Beyond grain free: ancient grains of wheat in dog and cat diets
Ancient varieties of wheat as a novel grain
In April 2017 in “Ingredient Issues,” the topic was a broad-brush overview of carbohydrate sources that we could consider for the next generation of pet food products when we finally exhaust the options that are “grain-free.” While the typical commodity grains have been the staple to pet food for decades and the legume seeds and tubers have been the popular marketing catchphrase, the next group might be the “ancient grains.” The connotation of this group is that these are “heirloom” or “heritage” grains. But what constitutes this group, which grains fit into it and what attributes might they afford a modern pet food manufacturer?
What are ancient grains?
The term “ancient grains” is not specifically defined by any regulatory agency or trade group. Rather, it is generally understood by producers, academics and merchants to represent a group of seeds that are little changed over time. For whatever reason, they were overlooked during the green revolution for lacking traits that could be exploited for increased production, being difficult to breed or lacking consistent traits that were considered beneficial at the time. Today they represent a treasure trove of genetic diversity — an archive of sorts that plant breeders can access as they confront changes in climate, growing conditions, pests, weeds and people’s tastes.
They are, in essence, the same now as they were 5,000 or 10,000 years ago. Being overlooked for so long may mean they have something new to offer our current health, nutrition and sensory needs. Some of these have…