Innovative uses for Ontario grains

PARTNERING WITH GRIFFITH LABORATORIES

PIT CAN BE a challenge for Ontario’s food processors to meet consumer demands for healthy, local products while ensuring consistent quality. That’s why research and development initiatives to create improved products are an important investment that company’s make.

Grain Farmers of Ontario recognizes the importance and high cost of this investment and offers support for projects which help add value to the Ontario grain industry.

“With the Grains Innovation Fund we are looking for projects that are creating new market opportunities for our farmer-members. This can include developing new markets, expanding current markets, or creating value-added opportunities through identity preserved programs. We are looking at areas that are going to increase the usage of Ontario, barley, corn, oats, soybeans, or wheat,” says Nicole Mackellar, market development manager at Grain Farmers of Ontario. “Griffith Laboratories has consistently met all the criteria that our committee looks for.”

Griffith Laboratories, a customized food products manufacturer in Toronto, has three projects in partnership with the Grains Innovation Fund this year. These projects will hopefully create, as several past projects already have, an increase in the sale of corn and wheat products.

“The Grains Innovation Fund provides additional resources that allow us to work on projects that we might not otherwise get to pursue due to cost and provides incentive to explore opportunities from local ingredient producers,” says Luke Hazlett, product innovation and process engineering at Griffith Laboratories.

CLEAN LABEL STUFFING CRUMBS
Griffith has been using Ontario hard red winter wheat in their stuffing crumbs and other products, but in order to use this wheat, they have to use various dough conditioners. In the past, this has not been a significant problem, but now consumers are reading ingredient statements and are specifically looking for fewer chemical ingredients or natural sourcing.

A variety of testing and analysis is being done on Griffith’s production lines to identify how they can produce a consistent product without using conditioners and yet still continue to use Ontario hard red winter wheat in their stuffing crumbs.

“As Griffith has continued to increase our Ontario flour usage, we have tailored our processes, particularly in our bakery operations, to get the most out of Ontario grains, particularly hard red winter. Over time, this has built uniqueness into our products and provided the flexibility in our manufacturing that allows for innovation,” says Hazlett.

This research is being supported by the Grains Innovation Fund until October 2016. If they are not successful, Griffith will likely have to look at other wheat varieties from the U.S. or Western Canada, resulting in a loss of market share for Ontario.

“This project is significant because we want companies such as Griffith to be able to continue sourcing from Ontario,” says Mackellar.

UTILIZATION OF ONTARIO GROWN CORN PRODUCTS
In the past, funding has traditionally gone towards Griffith’s projects promoting wheat, which is why their second project, which focuses on corn, is a great opportunity.

It is a follow-up project to research that was done a few years ago when Griffith investigated using more Ontario-produced corn flour. Unfortunately, during the original analysis viscosity and granulation differences in Ontario corn made it unsuitable to Griffith’s needs at the time.

Part of the problem is the limited number of corn ingredient processors (for food) in Ontario — most Ontario corn goes into the feed or biofuel markets. However, Griffith is very keen on supporting local, from a principled as well as practical point of view, and so this project is investigating what potential new products in a number of different food categories could use Ontario- grown corn flour.

If this project, with funding from the Grains Innovation Fund ending in January 2016, can find products that can use Ontario corn flour, it will be a new market opportunity for Ontario farmers.

FUNCTIONAL SOFT WHEAT FLOURS FOR BATTER SYSTEMS
The third project Griffith is working on this year, with support from the Grains Innovation Fund until January 2016, is looking into functional soft wheat flours for batter systems.

Over the past few years, Griffith has noticed an increase in protein content and strength in the soft red winter wheat that they use, which can cause ‘undesirable gluten formation,’ or clumps in a batter. This project is looking into ways of decreasing the possibility of gluten formation in order to continue using Ontario wheat.

There are a few possibilities that Griffith is investigating, including formula modifications or possibly finding varieties that have lower gluten forming tendencies and working with Ontario farmers to grow those varieties.

If Griffith returns to using Ontario soft red winter wheat in the affected production lines, it will help them lower transportation costs as they are currently using some U.S.-sourced wheat flour in order to get the proper consistency in a subset of their batters.

“Griffith is a large user of Ontario wheat and we want to ensure that our farmers are able to supply them with the varieties they need in order to continue sourcing from Ontario,” says Mackellar.

“Having access to functional wheat flour from the surrounding area allows us to be cost competitive and follows into our company’s sustainability practices,” adds Hazlett.

Griffith Laboratories continues to be a valuable partner in helping develop the Ontario grains market. With projects like these and others they’ve been able to significantly increase their use of Ontario wheat, and will hopefully continue to do so for both wheat and corn in the future. •