Food Processors Looking at the Whole (Grain) Truth About Breakfast Cereal

July 9, 2012
Despite what seems to be a perpetual war on carbohydrates, it's hard to escape this enduring tradition.

Cereals have been migrating back to the more healthful formulations their creators espoused — specifically, whole-grain formats and the use of higher protein and fiber ingredients, such as barley and legumes. At the same time, other ingredients have entered breakfast cereals and baked goods that would not have been dreamed of or even possible 120 years ago. While fortification with vitamins and minerals, especially folate, have become standards, probiotic bacteria and omega-3 oils are two important ingredient categories that have remade the breakfast table.

Omega-3 oils have made it into breakfast foods in recent years thanks to encapsulation and the recognition that plant sources (specifically, alpha-linolenic acid, ALA) are more bioavailable than once believed. Multiple cereal, bar and hot cereal manufacturers have added flax seed, an excellent source of ALA, to their line-ups. Chia and hemp seeds, other rich ALA sources, are coming on fast as must-have ingredients.

Nature's Path's (, Richmond, British Columbia, created a new line of cereals branded "Qi'a" (pronounced kee-ah) that offers "a blend of chia seeds, buckwheat and hemp seeds as a high-protein alternative both to traditional breakfast cereals and to a high-protein animal-based breakfast."

Kashi Co. (, La Jolla, Calif. (now a part of Kellogg), continues to promote whole grains by introducing new combinations for traditional applications. Its GoLean line of breakfast foods emphasizes whole grains as a source of protein, not merely a source of complex carbohydrates.

Many consumers automatically link protein exclusively with animal foods and forget virtually all foods contribute to protein needs. In fact, grains and beans provide more protein worldwide than do animal products. The Kashi marketing approach to attracting consumers is to compare the protein content of their breakfast cereals to that of eggs.

"At Kashi, we believe breakfast should offer sustenance and also be something you can enjoy eating," says Jeff Johnson, senior nutritionist for Kashi. "We received a very positive response after introducing GoLean Crisp cereal last year, so we want to continue surprising people with new ways to get as much protein as an egg."

Kashi GoLean cereals contain 9-13g protein per 100g serving, while a large egg has 6g protein per 50g serving. Kashi hot and cold cereals, bars and granola products hit other popular breakfast trend targets by being minimally processed and free of highly refined sugars, artificial additives and preservatives, plus promote corporate responsibility.

Kashi Co. promotes whole grains by introducing new combinations for traditional applications.

An integratory approach
It's hard to pinpoint the ingredients that make up a good breakfast in this day and age without a little legwork first. While many ingredient companies have been engaging clients more directly with product development partnerships and innovation centers, Ingredion Inc. (, Westchester, Ill. (the new name for the company born of the merger between National Starch Inc. and Corn Products Inc.) provides its manufacturing partners with market and consumer insights "to help them develop on-trend products that deliver on consumer breakfast preferences."

"Our broad portfolio of nutrition, sweetener and texture ingredient solutions — coupled with expertise in the areas of food and nutrition science, sensory, texture and culinology — help get products to market faster," says Patrick O'Brien, marketing manager for the company's bakery division. The key applications the company targets within the breakfast category include cereals, bars, RTE oatmeal and powdered pancake and similar mixes, as well as the ancillary breakfast goodies yogurt, juice and smoothies.

"Utilizing Ingredion's 'Dial-in Texture' approach and ingredient solutions, we can help manufacturers in the breakfast category create new, unique textures to help meet consumer preferences," says O'Brien. "Or, we can help maintain existing texture when replacing other ingredients for nutrition or cost-saving purposes."

Nutritional benefits are key differentiators in selling to increasingly sophisticated, health-conscience consumers, he adds. "Breakfast manufacturers can't ask consumers to sacrifice taste or texture," he notes. The company's portfolio includes prebiotic and soluble fibers, resistant starch, whole grain corn flour and a proprietary mineral source, providing important benefits in the areas of digestive health, bone/joint health, glycemic balance and immunity.

Multiple approaches to health
"The current recommendation from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services suggests replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and to keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible," points out Diane Carnell, product category manager-emulsifiers for Caravan Ingredients Inc. (, Lenexa, Kan. "For the baking industry, this poses problems.

"Traditionally, hard or hydrogenated fats have been used to give the necessary structure to a wide variety of baked items, including breakfast pastries. It's difficult to get the same functionality when starting to remove these [undesired] fats," she says. The company's Trancendim oil provides a solution to this problem. It allows manufacturers to replace traditional shortenings or palm with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils which have been structured with Trancendim.

Trancendim is a mono-diglyceride that structures oil to mimic the functionality of preferred fat systems, but delivers a better nutritional profile. It allows reduced saturated fat and a cleaner label by removing the term "hydrogenated and/or palm oil" and having 0g trans fat.

Anything that contains starch can in theory be made into a ready-to-eat cereal. This theory is put into practice by expanding on the whole-grain paradigm to include whole beans as the base food for breakfast. "Pulses and legumes are widely grown in the U.S. and play a major role in sustainable farming due to their nitrogen-replenishing abilities through crop-rotation and as the most water-conserving source of protein," says Deepa Shenoy, founder and CEO of Crunchfuls Inc. (, a manufacturer of bean-based cereals, snacks and bars.

Crunchfuls uses patent-pending technology to make bean-flour products that come out crunchy while protecting the naturally occurring inherent nutrients of whole beans, including the amino acid-rich protein core, vegetable fiber matrix of soluble, insoluble and prebiotic digestible fiber and low glycemic complex carbohydrates. The beans in Crunchfuls are non-oil legumes, unlike soy and peanuts, and are beans of the pulse legume family such as dry beans, dry peas and lentils. They can be eaten as a protein or vegetable serving, notes Shenoy.

Crunchfuls is the only product platform that uses non-GMO pulses and legumes as the major food group, offering rich vegetable protein, fiber and low glycemic complex carbohydrates over less digestible grain, soy and corn. Crunchfuls are tested in vitro for 18 naturally occurring amino acids and a low glycemic index. The company created bar prototypes that use a "crisp" also made from beans. With protein, fiber and servings of vegetables, the bars are an ideal breakfast, snack or meal replacement products.

Current innovations in whole grains include preparation methods as well. Briess Malt and Ingredient Co. (, Chilton, Wis., developed a line of pregelatinized whole grains specifically designed for nutritional value and improved baking and cereal applications.

Crunchfuls makes bean-flour products that come out crunchy while protecting the nutrients of whole beans.

"Briess only produces all natural ingredients, and is particularly focused on whole-grain health," says Judie Giebel, Briess' technical services representative. "Insta Grains ingredients are made using an all-natural heat process that pregelatinizes the starches in the grain. This creates a softer, more flavorful grain that no longer needs precooking or presoaking and can be directly added to dough matrix. It also makes the grains easier to digest."

To make incorporating a variety of grains into one food easier, Briess combined a number of the pregelatinized grains to create its BriessBlend line. For example, its newest, Multigrain Toasted Light, is made of four pregelatinized whole grains — wheat, rye, triticale and barley — which are gently toasted to enhance flavor, imparting a favored nutty taste and aroma. The blend is naturally low in sugars and higher in dietary fiber. It can boost the nutritional levels of breakfast foods, is highly nutritious, easy to digest and delivers all the benefits of whole grain without a raw grainy flavor. For breakfast breads and muffins, use up to 30 percent can be used in place of flour. Or, hot breakfast cereals that will be cooked or microwaved can be designed from a 100-percent blend.

Great Grains, by Post Holdings, Inc. (, Battle Creek, Mich., touts a similar method of maintaining more "whole" to the grain. Whole grains are heated by steam to complete the gelatinization, rolled and then baked. The result is a whole grain ready-to-eat cereal with grains that look more like the whole grain from which it was derived.

Fiber still rules
"The use of fiber is definitely on the rise," says Cathy Dorko, product manager in active nutrition for DuPont Nutrition & Health (, New Century, Kan. "Nutrition advocates have pointed out Americans are not getting enough fiber, so this is fueling the market. There's also an increasing awareness of the link between fiber intake and digestive health."

DuPont's prebiotic fiber Litesse polydextrose is available for breakfast formulations, particularly breads and baked goods, where it's used in double fiber as well as "lite" formulations. It's also useful in boosting the fiber in breakfast bars. "This 'grab-n-go' bar segment has been strong for a while, and we're not seeing any slowing," she says. "Some manufacturers are also looking to boost fiber in beverages, juice drinks and fruit spreads."

Polydextrose is a highly flexible, soluble fiber and food ingredient. At only 1 kcal/g, Litesse offers significant potential for reducing calories and adding fiber without impacting the consumer appeal of the end product in terms of taste and texture. Available in liquid and powder form, the ingredient has demonstrated excellent process and shelf stability. Dorko points to research that shows Litesse polydextrose keeps cereal crisp longer in milk.

It also acts as a bulking agent, where it helps in sugar and calorie reduction. "Due to its complex structure, polydextrose is slowly and incompletely fermented throughout the colon, which leads to many positive health benefits, including: optimal pH within the colon, reduced carcinogenic compounds throughout the colon, improved bowel function and minimal gas production," adds Dorko.

"Polydextrose prebiotic fiber can be easily added to milks, smoothies and other dairy-based foods. With meal replacement beverages for the breakfast space, you can deliver the synergistic combination of probiotics and prebiotics. While probiotics are a common fixture at the breakfast table in yogurt and fermented beverages like kefir [where they occur naturally], they're migrating into other breakfast foods as consumers learn about their digestive health and immune benefits." Synergizing probiotics and prebiotics can provide benefit to products for which they are new ingredients, enhance nutritional profiles and improving texture.

Stayin' alive
For probiotics to deliver a health benefit, they must remain live and active, as well as be included at a particular level of potency. Target levels have been established through research studies that demonstrate efficacy.

When formulating with probiotics, typical challenges that need to be considered are elevated temperatures in processing and storage, and low pH. Other factors that can influence survivability include: water activity, oxygen content, metabolic carbohydrates, mechanical stress during processing, impact from other additives (colors, flavors, salt, etc.) and inoculation practices.

"For probiotics to survive processing, they should be added at a point in the process when there are no more heating steps and the product has been cooled," says Dorko. "Distribution and storage temperatures should then be in the refrigeration range. If pH can be adjusted up [typically to >3.8], survivability can be greatly enhanced. At lower pH levels, high overages could be necessary to achieve desired shelflife." DuPont Danisco promotes its Howaru brand of probiotics that remain stable in most applications, so they can be delivered intact at the target levels.
Ganeden Biotech Inc. (, Mayfield Heights, Ohio, also provides a line of probiotic bacteria, including its GanedenBC30. The proprietary strain of Bacillus coagulans is a spore form that gives it high stability. It's able to withstand the manufacturing processes typical in breakfast product manufacturing, such as baking and boiling, freezing and refrigeration and high pressure applications like extrusion and roll forming.

GanedenBC30 also survives the high acid/bile conditions in the gut. No refrigeration is needed and it can be used in products with shelflife ratings of up to two years. It is GRAS, kosher and non-GMO. The spore-forming bacterium, once germinated, produces lactic acid, thus supporting good bacteria in the digestive system that compete and supersede non-beneficial bacteria.

While these multifaceted methods of improving the breakfast table offerings are becoming rules rather than exceptions in product formulation, the ultimate goal is for the consumer to get a healthier start to a busy day.

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