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Sun Seeds Bolster ‘Staff of Life’

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
filed under: Utilization/Trade: Confection-Non-oil

By John Sandbakken

Bread ... "the staff of life." An institution in our Western culture, bread’s history dates back to the earliest eras of ancient civilization. Bread is a part of who we are.

So it is not without notice that sunflower seeds have become part of the mainstream bread market in many parts of the world, including the United States. Today, the nation’s milling and baking industry is one of the largest users of sunflower seed.

Early promoters of sunflower seed would not have guessed that seeds would someday be an important ingredient in bread. In the early 1980s, German importers and bread makers began to import sunflower seeds, and that market grew rapidly. The trend moved to other European countries — and then here.

All of us grew up on white bread . . . and the whiter the better. Remember when you could literally see through a slice of white bread? Can you imagine seeing sunflower seeds in those slices of white bread? There wasn’t anything crunchy in that bread, and it would not have fit our image of what bread was supposed to be.

Well, a lot has changed in the last 10 years. Today’s commercially produced breads offer lots of consumer choices, with many being multigrain breads. And the vast majority of today’s multigrain breads contain sunflower seeds, flax and other healthy ingredients.

There is good reason for this change from the “see-through” white bread. It relates to health. Today’s multigrain breads are much healthier with an assortment of ingredients like sunflower, flax, sesame seeds, rolled oats, barley, whole wheat and wheat flour.

An important factor is that multigrain breads provide what’s termed “satiety” — the physical feeling of being full. This is getting much more attention today because of the obesity epidemic occurring in the country. Whole grains, seeds and nuts stay in our digestive system longer than highly refined flour. We don’t get hungry as soon.

Dakota Specialty Milling is one of the largest suppliers of custom-milled and whole grain blends in North America. The company is dedicated to meeting the specific needs of its customers, and is known by bakers everywhere for its high level of product consistency.

Founded in 1969, Dakota Specialty Milling is a family owned specialty grain miller in Fargo, N.D. Originally part of Roman Meal Company, the makers of Roman Meal Bread, Dakota Specialty Milling incorporated as an independent business 20 years ago under the name Roman Meal Milling Company.

Over the years, as its business grew, so did the company’s operational capabilities. In 1990, they built a second, state-of-the art plant in Fargo, and expanded operations into contract cereal packaging, grain toasting, toppings and custom batter blending. The company’s name was changed to Dakota Specialty Milling in January 2008.

According to Joel Dick, vice president and chief operations officer, Dakota Specialty Milling ingredients are used in variety of breads, cereals, crackers, granola and nutrition bars. They supply wholesale bakeries, food processors and grocery stores, with the wholesale bakery sector using the most sunflower seeds. “We currently make about 170 items in the form of whole grain mixes, multigrain mixes, granola, doughnut toppings and dry batter coatings,” Dick relates. “Approximately 30 of these products use sunflower seeds.”

Dakota Specialty Milling has been using sunflower seeds for about 25 years. This year alone, the company will buy about 1.5 million pounds of shelled sunflower seeds in the form of nutmeats.

Are there any new offerings, or new products, that contain sunflower seeds? “Generally, new formulations of multigrain blends are the main products,” Dick replies. One of the most important trends — “Clean” ingredient labels utilizing more natural ingredients — are very important at the moment, he says. “Our customer’s perception of sunflower seeds is apparently quite good, since usage is steady to increasing.” He adds that the inclusion of sunflower seeds benefits bakers and processed food manufacturers because it adds to their product base and fills the demand for variety breads.

Allergen concerns also are a very hot issue, and most of Dakota Specialty Milling’s customers keep allergens labeled and isolated from other ingredients. Food allergens are a complex issue requiring medical consultation and very careful analysis. All retail products are labeled to inform consumers of ingredient content. Some customers have discontinued using certain ingredients considered to be allergenic, depending on their concern.

Sunflower seeds are not on the list of typical allergic foods, e.g., soybean, peanut, wheat and dairy products. In fact products like SunButter® are a great alternative for people who are allergic to peanut butter.

Dakota Specialty Milling’s business continues to grow, and they are always looking for new ways to use sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are power-packed with healthy fats, protein, fiber, minerals, vitamin E and phytochemicals — all important to the nutritional quality of consumers’ diets. Next time you are in your local grocery store, take a look around. You may be surprised at all the products you see that contain sunflower seeds. Then bite into that whole grain bread with the crunchy sunflower seeds and other seeds. It is a real treat — and sunflower farmers can be proud they are providing a key ingredient to add punch to today’s high-quality breads.

John Sandbakken is marketing director for the National Sunflower Association.
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