As popular as the Whole Grain Stamp is, it hit a small snag in early December of 2007, when a pizza company asked USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) for permission to include the Stamp on a chicken pizza with a “six sprouted grain” crust.

While products falling under FDA guidelines do not require pre-approval of packaging wording and graphics, those regulated by FSIS must pass such a review. And in this case, FSIS’s preliminary ruling was that the product could not claim whole grain content, because sprouted grains are more akin to vegetables than to whole grains.

What is a Sprouted Grain?

Sprouted grain products are generally created by soaking grain kernels until germination occurs and a small sprout just barely extrudes from the kernel. The sprouted grains are then ground up, creating a doughy mix that can be used in bread doughs or, as in this case, combined with salt and seasonings and pressed into a pizza pan.

Sprouted grains are growing in popularity, with their proponents claiming that sprouting creates a more easily digestible form of grain, with increased bioavailability of key nutrients. Research comparing sprouted and non-sprouted grains is scarce, however – and FSIS had few resources to turn to, in order to resolve the question.

Teaming up with AACC International

At this point, the Whole Grains Council partnered with AACC International’s Whole Grains Task Force, prompting Julie Jones, the Task Force’s chair and also a WGC Scientific Advisor, to immediately appoint a subcommittee to study the issue and provide clarification and guidance to FSIS. Coincidentally, a similar question had just been raised by manufacturers in the U.K., where products made through the sprouting process described above are labeled “malted grain” products.

The subcommittee reviewed both U.S. and U.K. nutrient values for sprouted and unsprouted wheat, and found that the nutrients were comparable, before and after sprouting. The group also observed that the major change that occurs when grains are sprouted is that some of the starches turn to sugars – but that “analygous enzymatic changes” occur during fermentation of grains in the traditional drawn-out production of sourdough breads. Thus, calories, protein, etc. should not be affected.

Definition leads to final ruling: Sprouted Grains are Whole Grains

As a result, the Task Force crafted – and the AACC International Board approved — the following statement:

“Malted or sprouted grains containing all of the original bran, germ and endosperm shall be considered whole grains as long as sprout growth does not exceed kernel length and nutrient values have not diminished. These grains should be labeled as malted or sprouted whole grain.”

The Whole Grains Council reported AACC International’s determination to USDA / FSIS officials, along with supporting data, and FSIS was able to revise its earlier ruling. FSIS now allows sprouted grains to be considered as whole grains, as long as they comply with AACC International’s definition (above). The amount of whole grain claimed on any packaging will be the adjusted dry weight of the grain, after subtracting any excess water added by the sprouting process.