Healthy Baking

Healthy baking is now the rule rather than the exception. In a field as heavy on trends as it is on competition, here’s what baked-goods processors are doing lately to hold onto their slice of the consumer pie.

By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.

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The Holy Grail for the baking industry is not so much the next magic ingredient or  to create some superfood product. It's to improve on the old favorites such that they continue to be favorites yet substantial in terms of healthful ingredients. Maintaining basic product attributes appears to be the key to continue attracting and keeping loyal consumers.

Food marketers seek what matters most in product formulations: claims, label contents and what and how to communicate to consumers. For bakers, some of the messages are pretty straightforward: absence of trans fats, lower saturated fats, fewer calories, lower sugar and, of course, the dual whole grains and fiber messages. While educated consumers have helped drive ingredient selection among processors, success in the marketplace is always reliant on taste, plus and relevant marketing that take advantage of the regulatory climate and behaviors of consumers at large.

Currently, the baked products industry is riding two new marketing rages: Gluten-free and whole grains. Bakers are revamping old favorites by replacement of some or all of the flour with nutrient-dense whole-grain and multi-grain ingredients targeting both fiber content and enhanced nutrient bioavailability.

Replacement reformulating, however, can be formidable. Whole-grain flours do not produce the softness and delicate textures Americans have long associated with premium baked products. This is especially important with children for whom texture is as critical as taste. Children, a primary consumer demographic for bakery products, provide immediate inroads into their family purchasing habits.

"The key to children's loyalty is taste," says Kent Spalding, director of marketing for Barbara's Bakery, (www.barbarasbakery.com) a Petaluma, Calif.-based manufacturer of healthful kid-friendly cookies, snacks and breakfast products. "Colorful packaging may attract children, but taste brings them back."

Barbara's products satisfy even the strict health criteria of Marion Nestle, Ph.D., food activist and professor at New York University in New York city. This is because the company's products are made from natural, minimally processed ingredients without highly refined sugars, and contain no preservatives, trans fats or artificial ingredients.

Different Grains

One enticing approach for incorporating whole grains comes from bakers at Kellogg's Kashi Co. in La Jolla, Calif., (www.kashi.com). Kashi's TLC cookies ("Tasty Little Cookies"), including Happy Trail Mix, Oatmeal Dark Chocolate and Oatmeal Raisin Flax, are the first in the category to feature seven whole grains, yet remain "taste indulgent."

Kashi formulators cleverly used sesame seeds to richen and shorten the otherwise harsh and dry texture of the blended mixture of hard red winter wheat, oats, rye, triticale, long grain brown rice, barley and buckwheat. Exudates of whole rolled oats lend a smoother mouthfeel.

One of the biggest pushes toward consumer-keyed whole-grain acceptance can be credited to the Whole Grains Council, a part of Oldways Preservation Trust (www.oldwayspt.org), Boston. The food-issues think tank president, Dun Gifford, credits the group's Whole Grain Stamp program for successfully educating retailers and convincing consumers of the benefits of whole grains on overall health. It gave processors an immediately identifiable hook for hanging the whole grain message on. The stamp now appears on nearly 1,200 products.

Mary Jo Shultz, vice president of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at Dawn Food Products Inc. (www.dawnfoods.com), Jackson, Mich., cautions that whole grains which are not enriched according to federal standards may offer lower amounts of vitamins and minerals than their refined but enriched counterparts. Schultz says, "Consumers of all ages rely on foods for their vitamin/mineral balance. Whole grains may have higher levels of minerals, but in some formulations might have less nutritive value because they are not always as bioavailable as refined flours.

Unenriched whole grain flours also do not offer folate and iron. The enriching of white flour with the minerals, as well as folate, has helped prevent birth defects and malnutrition in generations of children.

Going Gluten-free

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance/sensitivity is one of the fastest growing dietary concerns in America today. According to research data, although fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population have been medically restricted from ingesting gluten, the category has taken off enormously. Thousands of gluten-free products have been released in the past two years alone, and sales, climbing by double digits, are approaching $750 million annually.

With nearly 30 years experience milling and producing high-quality, wholesome grains and grain products, Milwaukie, Ore.-based Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods (www.bobsredmill.com) is well known for its successful marketing of less mainstream grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, sorghum, amaranth, spelt, kamut and flax. The company has a dedicated testing facility also to test all products labeled 'gluten-free' in adherence to a strict standard of less than 20 parts per million.

Laval, Quebec-based Glutino Food Group (www.glutino.com) offers more than 100 gluten-free products, including frozen breads and bagels, baking mixes and ingredients, cereals, crackers, breakfast bars, skillet meals, flavoring blends, pastas, cookies, frozen entrées and pizzas. Glutino is now one of the largest and fastest-growing gluten-free food companies in the world.

Under its Gluten-Free Pantry brand, Glutino recently added ready-to-bake cookies to its substantial line-up. Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough Delights are made from chocolate chips and brown rice flour and the Buckwheat Raisin variety is packed with raisins and buckwheat flakes. Both products are sold in the frozen food section and include 12 cookies on each tray.

Arico Natural Foods (www.aricofoods.com) has grown steadily since launching its first line of gluten- and dairy-free cookies in the spring of 2005. The Beaverton, Ore.-based company recently attained national distribution and is also ranked as one of the fastest growing gluten-free product companies in the U.S.

Gridley, Calif., based Mary's Gone Crackers (www.marysgonecrackers.com) CEO Mary Waldner attributes her company's explosive sales growth party to the growing demand for gluten-free and partly to the surge in the organic food category. Using "textbook" healthy ingredients, MGC produces popular snack crackers tailored for health- and calorie-conscious consumers.

Waldner added brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth to replace gluten-containing cereals, and oil-rich flax seeds and sesame to eliminate the functionality of hydrogenated fats and chemical additives from the formulation. Naturally, the production relies on different machinery; ordinary cracker lines are far from adequate.

Gluten-free baking involves more than grains. While Bob's Red Mill provides a full line of flours from nuts and legumes, some bakers are turning to potatoes. London, Ontario-based Funster Natural Foods (www.funsterfoods.com) employed new baking technologies to convert such traditional food ingredients into healthful new products, with special targeting of the children's market.

Funster offers a good reason for "creating healthy options that children will actually want to eat and parent find easy to prepare." The company's Mashed Potato Letters are meant to be served oven-baked, not fried, making them even healthier. Don Bartlett, president of Funster, notes also they are "easy on the conscience -- the Mashed Potato Letters are free of GMO, preservatives, trans fat, saturated fat, artificial colors and flavors and additives."

Soy has made multiple inroads into the full spectrum of healthful products, including baked goods. But several cracker and cookie manufacturers using soy are also taking advantage of its gluten-free status.

One example is Newman's Own Organics (www.newmans.com), Aptos, Calif., just released its Soy Crisps line of snack crisps. They come in four flavors (three savory and one sweet), cinnamon sugar, white cheddar, lightly salted and  barbecue. They contain no trans fats or saturated fats. Made with organic soy and organic rice, they're gluten free, plus contain 7-9g protein and 3g fiber per 1-oz. serving.

Baking for Good

Consumers welcome old favorites in a slightly more contemporary and definitely more healthful way. Baking technologies offer viable transformation of traditionally fried favorites into healthful versions without sacrificing taste or texture. "Consumers have driven demand for batters and breadings that can produce the same crunchy golden crust through baking, without the additional calories and most importantly, without trans fats, of frying operations," explains Randy Hobert, vice president, sales and marketing at Hydro Blend Inc. (www.hydroblendinc.com), Nampa, Idaho.

Removal of trans fat from formulations has become a big opportunity. Maintaining quality without negatively affecting nutritional profile, however, is a tough challenge for formulators -- more so since American consumers, especially children, have developed discriminating palates where bread and crackers are concerned.

The mild flavor and unique baking characteristics of whole-grain white-wheat flours offer huge advantages for bakers seeking the goodness of whole grains without added fat and sugar.

"ADM offer bakery customers access to our broad portfolio of ingredients and technical assistance to help them create better-for-you baked products," said Nick Weigel, director of technical services, ADM Milling Co. (www.admworld.com), Decatur, Ill.  "With the increased emphasis on whole grains, our Kansas Diamond white whole wheat flour can provide a mild flavor and smooth texture similar to white refined flours, but with benefits of whole grain flour."

ADM also offers complementary ingredients that fit with whole grain applications, like Prolite wheat protein isolate, which helps build structure and improve crumb texture in baked goods while reducing bitterness associated with whole grains.

Breadings and batters have always been a particular favorite of casual restaurant chains and, Hobert adds, the demand for gluten-free products has also propelled the development of new breading technologies at Hydro Blend. The company is focused on solving functional challenges with gluten-free ingredients without sacrificing the taste of appearance of popular appetizers and fried foods.

Cracker production once relied heavily on trans fat-laden, partially hydrogenated fats and chemical leavening to develop desired textures and flavors. George Eckrich, owner of Dr. Kracker (www.drkracker.com), Dallas, Texas, found an innovative method for eliminating trans fats from the company's extensive line of crackers: Dr. Kracker uses long fermentation to help create texture, while relying on specifically selected ingredients that emphasize the caramelization and associated color, textural and flavor characteristics that develop naturally during baking. This also eliminates the need for additional sugar and fat. Sesame seeds -- whole and crushed -- for example, are added for their rich shortening effect without the need for additional fats. Extra bran in spelt crackers adds flavor while creating extra crispness.

Flax seeds can enhance the basic texture of a product while boosting fiber, omega-3, vitamin, mineral and trace-elements levels. Dr. Kracker's Klassic Snack Flat, made from whole-grain, white-wheat flour, lacks the astringency of whole-wheat flour products and so needs no added sweeteners to mask bitterness. Additionally, the extensibility and elasticity of white-wheat gluten lends appropriate volume and strength without collapse.

Organically Yours

Ramona Cappello, co-founder and CEO of Corazonas Foods, Los Angeles, (www.corazonas.com), is creating heart-healthy baked snacks using a range of ingredients clinically proven to help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Inspired by the Spanish word for heart, Corazonas, a venture of Brand New Brands, uses whole oats and plant sterols in its cholesterol-free, trans fat-free, all-natural Original, Salsa Picante and Jalapeño Jack chips -- as alternatives to popular American snacks without sacrificing taste, texture or fun.

Torrance, Calif., based Van's International combines inulin (a natural fiber extract of chicory root) with dried honey, soy flour and oat fiber along with whole wheat flour, wheat flour, barley, rye, oats, corn, millet, buckwheat, and flaxseed to create a delicious waffle that does not taste like the fat-free product that it is. Van's "97% Fat-Free" waffles rely on the fructose in honey and fructo-oligosaccharides in inulin for moistness even as they deliver 5g of fiber per 76g serving.

The demand for healthful baked products created a massive churn for whole wheat, fiber and especially, organic ingredients. Although white sandwich bread dominates the mainstream bread market, according to ACNielsen (www.acnielsen.com), Chicago, specialty and multigrain breads are changing the remaining 30 percent at a phenomenal rate. Ultragrain, from Conagra Foods Inc. (www.conagra.com), Omaha, Neb., helped Chicago-based Sara Lee (www.saralee.com) create a blockbuster product in Soft & Smooth whole-grain white bread, garnering annual sales of $140 million  in under two years.

Flat Sales

Although the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the U.S. has helped increase tortilla sales to nearly the same as sliced bread, another reason is the perception of tortillas as a healthful food. Formulating healthful tortillas, however poses several challenges: Tortillas must be pliable enough to hold a filling, yet not have a tough texture or negative flavor profile. Another challenge is keeping water activity low enough to maintain reasonable shelf life without increasing fat or adding emulsifiers.

Developers are also looking beyond corn and wheat flour to focus on making gluten-free and other tortilla products. London, Ontario-based Canadian Cali-Wraps (www.cali-wraps.com) uses Meg-3 encapsulated fish oil from Ocean Nutrition Ltd. (www.meg-3.com), Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, instead of flaxseeds commonly found in tortillas. Cali-Wraps president Mark Hyland explains "Flax and vegetable oils only provide alpha-linolenic acid, which is not nearly as valuable to the body as the longer chain omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)." Hyland selected Meg-3 to provide enough EPA and DHA for consumer well-being - 6,000mg of omega-6 and 5,000mg of omega-3 per serving.

Tortilla maker Mission Foods Corp., Irving, Tex., (www.missionfoods.com) recently launched its "95% Fat Free Heart Healthy" tortillas with a prominently displayed heart-shaped graphic containing the words "Now more heart healthy." The most notable nutritional aspect, besides significantly lower fat and calories, is the inclusion of flax seeds to boost fiber and omega-3 content.

Dallas, Texas-based Bimbo Bakeries USA, (www.bimbobakeriesusa.com) is transforming mainstream bread with Minneapolis-based Cargill Co.'s (www.cargill.com) CoroWise, naturally sourced, cholesterol-reducing plant sterols. Orowheat Whole Grain & Oat "cholesterol-lowering" bread takes advantage of a claim allowed by the FDA: the reduction of plasma cholesterol by phytosterols. Advanced food technology and solubilization helps maintain sensory properties of bread that appeal to mainstream consumers.

The strategy of marketing the intrinsic healthfulness of food components or incorporating ingredients with a claimed health benefits is increasingly popular in the baking industry. And, it appears to be gaining further ground with unstoppable momentum. With advances in ingredient technologies, the evidence underpinning many of these healthful reformulations is bound to grow.

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