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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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.

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