Whole Grains Hard to Find in Foodservice

Consumers are getting the whole-grain message, but have trouble finding these wholesome products when they dine out.

By Kantha Shelke, Ingredients Editor

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"Make half your grains whole," recommends last year's revised USDA Dietary Guidelines. And Americans are heeding the advice, at least in the supermarket purchases they make for preparation at home. But finding whole grains gets a lot tougher when you're eating out.

Food processors can help. Making whole-grain foods both available and delectable should be a priority for any company supplying the foodservice segment.

NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., reports a significant increase in breakfast consumption across all ages. Baby boomers tend to consume them at home or at restaurants, younger folks eat on the run. Food companies know it is challenging for consumers to include a healthy breakfast in their daily repertoire. The growing need for time-pressed consumers is convenient and healthier breakfast products.

Whole-grain breads and rolls are relatively easy to formulate for foodservice environs. Whole-grain pancakes and waffle mixes, however, continue to challenge both formulators and chefs.

Whole Grains in Foodservice article: Joey's Pancake House pancakes
Consumers who order whole-wheat pancakes (such as those served at Joey's Pancake House, pictured above) and waffles in restaurants are accustomed to the taste, texture and denseness associated with griddled products made from whole-grain flours.

No matter how finely milled, whole-grain flours have a wider range of particle size distribution than refined flours. This composition and particle size heterogeneity requires more time for even hydration; smaller and starchy particles hydrate fastest, larger and bran- and aleurone-rich particles require more time. The hydration differential causes gradation of viscosity and flow properties - so a freshly prepared pancake or waffle batter has drastically different leavening requirements than one allowed to rest for a while.

In contrast, refined flour batters hydrate rapidly and uniformly and can generally hold their properties for an extended period of time and produce finished products with consistent quality.

Additional particle reduction is just one of the keys to recently introduced flour products from ConAgra Foods, Omaha, Neb., and ADM Milling, Overland Park, Kan. (A new breed of white wheat is the other key - to be discussed later.) Processors are exploring ConAgra's Ultragrain and ADM's Kansas Diamond for pancake and waffle mixes with the taste and performance of their refined flour counterparts in foodservice settings. Both products offer processors a way to get more evenness from whole-grain flours.

Marketers must note, however, that consumers who order whole-wheat pancakes and waffles in restaurants are accustomed to the taste, texture and denseness associated with griddled products made from whole-grain flours. Joey's Pancake House in the Maggie Valley national park area of North Carolina serves only breakfast foods but all day long, and outdoor enthusiasts line up for the restaurant's signature whole-wheat pancake mix. "Die-hard fans are conditioned to the naturally darker color and richer taste associated with whole-wheat pancakes and waffles," says Ruth Campanella, vice president of product development at Blend Pak, Bloomfield, Ky., which is the supplier of the pancake mix. "Trying to make them bland and lighter would be a disservice to those who seek them that way and those who are teaching their families the taste of whole-grain nutrition."

Solutions for the time-related variation in performance of griddle batters include pre-measured dispensers as an effective work-around to ensure consistent product quality each time a premeasured flask is opened. Hydrocolloids are being used by some food manufacturers for even hydration and to sustain batter viscosity during standing. Yet another approach is to render the batter less elastic and more plastic by replacing a portion of the gluten-rich whole-wheat flour with other non-gluten flours such as amaranth or quinoa and to use faster-acting leavening, such as baking powder or baking soda, for a light texture.

Tortillas and chips

For many school foodservice directors, the greatest challenge lies in hiding the whole grains in prepared meals. Emphasizing the whole grain or the fiber portion, they find, often turns their young consumers off. But whole-grain derivatives offer more that just fiber and complex carbohydrates. They are an excellent way to provide nutrition-rich calories to growing children. The key to sampling is to create whole-grain products that convey a message of good taste over nutrition.

For example, masa, derived from corn, is a very nutritious whole grain-like raw material for snacks that are popular with children. Almost all corn and tortilla chips are made from masa - nixtamalized corn. Because the pericarp is lost in the nixtamalization process, masa is not technically regarded "whole grain." But masa offers children fiber and antioxidants and wholesome nutrition plus, most of all, the promise of good taste.

Whole Grains for Foodservice article: Clarkson Indigo Blue corn
While most corn and tortilla chips are not whole-grain, Clarkson Grain has managed to develop a whole-grain ingredient for that application. Indigo Blue imparts fiber, antioxidants, wholesome nutrition, taste and blue color.

Clarkson Grain (www.clarksongrain.com), Cerro Gordo, Ill., offers a new hybrid that is whole grain. "Indigo Blue has excellent blue color and flavor and as much as four times more anthocyanins on as-is basis than blueberries and more than ‘super grain Peruvian corn,'" says general manager Rick Bucker. Indigo Blue corn is the raw material for many commercial blue corn tortilla chips.

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