyond that point. As in all metabolic processes, the simple addition of water to a seed is the catalyst that fuels the myriad of molecular changes that are initiated and increase exponentially as the dormant seed germ is activated. This is evidenced by the centuries-old process of malting, whereby grains such as barley are sprouted for conversion of starch to sugar. Of course, brewers are only concerned with this conversion for further fermentation to produce alcohol, but in the food industry this process impacts all other fundamentals of seed nutrition and structure beyond starch, such as proteins and lipids, in ways we are only beginning to understand. From a nutritional perspective, as a supplier of sprouted grains we have never found the need for label claims as the awareness, knowledge, and basic understanding of the complexities surrounding seed sprouting resonate with most people as a natural process of pre-digestion resulting in a more user-friendly whole grain food product. This, combined with the fact that seed sprouting is an ancient practice with historical references from many cultures worldwide, leads to the understanding and belief by many that sprouting is a valuable process beyond what can be communicated and distilled into a label claim.
Of significance surrounding this topic is that much of the value from sprouting belongs beyond the nutrition facts panel due to its positive impact on the functional and sensory attributes of the sprouted food product. Growing up on a southwestern Ontario farm, I remember my father’s concern when wheat was still in the field as the hot humid days of July advanced. He knew only too well that soft Ontario wheat would sprout on the stalk before the harvest under those conditions in a day or two, rendering it unfit for premium bakery grade and resulting in lost value as it would be downgraded to animal feed. Only later in life did I understand why, that sprouting in the field resulted in a functional change in the wheat that caused inconsistency in baking performance thereby requiring sprouted wheat to be separated from non-sprouted. The fact is that wheat sprouting done properly in a controlled process with consistency has improved functionality, resulting in a baked product of superior taste and texture that is being embraced by bakeries both in the artisan and commercial space. Other practical and functional sprouted food advantages being enjoyed involve reduced cooking times, no overnight soaking of beans or pulses, and longer shelf life of whole grain flours milled from sprouted seeds due to improved oxidative stability of lipids.
Consumer interest and awareness surrounding sprouted grains and seeds is sustainable and slowly growing. As a result, the future promises to see more research into the value of sprouting seeds and grains for human consumption and the impact it has on its potential as a clean label source of functional benefits, nutrition, gluten structure, glycemic index, and other areas of interest. Perhaps in time this may lead to approved statements and claims on some sprouted products however they will remain a small part of the sprouted story.
Everspring Farms Ltd.