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Whole Grains Hard to Find in Foodservice

April 11, 2006
Consumers are getting the whole-grain message, but have trouble finding these wholesome products when they dine out.

"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.

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.

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.

Work is under way at two universities to characterize and quantify the anthocyanins in Indigo Blue. A strategic alliance between Clarkson Grain and Bunge Milling, Danville, Ill., is focused on producing both organic and natural whole-grain blue corn meal, flour and grits for a variety of snack and cereal applications. Bucker claims Indigo Blue would be an excellent whole grain to fortify school meals.

Kids love pasta

Another popular children's food is pasta. But whole-wheat pasta has not yet made it into foodservice products largely because whole-wheat and multigrain pasta cannot stand up to the rigors of foodservice operations. While restaurants have unleashed a floodgate of whole-grain breads and rolls, they are not exactly rushing out with pastas touting whole-grain content. For the same reason, Barilla America, Bannockburn, Ill., does not offer Barilla Plus, a multigrain pasta, for restaurants nor for school foodservice.

While fiber-rich and nutritionally superior to its semolina counterpart, whole-wheat pasta is unappealingly darker in color, gritty and bitter to the taste. Whole-wheat components - bran and aleurone - have stronger flavor, a distinctive wheat (or barn) taste and tend to reduce the functional strength of gluten. Whole-wheat pasta tends to overcook easily and becomes mushy if allowed to stand for a while. Despite being the fastest growing categories in the retail pasta segment, they have therefore not penetrated the foodservice and prepared foods arena.

Egg white, used to make refined semolina pasta more robust, is not as effective with whole-wheat pasta and is expensive. Egg white replacements - wheat protein isolates and wheat gliadin - are not that effective either.

Processors that shied away from whole-wheat pasta in soups, stews and prepared dinners are exploring a proprietary ingredient technology from Saatwic Foods (www.saatwic.com), Brentwood, Tenn. It uses plant extracts and alginates to sustain al dente texture and mouthfeel in whole-grain and multigrain pasta textures, even under harsh and prolonged cooking conditions.

Saatwic president Ajay Chawan explains that Saatwic's proprietary technology strengthens the cell walls of starch granules and thereby controls the rupture of starch granules during cooking. As a result, whole-grain and multigrain pastas can hold their shape and texture despite prolonged cooking and standing in steam tables, and even during retort processing.

Switching refined to whole

The greatest obstacles to creating 100 percent whole-grain versions of flagship products remain appearance, texture and shelf life. The technical challenges are just as significant for scratch chefs as they are for chain restaurant operators.

This is where white wheat - a new breed of wheat - is making a big difference. White wheat is less astringent than other varieties of wheat and foods taste better when made with whole white wheat than from whole red wheat flour.

Sara Lee apparently was the first major baker to create a whole-wheat white bread with last summer's debut of Soft anf Smooth, using ConAgra's Ultragrain flour.

Here again are Kansas Diamond flour from ADM and Ultragrain from ConAgra. Chicago-based Sara Lee is using the latter in its Soft anf Smooth breads, which are enjoying significant success.

"Duplicating the appearance, taste and texture of popular consumer foods without sacrificing nutrition or dietary fiber is the key to success in foodservice," according to Nick Weigel, director of technical services at ADM Milling.

"Companies are creating tasty pizza crusts and tortillas with Kansas Diamond Whole Wheat for all classes of restaurants," adds Stan Andrews, ADM's manager of bakery ingredient applications. "Whole-grain breading was relatively easy to formulate with Kansas Diamond and required very little recipe adjustment in the shift from refined grain ingredients."

For yeast-leavened items like pizza crust, he recommends formulators add wheat gluten and dough strengtheners to compensate for the interference from the non-gluten components of whole-wheat flour to the strength and volume of the finished product. In chemically leavened systems such as cakes and shortbreads, Andrews suggests adjusting the leavening to make up for the extra bulk coming from the bran and aleurone of the whole white wheat and some additional strengthening.

In the tortilla sector, Kansas Diamond mimics the rheological properties of refined flour dough. Tortilla makers can duplicate the flow and spring-back characteristics of refined flour doughs during machining without the buckiness and shrinkage associated with whole-wheat doughs. In dedicated lines the extra fine granulation creates a certain mellowing, so its gluten network holds nicely without creating holes found in whole-wheat tortillas. The added bonus is a quadrupled dietary fiber contribution without the negative taste perception that consumers reserve for whole-wheat foods.

Other grains to consider

The food processing sector is largely preoccupied with a whole-grain substitution for refined white flour. But there's more to whole grains than wheat.

Lotus Foods (www.worldpantry.com/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/ExecMacro/lotus/home.d2w/report), El Cerrito, Calif., introduced exotic varieties of rice from all over the world. Unrefined rice, a good source of vitamins and minerals, is gluten free and easily digested. It is a good whole-grain choice for infants and people with wheat allergies or digestive problems.

Lotus also offers a line of heirloom grains such as Bhutanese Red Rice with a nutty/earthy flavor, soft texture and beautiful red russet color; Forbidden Rice, a medium-size Chinese black rice prized for its delicious nutty taste, soft texture and deep purple color; and Kalijira Rice, also known as the Prince of Rice, tiny aromatic grains that cook in only 10 minutes. Pasta makers can use Bhutanese Red Rice flour for gluten-free and wheat-free products. Forbidden Black Rice flour yields purple pastel-colored flour that can add interesting and nutritious color especially for foods for children.

The opportunity is growing for tasty whole-grain foods consumed away from home. Processors will do well to create tasty versions of familiar foods for foodservice and restaurant channels. The key is to develop these products to deliver nutrition without sacrificing taste.


Making whole-grain versions of your flagship brands is no slam dunk. Let the product developers do their thing, but you should investigate and add to the discussion some critical considerations from the plant:

    • First, set up a new and separate bin for the whole-grain flour(s).

    • Next, test and characterize each of the formulae with whole-grain flours and establish the optimized processing parameters, including time, temperature, absorption, etc.

    • Then, raise the level of detail among line workers in the plant, so everyone knows the difference between whole-grain products and their refined counterparts.

  • Last, but not least, work with the vendor to establish shelf life of the raw material. Whole-grain flours have shorter shelf lives to begin with, and some manufacturers have further shortened the shelf life to compensate for additional processing.

Modern markets for ancient grains

The whole-grain movement is not just another trend but is a growing social consciousness of health and wellness. Whole grains contribute color, texture, wholesome taste and nutrition to the food processing palette that had become relatively light, smooth, bland and less nutritious.

The 80 high-profile members of the Chef's Council of San Francisco-based Center for Culinary Development have proven to be good forecasters of culinary ideas that trickle down from upper crust white-tablecloth environs to mainstream restaurants and fast-food chains. The council has added to the growing public interest in whole grains, predicting: "The demand will continue for whole-grain foods packed with natural nutritional value and functional foods quietly fortified with everything from antioxidants to minerals and fiber."

The CCD called "rising stars" the nutrient-rich "super grain" choclo or Peruvian corn, plus "miracle grains" quinoa and amaranth. The chefs said American consumers are as interested in eating healthful foods as they are in trying new tastes.

Nature offers a bounty of grains to cost-effectively upgrade taste, texture and food labels. Some of them are:

  • Amaranth,
      an ancient cereal from the Aztec empire, which naturally contains large amounts of dietary fiber, iron and calcium as well as other vitamins and minerals. It is also naturally high in lysine, methionine and cysteine and excellent for foodservice soups, pilafs and bakery products.

  • Buckwheat,
      also known as kasha, an ancient seed originating from China. It has a slightly tangy flavor and often is processed with the addition of wheat flour to help neutralize its taste. Buckwheat flour often is used for making pancakes, waffles, blintzes and noodles.

  • Farro
      is an unhybridized ancestor of modern wheat from Europe. It has a hearty, nutty flavor and is rapidly gaining popularity with restaurateurs taking their cue from restaurants in Italy. Farro is served in soups and salads by Annie Somerville, executive chef at Greens, a vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco.

  • Millet
      is a grain staple in Asia and Africa. It is a good source of gluten-free protein and contains more iron than any other cereal. Millet is a delicious alternative to rice in soups and pilafs.

  • Quinoa,
      an ancient cereal from the Andes, is rich in protein, high in fiber and particularly rich in the amino acid lysine. It is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and E. Quinoa seeds are extremely versatile and may be used to make everything from appetizers to desserts.

  • Spelt,
      closely related to common wheat, originates in the Middle East, and has been popular for decades in Eastern Europe. Higher in protein than wheat, it appears to have a different molecular structure and appears to cause fewer problems than wheat for some individuals intolerant of wheat. Barilla uses its intense nutty, wheat flavor in Barilla Plus multi-grain pasta. Spelt is also excellent for bread making and pizza.

  • Teff
      is an ancient cereal from Ethiopia, with bulk of the tiny grain consisting of the bran and germ. This nutrient dense grain is very high in calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, aluminum, barium and thiamin. It has an excellent amino acid composition, with lysine levels higher than wheat or barley, and contains no gluten and is therefore appropriate for those with gluten intolerance.

  • Wild rice
  • is not rice but an American grass and staple for the Indians and early settlers. Its deep purplish black color and its subtly nutty flavor make it a good addition to prepared foods such as soups and pilafs, especially for the addition of fiber.

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