Artisan grain workshop highlights pleasing millennials

The Oklahoma Wheat Commission held the first “All You Knead to Know” artisan and grain workshop in Stillwater, Oklahoma, May 15. The workshop concentrated on the new areas of focus and tactics the wheat commission is implementing to better satisfy consumers, along with new research developments that will add value to wheat.

Mike Schulte, executive director of the OWC, said millennials are one of the main target audiences the wheat industry is working to please.

“Millennial consumers want truth from food manufacturers,” Schulte said. “They love customization, they want it to be easy, they are redefining what healthy is and they value the planet.” 

Schulte defined the millennial age group loosely as people born from the 1980s to 2014. He said they are now the largest age demographic in the United States population and the largest age bracket in the work force. 

“Some of the things we’re seeing in regards to the future of flavor that are going to resonate with consumers in the coming years are more uses of alcohol infusion, longer fermentation times with bread, spices used from East African and Southern India, more herbs and botanical as well as more uses of maple and honey,” he said.

Schulte says the wheat industry is also making a shift toward cleaner labeling. He says 58 percent of consumers look for foods with ingredients they recognize.

“What makes that great for us is we have the functionalities and the varieties that are going to make it possible for us to benefit from it,” he explained. “It just shows clean labels optimize the need for ingredient transparency. We know this is what the industry is pushing right now and we have the characteristics to meet these needs. Consumers in the future are going to want to know where their food is coming from even more so than ever.” 


How ‘bout those cowboys

Schulte says the OWC is aware of the changing markets and the younger demographic in urban areas and will try to market toward them in the future with the wheat program at Oklahoma State University. 

“It takes anywhere from $1.5 to $2.5 million to make a variety available to the wheat researchers so it can be utilized in the field,” Schulte explained. “We’re really excited about the work that’s being done, and I don’t say that just because I come from OSU. We actually have the best public research program in the nation.” 

Schulte says the wheat breeders at OSU are working on flavor profiles within wheat varieties and branding the programs that have been trademarked grazing grain and golden grain. 

“The grazing grain trademark means if you see that logo on the variety list, those are going to be varieties that producers can also use for grazing purposes,” Schulte said. “The golden grain will be the distinction of quality flour suitable for milling and baking. We think that by creating these distinctions, in the future we are going to be able to set up identity preserve programs with specific varieties that millers and bakers are wanting in the domestic market. We are trying to create more value by setting up these programs.” 

Schulte says OSU has one of the three largest mills in America on campus and in the past year researchers have realized much work must be put into in-use functionality. Hard red winter wheat is traditionally not used for pasta making, but with some of the research at the Wheat Marketing Center, it was found that Smith’s Gold variety, developed at OSU, has a less tannic taste and actually has a sweet flavor and smooth texture.

Through their work with Chris Becker of Della Terra Pasta in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a non-traditional whole grain pasta line was created and is now available for purchase. Although Gallagher currently covers the largest number of acres of wheat production in Oklahoma, Schulte predicts Smith’s Gold will take its place with its growing popularity. 


Flour power

Food and Agricultural Product Center Milling and Baking Specialist Renee’ Albers-Nelson says the milling and flour sector of the industry is also going through an overhaul. She hopes to provide more education for consumers regarding the gluten contents of flour and their purposes as well as bleached versus unbleached flour and the disadvantages of organic flour.

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She says bread flours are higher in protein with makes bread more chewy and allowing it to rise more. All-purpose flour has a lower protein amount than bread flour while cake flour has the least gluten, making cakes more tender. Albers-Nelson makes an important distinction when it comes to gluten and protein in wheat.

“It’s proteins just chilling out in the flour, not gluten,” she said. “It’s only gluten when you add water.”

Another misconception on the baking aisle is that white or bleached flour is bad, Albers-Nelson said. 

“We bleach flour because throughout history, the whitest flour was thought to be the purest and best quality,” she explained. “It is bleached with benzyl peroxide, and when it is mixed with the flour it takes the off-white color away and because it is so unstable, the benzyl peroxide disappears from the bag.”

At the end of the day, it is all just cosmetics, however, because of consumer preference, the flour industry is moving away from bleaching. Another topic she addressed is enrichment. 

“In 1940 when the war draft happened, medical officials started noticing nutrient deficiencies in soldiers because the bran and germ were taken out of wheat in the milling process,” Albers-Nelson said. “They passed a war food law saying they needed to put vitamins back into flour such as B-vitamins, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid.” 

Folic acid helps keep babies from having birth defects and is an important aspect of prenatal care. Albers-Nelson says organic all-purpose flour is not enriched, so in some ways organic flour is less healthy than traditional all-purpose flour.

The artisan workshop was a step in the direction of millennial thinking, and a step closer to success for the wheat industry by adding much needed value to the commodity. The OWC will continue to adapt to consumer needs and use their research abilities and market analysis to position wheat growers and wheat consumers on the same road to prosperity.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at [email protected].