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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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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