ConAgra Mills' Ancient Grains flour can be used to make waffles.
The rising demand for healthier baked items has been met by several strategies: a boost in fiber, reduction in calories, added good fats (omegas and essential fatty acids) and removal of unhealthy ones (certain saturated fats and trans fatty acids). Sweeteners are under pressure, with the less "natural" ones being elbowed aside and all unnecessary calories being scrutinized. All of these paradigms are geared toward making traditional baked goods a more guilt-free choice.
One direction enjoying a sudden surge of late is the experimentation with nontraditional or "ancient" grains. The appeal of non-traditional grains goes beyond providing choices for consumers who, for one reason or another, must stay away from wheat and its gluten-containing relatives; it attracts all consumers interested in variety.
Heritage grains bring variety in texture, taste, nutrition and — ramping up the "stand-out" factor — culture. Often, ancient grains are perceived to have more nutrient density or more unrefined qualities that contribute value to the finished product.
While fiber became the rage a few years ago, it appeared to hit a plateau. Wrong; the category was merely awaiting the next generation of technology to catch up with demand. Today's fiber isn't simply whatever leftover chaff piles up from grains processed for other foods.
Tate & Lyle USA (www.tateandlyle.com), Decatur, Ill., uncovered three key fiber trends in its most recent market research. "Consumer comfort with the taste of added fiber in products is increasing," says Pashen Black, the company's marketing communications manager. "We found 65 percent of Americans are thinking more about eating healthier versus two years ago, and 39 percent of Americans believe foods and beverages with fiber can taste good." Seeing the two factors as intimately related, Black notes the figures constitute an increase of 16 percentage points in just two years.
"Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe bread is a source of fiber and half believe baked goods such as bagels and rolls are sources of fiber; an excellent source of fiber [at least 5g of fiber per serving] is an appealing label statement," continues Black.
Tate & Lyle's research reveals that nearly half of consumers actively read food labels specifically for fiber content, two thirds are interested in fiber for their children, and all are willing to pay an average of 5 percent more for baked products fortified with fiber.
After a few years of hesitant progress, two fibers have become increasingly popular choices. One is inulin, a natural, short- to medium-chain starch (fructo-oligosaccharide) with both fiberlike and sweetener qualities. The other is resistant starch, that portion of the starch that escapes digestion moving on to act in the same way as fiber in the colon.
An example of these popular new fibers is Tate & Lyle's Promitor. "As a dietary fiber, it's an ideal ingredient for baked goods and snacks," says Black. "It's a low-calorie prebiotic fiber delivering all the health benefits of fiber without affecting the taste and texture of the finished product. And that means even the more indulgent snacks, like cookies, can help meet daily fiber requirements."
With the satiety megatrend at full throttle, resistant starch also is perfectly positioned for processors seeking that added value. "Hi-maize whole-grain corn flour and resistant starch were shown definitively to improve satiety," says Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager of nutrition for National Starch Food Innovation (www.foodinnovation.com), Bridgewater, N.J.