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Food Processors Working to Produce Healthier Baked Goods

April 5, 2010
Bakers are answering consumer demands for healthier breads and snacks with ancient grains and old-fashioned fiber.
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.

Fiber reawakens
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.

Sweetening the Pot

"The increasing popularity of bakery foods made with whole and ancient grains plus  fiber have caused bakers to rethink product formulations to ensure the sometimes bitter and off flavors imparted by these ingredients do not dominate the flavor of the product," says Keith Seiz of the National Honey Board (www.honey.com), Firestone, Colo.

"Honey is the ideal sweetener to enhance the flavor profile of bakery foods striving to attract consumers looking for all-natural and pure ingredients. It offers food manufacturers the opportunity to provide a sweet product using a natural sweetener that promotes a clean label," he adds.

While honey is most widely known as a natural sweetener, it also has many functional benefits in bakery foods. Honey allows bakers to extend the shelf life of their products with a natural ingredient -- it has a high acidity (average pH 3.91), which inhibits mold growth. Its fructose content helps baked items retain moisture. Honey can be used in almost all types of bakery foods to replace other sweeteners. And, at about 25 percent greater sweetness than sugar or sucrose, it allows for less sweetener usage.

The use of honey also affects consumer perceptions about the bakery product. "In a recent Honey Attitude and Usage Study, a total of 521 households were interviewed about their honey usage," says Seiz. "Nearly two-thirds of respondents preferred whole wheat bread made with honey. Moreover, 44 percent indicated they're willing to pay a premium of 40 cents for a whole wheat bread made with honey."

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.

A wealth of studies going back more than a decade — including a study published late last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition -- showed the quantity of resistant starch correlated with blood glucose and satiety responses. "Simply put, the more resistant starch they fed people, the higher the satiety effects," says Witwer. Dietary fiber content as a whole did not predict the satiety effects.

King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com), Norwich, Vt., has been using both Hi-Maize 5-in-1 flour and another new fiber ingredient across a number of recipes: Sustagrain Flaked Barley, from ConAgra Mills (www.conagramills.com), Omaha, Neb. Sustagrain is a hull-less barley naturally high in dietary fiber and low in starch. With three times the soluble fiber of oats, it's suitable for use in breads and cookies that call for oats. Both ingredients "add fiber and nutrition to baked goods that otherwise would be very high in calories with little nutritional benefit," says Sue Gray, manager of product development for King Arthur.

Old grains for new
Fiber is an inherent quality in many of the so-called "ancient" or "heritage" grains. Currently, the American diet is comprised mostly of wheat, corn and soy. Adding unique grains like quinoa and teff to your diet provides unique and desirable nutritional attributes.

"There are essential amino acids in some of these ancient grains like quinoa, unique oils and fats with healthy attributes, and they can be incorporated into formulations with little change to the recipes," says Darren Schubert, vice president of sales and marketing for Grain Millers Inc. (www.grainmillers.com), Eugene, Ore. "You do need to be careful how they're processed, however. Processing – mostly washing and toasting – needs to remove the sometimes soapy taste but without harming the nutritional profile."

King Arthur Flour offers consumers a recipe for a pizza with a crust made of ancient grains.

ConAgra Mills also has been a leader in reintroducing ancient grains. The company offers a portfolio that includes amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. They're offered individually, in custom blends and as a "five-grain, whole grain flour." They're naturally gluten- and allergen-free. A new extension of the five-grain blend adds brown rice – the result is Eagle Mills Gluten-Free All-Purpose Multigrain Flour.

"Nutritionists, culinarians and product developers alike are discovering these specialty grains can take whole-grain formulation to an even higher level of nutrition and eating enjoyment," says Don Trouba, marketing manager of ConAgra Mills.

"Quinoa and teff are leading the way in non-traditional grains," says Cassidy Stockton, social media specialist at Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods (www.bobsredmill.com), Milwaukie, Ore. "But chia and hemp are also garnering a lot of attention. Spelt has always been a highly popular alternative flour to use in baking, along with hard white whole-wheat flour." Stockton adds that, for gluten-free baking, sorghum, teff, quinoa and amaranth flour add variety and whole-grain nutrition.

"Quinoa especially is an attractive grain," continues Stockton, "not only because of its splendid flavor, but the grain takes a mere 15 minutes to cook. For baking, a blend of flour is usually a requirement to produce baked goods with the appropriate texture. Most of the ancient grains have a lower, if not altogether absent, gluten content and will not stand alone as baking flour for most applications. Generally, we advise replacing only up to a quarter of the flour in a recipe with alternative flour. That allows customers to try something new, but still achieve the quality they are after," adds Stockton.

Kamut — ancient khorasan wheat — is another heritage grain seeing increasing use. "Organic kamut khorasan flour can be used in nearly any application now using modern wheat flour," says Robert Quinn, president of Kamut Khorasan (www.kamut.com), Big Sandy, Mont. "Because Kamut brand flour has higher water absorption, manufacturers have to add a little more water than normal. Also, because the grain is a close relative of durum, it acts more like durum in manufacturing applications."

Quinn advises that, for bread applications, bakers should mix the dough for as short a period of time as possible and as slowly as possible to keep the gluten from breaking down. The ancient grain has a rich, nutty flavor and is high in protein, selenium and zinc.

It should be noted that spelt and kamut are varieties of wheat and, as such, are not applicable to gluten-free formulations. However, both can be used in place of traditional wheat ingredients by many people who are sensitive to wheat. Still, products made with these grains may not be labeled as gluten-free.

"Nontraditional grains like barley, quinoa and millet are rich in omega-3 and -6 polyunsaturated fats and oils," says Ohad Cohen, CEO of Vitiva (www.vitiva.eu), Slovenia. "These are highly susceptible to oxidation. Flour and products from such grains go rancid very fast, which shows as an unpleasant change of organoleptic properties of final products."

To address this challenge, the company makes the Inolens line of highly deodorized rosemary extract formulations to both protect against rancidity and extend shelf-life, without bitterness. The powerful, naturally functional ingredients are designed to fit highly demanding bakery and confectionery applications.

With the gluten-free category showing a sudden uptick in growth, blends of grains can often enhance marketability of products associated with single-grain alternative flours.  One example is the certified gluten-free King Arthur Flour Ancient Grains blend. It's a milled blend of 30 percent each amaranth, millet and sorghum flours, plus 10 percent quinoa flour. The blend includes all the bran and germ, and also adds protein and amino acids along with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Still, since it's a 100 percent whole grain, Gray recommends combining it with other flours to ensure baking success.

And while the stealthy incorporation of some of these grains may be right for some applications, for others "You should keep the visual integrity of the grain for those consumers who appreciate that," warns Grain Millers' Schubert.

With the wealth of new grains and flour blends, plus ancillary ingredients and ingredient technology for enhancement and performance, formulators are perfectly served to meet and set rising baking trends toward health and increased function.

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