Tom Gumpel, former vice president of research and development for Panera Bread, shared insights into the positive road ahead for sprouted grains, speaking on the first day of the International Artisan Bakery Expo March 5-7 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Gumpel presented a broad look at how Americans view the benefits of bread and explained the dietary values of sprouted grains for individuals who are seeking ways to improve gut health. More people are starting to understand that avoiding gluten or carbohydrates is not a one-size-fits-all approach to their diets.

“The next level of nutrition is, how does this work for you, the individual?” Gumpel said. “Nature should tell us that everyone of us is different.”

Sprouted grains offer numerous health benefits. He shared a slide that posed the question: What if you could have something with the same protein comparable to meat, the omegas of fish, the vitamins of vegetables, the antioxidants of berries, as well as natural prebiotics and probiotics?

The answer, Gumpel explained, is sprouted grains. “You can live on water and bowls of sprouted grains,” he said. “A sprouted grain or seed is the highest level of nutrition and energy.”

Gumpel explained that soaked or steeped grains are ideal for bakery applications. When the grain is sprouted (ideally just past the bud break), the phytic acid is eliminated. Phytic acid is a natural substance in plant seeds that impairs the absorption of minerals and, as a result, is often called an anti-nutrient.

Soaking makes the seed or grain more permeable and contributes to a reduction in anti-nutrients, he said. This leads to an increase in functionality of vitamins, antioxidants and amino acids. For these reasons, breads made with sprouted grains offer considerable promise for the future.

For bakers, Gumpel said that it is important to recognize that every grain has a different biorhythm, so it is best to sprout different grains (such as spelt, rye or wheat) separately and only combine them afterward.

Prior to Panera Bread, Gumpel served as associate dean of the Culinary Institute of America’s Baking and Pastry School. He was once team captain of the Bread Bakers Guild of America’s Team USA that captured the gold medal in the 1999 Coupe du Monde de la Bolangerie in Paris, France.

“The discussion about good bread is about the grain,” he continued. “Long, natural fermentation is where the flavor comes from.”

Yet bread seems to be always under attack for some reason — for the carbs, the gluten, the digestibility. “There is always going to be something about ‘it’ that is vulnerable. People need a target to blame. The only way you get past this conversation is the great divide.”

Gumpel explains that “crossing the divide” involves people recognizing that every individual is unique and there is not one answer that applies to all. For bread, the starting point is long fermentation as a transformative technique. Long fermentation brings out natural benefits of grains.

“You and I could eat a baguette, and our glycemic meters would be different because of how your body manages it,” he said.