Sustagrain is a patented form of barley developed for the company ConAgra at the University of Montana. It is called a Functional Food, which is defined as a food that has been tested and has demonstrated health benefits to the consumer. In addition to being a "functional food," foods like sustagrain are still palatable to the consumer, making them attractive products for the health conscious.
Sustagrain differs from traditional barley because of its high fiber content. It is composed of approximately 30% dietary fiber. It is also high in beta-glucan, which reduces the amount of sugars in the body. When people eat high glucose foods, they can be subject to a rapid increase in body sugars that can be dangerous for those with diabetes. Finding carbohydrates like sustagrain that are high in beta-glucan, as opposed to traditional wheat which is relatively low in beta-glucan, can help a diabetic regulate their intake of dietary sugars.
ConAgra is working to educate those who work with diabetics, like dietitians, on the benefits of sustagrain, since it appeals to the palate as well as being a healthy alternative to more traditional flours. It is also appealing for those who suffer from Celiac disease, a condition that makes people ill when they ingest wheat gluten. Sustagrain may end up being a good substitute for those with Celiac Disease because of its relatively low gluten content.
Sustagrain is currently unavailable to consumers, but is offered to companies as a food substitute for flours. Executives at ConAgra do not release information regarding the companies that currently use sustagrain. Yet they are excited about the development of this product as a replacement that can increase the health value of foods. It may be used for nearly anything, from smoothies or rice pilaf, to boost the nutritional value of a food product.
Some who are health conscious worry about a food that is created as the result of laboratory science. Such people point to other grains like amaranth and quinoa as better substitutes for wheat than sustagrain. Yet the applications of sustagrain are much greater than those of amaranth or quinoa, so use in products is more varied than with these more traditional grains. Initial studies on the product do not suggest that ingesting sustagrain is in any way dangerous, and point instead to it being of great value as a substitution food.
ConAgra has had great success with a similar product, ultragrain, which is whole-wheat flour with the taste and lightness of white flour. Success of sustagrain will depend upon consumer satisfaction with its substitution in a variety of products.