Processors today have an incentive to market products flagged as high, rich or excellent sources of dietary fiber. Marketers of whole grain foods -- most of which are formulated around wheat -- often do not have sufficiently high fiber content in their products to earn that designation. But alternate grains and formulation adjustments may enable marketers of such whole grain products to claim fiber benefits as well.
Marketing and product development can devise plans for adding fiber and whole grains to cereals and bar products, but plant operations needs to be involved so the reformulations don't damage the machinery.
The first stop, of course, is the R&D department. Marketing may get involved, perhaps even be the driver behind these efforts. However, don't forget the back end, the plant operations guys. Reformulations and additions of fiber and whole grains to familiar products attempts may pose unfamiliar formulation and processing challenges.
Each day, it seems, science unveils a little more about the importance of fiber and whole grains to human health. But who knew these foods could taste so great as well? Flavor was once considered an insurmountable hurdle with products containing fiber and whole-grain ingredients. Today, however, whole-grain flavor can be as much a selling point as health benefits.
The Whole Grains Council (a coalition of food scientists, chefs and industry professionals), the American Heart Assn., American Dietetic Assn. and USDA are but a few of the influential organizations calling attention to a serious fiber deficit in the American diet. (Most of us consume only about half of the 25g of fiber recommended daily.) They urge us to consume more whole grain products.
Turning the flavor corner has made products rich in fiber and whole grains far more marketable. But many processors have found employing these ingredients is not always a piece of cake, so to speak, or even a simple muffin or loaf of bread. This is particularly true if companies intend to take advantage of permissible fiber claims for their products.
Problems with fiber have multiplied as more processors have upped their efforts to capitalize on the opportunities in fiber and whole grain products.
Upscale sandwich restaurant franchises such as Panera Bread have made whole grain a signature of their identity. But even such operations, which rely on the consistency of product for their in-store fresh-baked image and success, can be tripped up by the vagaries of whole grain and struggle for product consistency.
Cereal makers that build sizable portions of their business around extruded products may find adjustments necessary when they go to high-fiber formulations. "Three factors can affect the processor in the use of fiber: the fiber source, particle size and the amount of fiber used," explains Brian Plattner, process engineering manager for Wenger Mfg., (www.wenger.com), Sabetha, Kansas.
While they can create attractive marketing and formulation opportunities, the additions of fiber and whole grains to products can create problems for processing machinery, such as extruders.
With cereal and extruded snack makers, it often it doesn't matter if the product is soluble or insoluble, he says. Nor might the fiber type make much difference in most applications. "If the fiber is part of another ingredient, such as the oat fiber in a whole grain formulation, it will have less effect than if you are using a purified form of fiber, such as MCC [microcrystalline cellulose] blended into the formulation. That's the general rule, at least. If the fiber is a natural part of the ingredient, it will affect the process less."
Percentage of fiber in formulation is significant, however, Plattner says. "With a 3 to 4 percent formulation, you usually don't even notice it. Above that, you begin to notice the moisture addition. The fiber acts as a sponge."
In high fiber formulations, challenges really surface. "When you get to very high fiber content -- 15 percent-plus -- you will have binding issues," Plattner continues. "Fiber is not a good glue compared to a starch. It doesn't have good binding characteristics."
"Nearly all processor concerns with fiber revolve around how the fiber deals with water," says Dan Best, president of Best Vantage (www.bestvantageinc.com), a Northbrook, Ill., food research and marketing consulting firm. "The less water the fiber binds, the more you can add to your formula."
Bran, the fibrous coating of a grain, overloads the mix with heavy particles that may reduce the effectiveness of the gluten in holding them in suspension. In addition, the bran soaks up water greedily, at times even after a mix appears to have a proper moisture balance.
"Some fibers will hold six times their weight in water," says Charlie Morris, manager of ADM specialty ingredients-bakery (www.admworld.com), Decatur, Ill. "This can be a big problem when you want to get a 'good' or 'excellent' source of fiber qualification for your product in bakery application."
The structure of the fiber is important, Best notes. "If the fiber is open and fluffy, it absorbs water quickly. If it is hard and dense, it will absorb water slowly." Fibers such as cellulose must be cut into small pieces so they do not pose water problems over time.