New Directions in Healthy Baking

Any way you bake it, filling consumer demand for healthy baked goods takes the cake.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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We’re a nation of snackers and sandwich eaters. We’re also a nation obsessed by health. While those two notions have been finding increased common ground, the continuing epidemics of obesity and diabetes make the relationship a rocky one. Luckily, cutting-edge technology can deliver bakery goodness with fitness. 

“Current market trends in the baked-good industry — and food industry in general — point to a major focus on how to formulate better-for-you products,” says Barbara Heidolph, principal for food phosphates at ICL Performance Products LP (www.icl-pplp.com), St. Louis. “Cardiovascular health and disease prevention is a major concern for consumers,” she adds. 

One way to painlessly lower sodium in baked goods is to replace sodium-based leavening agents with calcium-based ones, says Barbara Heidolph of ICL Performance Products.

There are definite directions consumers are pushing healthy foods. Some of these “evolution factors” are noted by George Eckrich, owner of Dr. Kracker Inc. (www.drkracker.com), a Dallas maker of healthy crackers. He foresees expansion of 100-calorie packages and an increase in low-fat products as well as improved production processes that allow for them (such as controlled oven-cooking and steam cooking). He also predicts more products acting on satiety, burning fat or using L-carnitine and “products with multiple promises.”

Eckrich also points out an aspect of healthy baking not usually considered: packaging, that is the “easy to handle” factor. “Consumers expect few difficulties in product handling at all stages of consumption, including buying, carrying, opening, using and disposing — products with a design or package that provides a real benefit,” he says. Among other examples, he points to flexible, recloseable and pourable packages that do a better job of preserving product.

Ecology is part of this, and Eckrich notes consumers “look for products that display a promise of respect for nature, animals, the environment in general and help preserve or save the planet for future generations.”

What’s in, what’s out

The approaches to healthful baking still are following two main tracks: what’s put in and what’s taken out. As for what’s taken out — usually fat, especially trans fat, and sugar — there often has to be something to pick up the slack caused by absence of key ingredients. 

Even kids’ fun snacks can be healthful. Popumz are organic and have both DHA and EPA omega-3s, 3g fiber, 5g protein and zero trans fats. They were launched by Dr. William Sears, “America’s pediatrician,” with Right Track Global LLC.

The main item marked for elimination over the past few years has been trans fats. And in many instances, the first place processors turned was palm oil. It was a simple, familiar, widely applicable solution, was solid at room temperature and provided good creaming properties.

“Palm oil is an ideal alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil where a solid fat is required for functionality in baked goods and snack foods,” says Gerald McNeill, R&D director at Loders Croklaan (www.northamerica.croklaan.com), Channahon, Ill. “It is naturally solid at room temperature and no chemical processes are used in its production. The oil is extracted from the fruit by expeller pressing without the use of organic solvents. Color and odor is removed only using steam, vacuum and natural clay.”

Palm oil has gotten a bad rap because of its saturated fat content – something McNeill disputes on several fronts. “In reality it is a natural balance of unsaturates and saturates, containing an equal amount of palmitic and oleic acids. For each gram of saturates consumed, an equal amount of unsaturates is consumed.

“In addition, the traditional hypothesis that dietary saturated fat is a significant contributor to risk heart disease is coming into question,” he continues. “Saturated fats in palm oil have been found to significantly increase serum HDL (‘good’ cholesterol), partially counteracting the negative effect of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol). Palm oil also contains healthful minor components including natural tocotrienol antioxidants and beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.”

Other ingredients being removed need to have their technical functionality and properties replaced somehow. “The texturizing properties of fat and bulking effects of sugar are major contributors to making baked food items so enticing,” says Joe O’Neill, executive vice president of Beneo-Orafti Inc. (www.beneo-orafti.com), Morris Plains, N.J. Orafti supplies low-calorie inulin and oligofructose ingredients to provide the bulking effects of sugar; they also can impart sweetness and contribute to crust and color formation in the final baked goods.

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