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But there also are some exemplary processor efforts under way to reduce carbs.
One way is to replace highly refined wheat products with whole wheat flours. The latter have a lower glycemic index (i.e., it does not raise blood sugar like a hard wheat pasta would) and they yield a greater feeling of satiety. But some consumers associate dark color, bitterness and unwanted components with whole wheat products.
New World Pasta, Harrisburg, Pa., this past eyar introduced Healthy Harvest, a line of wholesome conventional pastas delivering the benefits of whole wheat and other whole grains without compromising taste, according to CEO Wynn Willard. The whole-wheat blend pastas are distributed nationally under the Prince Healthy Harvest and Creamette Healthy Harvest brands.
"The baking industry has always been responsive to consumers' needs to be healthy and lose weight," declares Mark Dirkes, senior vice president of Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City, Mo. "They made thinner sliced breads as lower-calorie alternatives to regular breads in the 1960s, created truly reduced calorie breads in the '70s, and tastier versions, such as Continental Baking's Wonder Light bread, in the '80s."
Now, Interstate's Home Pride Carb Action breads in white and multigrain varieties debut this year in most of the U.S. and under the Merita Country brand in the Southeast. They will have less than 9 grams of carbohydrates and 45 calories per slice. "Our point of difference will be that our low-carb breads taste good," emphasizes Dirkes.
Often, "low-carb" products cost more and taste worse. There are several explanations for this. Pound for pound, protein and fat are generally more expensive than carbohydrates. Proteins and fats tend to be more susceptible to spoilage than carbohydrates; controlling storage conditions further adds to the cost.
Pasta manufacturers in developing low-carb versions discovered that protein components, in addition to being more expensive, also required more energy during extrusion because the resulting material was tougher and more elastic. Often, the addition of protein requires supplementary ingredients to mask its flavor or to lighten the color of the finished product.
Vendors scurry to assist
Ingredient vendors have been busy trying to assist food processors with viable ingredients and technologies for low-carb versions of traditional foods. Several classes of ingredients have made possible produce drastic reductions in the carbohydrate content of starchy foods such as bread and pasta. The stars include resistance starches, enzymes, non-glycemic functional sweeteners and fiber.
National Starch and Chemical Co., Bridgewater, N.J., has advanced the development of low-carb products with its Novelose line of specialty resistant starches. Their clean, neutral taste and white color makes these ingredients suitable for breads and sweet baked goods. Since they contain 60% total dietary fiber, these starches also allows for "good" or "high" source of fiber claims.
Atchison, Kan.-based MGP Ingredients developed resistant starch and protein isolates from wheat to help bakers replace carbohydrates and raise the protein levels in bakery products. The isolates are pure proteins and contain more protein and less carbohydrate than wheat gluten.
"Our ingredients are derived from wheat and naturally fit with bread and other flour-based products," said Steven Pickman, vice president of corporate communications. "Our company's expertise in wheat protein and starch technology has helped in the development of ingredients particularly suitable for otherwise unforgiving bakery systems such as bread, tortillas and cakes."
Butter Buds, a Racine, Wis., food technology company, has effectively employed enzymes to convert liquid beer concentrates into powders to flavor low-carb products.
Astaris, St. Louis, overcomes one of the challenges of formulating low-carbohydrate grain-based products that are yeast-leavened by diminished fermentation, proofing and leavening in a carbohydrate-reduced environment. When carbohydrates are reduced, yeast is robbed of fuel and therefore cannot produce carbon dioxide and leaven the product.
Astaris' EZ Dough technology replicates the leavening and traditional sensory characteristics of yeast-raised products in a reduced carbohydrate system. Proofing is also minimized. EZ Dough can be used alone or in combination with yeast to provide volume development
Just five years after gaining approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the non-glycemic, no-calorie sweetener Splenda from McNeil Nutritionals, Fort Washington, Pa., appears in more than 3,000 products ranging from beverages to baked products to condiments. Generically called sucralose, its clean taste and robustness over a wide range of temperatures and pH makes it suitable for low-carb formulations.
Fiber is one alternative with especially healthful attributes of its own. Fiber helps maintain balanced blood-glucose levels and healthy digestive systems, potentially reducing the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Matsutani America Inc., Decatur, Ill., has Fibersol-2, a 90 percent soluble fiber suitable for increasing the fiber content of foods such as ice creams, yogurts, and beverages. The odorless, tasteless ingredient derived from corn starch is stable over a wide range of processing conditions and has contributed to the success of several low-carb ice creams and frozen desserts.
ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., is marketing an ultra-fine-ground whole-wheat flour from white wheat to help create bread with appearance, taste and texture very similar to white bread, but with six times more fiber. According to Glen Weaver, vice president of technical services, ConAgra is working to gear up U.S. production of white wheat to meet the growing demand.
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