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.
Twin-screw extrusion provides food processors and milling companies with a flexible, profitable mechanism to process products with high fiber and whole grain formulas for breakfast cereals, pasta products, snack foods, co-extruded products, and flat breads.
"In some cases, adding fiber to a dough or batter to meet a claim can change the rheology of the mix due to water absorption," says Chuck Werstack, food applications manager for ADM's research division. He recommends splitting the fiber content between the dough and topical application or mixing both soluble and insoluble fibers. In the case of ADM products, a mix of Fibersol-2 (soluble fiber) and Alpha Cellulose (an insoluble fiber) would be one recommendation.
Although wheat is the most popular grain in bakery formulations, millet, flax and other grains are commonly added to whole- and multi-grain varieties. Oats are, at 10.6 percent, high in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that qualifies for highly marketable heart-health claims. But, again, soluble fiber is thirsty matter.
Whole grains do not release water with the consistency of refined grains either, compelling processors to play with baking temperatures and times to get their products right. Lower temps and longer bake times may be in order.
Equipment and other challenges
Some fiber -- oat fiber, for example -- can be abrasive to equipment. Wenger's Plattner notes use of whole grains in cereals and extruded snacks can impact machinery.
"Frankly, I'm amazed at how abrasive some fibers can be, especially when you put in a tremendous amount of fiber -- like 20 percent formulation," he says. "That's when you have a real processing issue. Particle size is extremely critical. If you are going to use fiber in an extruded operation, grind it." Fiber is held together by a cellulose-like polymer called lignin (not to be confused with lignan). It is the glue that binds fiber and helps, along with cellulose, to bind plant cells.
"When you mill a lot of fiber sources with lignin, you will beat up your equipment," Best warns. Fiber's lack of functionality in baking applications often demands the addition of gluten to strengthen the mix.
Whole grains and high fiber formulations should be mixed more slowly than formulations with more-refined flour. Less mixing may be required with the fiber's superior water absorption capability, but rapid mixing also opens the door to potential blending error.
Note to R&D
Some of the less obvious fibers and grains may be perfectly suitable replacements for formulations while posing fewer problems, sometimes even advantages, for your processing machinery.
Citrus fiber, for example, mimics fat with its ability to bind water and oil and offers advantages in managing moisture and thickening. It reportedly is effective in pound cake formulations.
While many consumers today love the coarse texture of whole grain products, others continue to associate it with cruder and less tasty products of the past. "By using fine grind whole wheat flour made from white whole wheat, the cell structure of bread and rolls will look more like what we get from white flour," says Charlie Morris, manager of ADM specialty ingredients-bakery.
For those who object to the bran or germ flavor of certain whole grain products, Morris recommends honey or molasses to overcome this flavor hurdle.
For snack and other applications, Chuck Werstack, ADM's food applications manager, recommends edible beans as a great source of fiber. "These beans contain 22 percent fiber and have shown very good results in extruded snacks and crackers."
ADM also has introduced Fibersol-2 to the market to enable processors to reduce the amount of water they need in the formulation.
"It's a soluble fiber that is 90 percent fiber -- very high in fiber -- and does not hold water," says Morris. He claims a 2 percent Fibersol-2 formulation content can help solve the problem and necessitate little formulation adjustment in the bakery process.
Sun-Opta, reportedly the world's largest producer of oat fiber, also offers a fiber derived from okara, the nutritious pulp remaining from soymilk production. Among okara fiber's marketable properties are its neutral flavor and its solubility with water.