New Directions in Healthy Baking

Jan. 29, 2009
Any way you bake it, filling consumer demand for healthy baked goods takes the cake.

We’re a nation of snackers and sandwich eaters. We’re also a nation obsessed by health. While those two notions have been finding increased common ground, the continuing epidemics of obesity and diabetes make the relationship a rocky one. Luckily, cutting-edge technology can deliver bakery goodness with fitness. 

“Current market trends in the baked-good industry — and food industry in general — point to a major focus on how to formulate better-for-you products,” says Barbara Heidolph, principal for food phosphates at ICL Performance Products LP (www.icl-pplp.com), St. Louis. “Cardiovascular health and disease prevention is a major concern for consumers,” she adds. 

One way to painlessly lower sodium in baked goods is to replace sodium-based leavening agents with calcium-based ones, says Barbara Heidolph of ICL Performance Products.

There are definite directions consumers are pushing healthy foods. Some of these “evolution factors” are noted by George Eckrich, owner of Dr. Kracker Inc. (www.drkracker.com), a Dallas maker of healthy crackers. He foresees expansion of 100-calorie packages and an increase in low-fat products as well as improved production processes that allow for them (such as controlled oven-cooking and steam cooking). He also predicts more products acting on satiety, burning fat or using L-carnitine and “products with multiple promises.”

Eckrich also points out an aspect of healthy baking not usually considered: packaging, that is the “easy to handle” factor. “Consumers expect few difficulties in product handling at all stages of consumption, including buying, carrying, opening, using and disposing — products with a design or package that provides a real benefit,” he says. Among other examples, he points to flexible, recloseable and pourable packages that do a better job of preserving product.

Ecology is part of this, and Eckrich notes consumers “look for products that display a promise of respect for nature, animals, the environment in general and help preserve or save the planet for future generations.”

What’s in, what’s out

The approaches to healthful baking still are following two main tracks: what’s put in and what’s taken out. As for what’s taken out — usually fat, especially trans fat, and sugar — there often has to be something to pick up the slack caused by absence of key ingredients. 

Even kids’ fun snacks can be healthful. Popumz are organic and have both DHA and EPA omega-3s, 3g fiber, 5g protein and zero trans fats. They were launched by Dr. William Sears, “America’s pediatrician,” with Right Track Global LLC.

The main item marked for elimination over the past few years has been trans fats. And in many instances, the first place processors turned was palm oil. It was a simple, familiar, widely applicable solution, was solid at room temperature and provided good creaming properties.

“Palm oil is an ideal alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil where a solid fat is required for functionality in baked goods and snack foods,” says Gerald McNeill, R&D director at Loders Croklaan (www.northamerica.croklaan.com), Channahon, Ill. “It is naturally solid at room temperature and no chemical processes are used in its production. The oil is extracted from the fruit by expeller pressing without the use of organic solvents. Color and odor is removed only using steam, vacuum and natural clay.”

Palm oil has gotten a bad rap because of its saturated fat content – something McNeill disputes on several fronts. “In reality it is a natural balance of unsaturates and saturates, containing an equal amount of palmitic and oleic acids. For each gram of saturates consumed, an equal amount of unsaturates is consumed.

“In addition, the traditional hypothesis that dietary saturated fat is a significant contributor to risk heart disease is coming into question,” he continues. “Saturated fats in palm oil have been found to significantly increase serum HDL (‘good’ cholesterol), partially counteracting the negative effect of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol). Palm oil also contains healthful minor components including natural tocotrienol antioxidants and beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.”

Other ingredients being removed need to have their technical functionality and properties replaced somehow. “The texturizing properties of fat and bulking effects of sugar are major contributors to making baked food items so enticing,” says Joe O’Neill, executive vice president of Beneo-Orafti Inc. (www.beneo-orafti.com), Morris Plains, N.J. Orafti supplies low-calorie inulin and oligofructose ingredients to provide the bulking effects of sugar; they also can impart sweetness and contribute to crust and color formation in the final baked goods.

Orafti’s prebiotic fiber ingredients also may be used to replace part of the fat content of baked goods while improving crumb structure and mouthfeel, compared to traditional low-fat products. “Orafti HPX inulin is most tolerant in dough systems, resisting enzymatic breakdown by yeast enzymes while maintaining volume, texture and eating qualities compared to full-fat products,” says O’Neill.

Beneo-Orafti’s sister company, Beneo-Palatinit provides a number of beet-derived, low-calorie saccharides such as Isomalt, Palatinose and galenIQ. In addition to providing mild sweetness, the products do not alter flavor or appearance in baked products but, at half the calories of sucrose, can replace bulk while decreasing overall calorie content. Moreover, the products are noncariogenic — a health benefit not often associated with sweet baked snacks.

Typical of the new approach to healthy baking is the boom in boutique, small-bakery options that hit a number of targets — such as cookies that are gluten-free, additive-free, low-calorie and certified as organic, kosher, halal or a combination of the three. But the boutique bakeries of today differ greatly from those of even five years ago. Today’s operations are going high-tech.

La Vita’s cookies by La Vita Health Foods Ltd. (www.lavitahealthfoods.com), Suffern, N.Y., “were definitely developed with health in mind,” says La Vita’s founder, Zina Minz. “The recipe is the result of two decades of research and testing by food technicians both here and in Israel and Europe,” she says.
According to Minz, La Vita’s soy flour recipes and technical baking processes make it possible to offer a nutritious baked treat in eight flavors, without sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives, colorings or artificial flavorings. In addition to being diabetic friendly, the soy flour cookies are gluten-free, dairy-free and cholesterol-free, prebiotic, vegan and kosher certified.

The flip side of taking out is putting in. Whole grains and fiber are at the top of the list of attractive ingredients to work into baking formulations.

Recent technology has focused on taking known health-directed ingredients previously troublesome for formulators and “mainstreaming” them. The ability to create healthful baked items with whole grains and fiber without sacrificing fluffiness and flavor was a holy grail for a while. That grail’s been found.
Minneapolis-based General Mills Inc.’s Fiber One line of cereals has enjoyed years of success. Crunchy is easy with the tougher starch forms of whole grain and fiber, but how do you work those ingredients into a soft product? 

You knew it as a cereal, now Fiber One is contributing the same fiber and whole grains to pancake and muffin mixes.

Enter the company’s Betty Crocker Fiber One muffin mix and Fiber One Complete Pancake Mix. Although providing up to 5g fiber and 10g whole grain per serving, pancakes and waffles from the mixes do not have the density and bitter aftertaste associated with the previous generation of whole-grain/high-fiber products.

“One challenge for the baker is to load the daily loaf with whole grains, seeds and nuts while still keeping the consumer’s eating experience enjoyable and running these products in a high speed plant environment,” notes Anne Brown, regional business director of Danisco Inc.’s North American Food & Beverage Enzymes Genencor division (www.genencor.com).

Danisco’s PowerBake xylanase and lipase enzyme systems help support the gluten network in baked goods, ensuring healthful bread products with good loaf volume, desirable flavor and processing ease. “Beyond its functional benefits, PowerBake xylanase can help improve the health benefits of high-fiber, whole-grain breads by converting insoluble fiber to soluble fiber,” says Brown.

Isabella’s Healthy Bakery (www.isabellashealthybakery.com), Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, launched Activate muffins in mid-2008 that not only were a healthy raisin bran (good fiber) formula but contained a probiotic. The muffins contain GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086), a strain that survives heat and other rigors of processing.

“For so many years, we’ve been focusing on taking things out of our muffins. Now the opposite is true,” says Monica Curtis, Isabella’s president. “We started to enhance them with nutrients to offer consumers the best of both worlds – a muffin that not only tastes good, but is also good for you. Creating a muffin that helps support digestive health was the next logical step.”

“GanedenBC30 is a spore-forming probiotic bacterium -- meaning that inside the bacterial cell is a hardened structure, or spore, which is analogous to a seed,” explains Sean Farmer, Ganeden’s co-founder and chief scientist. “This spore protects the cell’s genetic material from the heat and pressure of manufacturing processes, challenges of shelf life as well as the acid and bile it is exposed to during digestive transit. The viable spore is then able to germinate and produce new vegetative cells once it is safely inside the small intestine.”

“Traditional” probiotic organisms are not able to form these protective spores, he adds. Plans are in place to include GanedenBC30 in other Isabella’s products including breakfast bars and cakes.

Flour power 

“The whole grain trend is continuing its growth with new fronts constantly being added,” agrees Mike Veal, vice president of marketing for ConAgra Mills (www.conagramills.com), Omaha, Neb. His company was largely responsible for one of those new fronts. In 2004, ConAgra launched Ultragrain, apparently the first whole-wheat flour that looked and tasted like refined, white flour. 

“Seeing is believing” for consumers, so multiple, whole grains are best displayed prominently in baked goods. Some of these seeds are “ancient grains.”

“Whole grain products, buoyed by science-based health and wellness benefits, are set to transition the way Americans consume grains,” says Veal. “In retail, we see a steady, positive shift in whole grain product market share in categories once dominated by refined flour products. For example, in the tortilla category the whole-grain tortilla dollar share increased from 2 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in 2008.” Veal points to similar increases for crackers, pasta, flour, fresh bread and rolls and other categories.

“When it comes to whole- and multi-grain baked goods, ‘seeing is believing’ to the consumer,” says Bernadette Wasdovitch, marketing manager for Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. (www.briess.com), Chilton, Wis. “This puts a burden on manufacturers to maintain particle identity of grain inclusions, because raw grains are intensive to process.”

To help solve such challenges, Briess developed Insta Grains, a line of all-natural, reduced cook-time grain ingredients that cook in about 10 minutes and can be incorporated directly into dough. Naturally processed from wheat, malted wheat, brown rice, pearled barley, oats and other grains, the product is available in a variety of particle sizes including cracked, grits and flakes. The company also is a leader in natural sweeteners from grains such as rice, barley and sorghum specifically suited for baked items.
Resistant starch finally is moving toward the top of the list of ingredients slated to have serious impact on the growth of healthy baked goods. After simmering on the bakery back burner for several years, the unique form of functional fiber benefited recently from new research and technology that could set it on the fast track to the mainstream.

“The discovery of natural RS2 resistant starch’s fermentation factor showed this type of starch derives its satiety and weight-management benefits from more than just its fiber bulking and glycemic effects,” says Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager for nutrition at National Starch Food Innovation (www.resistantstarch.com), Bridgewater, N.J.

“The fermentation in the digestive system sets off a cascade of reactions that positively impact insulin sensitivity, other hunger hormone levels as well as fat metabolism and storage mechanisms,” she explains.

On the technical side, resistant starch is easily incorporated into baked products to provide high levels of insoluble fiber effect without increasing density or diminishing crumb. It also has virtually no impact on taste. Satiety also is longer lasting and at higher levels.

National Starch provides its Hi-Maize RS2 resistant starch for a wide variety of healthy baking applications. “Different types of fiber and resistant starch have different fermentation profiles, so other ingredients may not have the same health effects,” Witwer adds.

Beyond grains

The tendency in thinking about baking is to focus on grain ingredients, but there’s more to the mix. “When developing ingredients for healthier baked goods, manufacturers must keep in mind a number of requirements,” says Sarah Staley, vice president of business development for Friesland Foods Domo USA Inc. (www.domo.nl), Chicago.

“These include health benefits required, potential calorie reduction, fat and sugar replacement, fortification, interaction with other ingredients, processing requirements, proof times, baked good volume and bulk density, as well as bake times, final color, texture and flavor,” she continues.
Domo launched a portfolio of ingredients suited to healthy baked goods. Examples include the dairy-derived Vivinal GOS prebiotic line and Hiprotal 60MP whey protein.

“Historically, we’ve seen fortification primarily using iron, niacin and perhaps a few other vitamins,” says Emilio Gutierrez, vice president of technical services for BI Nutraceuticals Inc. (www.binutraceuticals.com), Long Beach, Calif. “Today we see products fortified with a multitude of healthy ingredients.” He says that multitude includes a much longer list of vitamins and minerals, along with such healthy ingredients as antioxidants and bulk fibers. The result is “favorable product claims for less/no calories, low fat, low carbs, lower cholesterol, etc,” he says.

BI Nutraceuticals offers a multitude of vitamins and minerals, fruits and other botanical powders and herbals. The company also offers these as ready-to-use premixes, allowing the user to include a multitude of claims from a single blended ingredient. “The best part is these are ingredients that the majority of consumers know and trust,” Gutierrez adds.

Even leavening provides an opportunity for innovation in healthy baking. “When a calcium-based leavening acid such as calcium acid pyrophosphate [CAPP] is used to substitute for sodium-based leavening acids, it can provide sodium reductions up to 26 percent,” says ICL’s Heidolph. “Depending on the formulation and leavening acid that is being replaced, CAPP can be used in a variety of better-for-you baked goods such as cakes, biscuits, muffins and other baked goods.”

ICL makes Levona Brio and Levona Opus CAPP leavening acids. They can replace sodium-based leavening agents, such as sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum phosphate. Another benefit is the addition of calcium; in some applications, they contribute enough to allow a calcium claim on the label.

“The acids’ controlled release occurs during important stages of baking, providing ideal volume and texture while not contributing to the overall sodium content,” says Heidolph.

Additionally, AHD International (www.ahdintl.com ), Atlanta, recently announced bakery applications for LuraLean, a condensed, dietary fiber formula designed to promote weight loss, maintain healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal range and support regularity. It can withstand high temperatures without breaking down or losing efficacy and can be used in products such as nutrition bars, breads, cookies and crackers.

“Because LuraLean expands to 200 times its original size only after it reaches the stomach, just a small amount is required to deliver high fiber content,” says John Alkire, company president. “LuraLean is the perfect ingredient for manufacturers who want to create a broad range of high-fiber foods, without the end product being overly dense or lacking in taste.”

21st-century technology is all well and good, but some opportunities for healthy baking’s future can be drawn from its past. “Due to its flavors and textures, olive oil has been a hallmark of the healthy Mediterranean Diet for over 2,500 years,” and is a fine ingredient for baking, says Dun Gifford, founder and president of Boston-based think-tank Oldways Preservation Trust (www.oldwayspt.org).

“Olive oil adds vibrant flavors and textures to Mediterranean foods and is high in healthy, monounsaturated fats along with antioxidants,” he says. Baking with olive oil instead of butter reduces the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in formulations. Olive oil produces lighter-tasting breads, brownies, biscotti and cakes. Also, baking formulations often require less olive oil than butter.

Oldways is originator of the popular, 15-year-old Mediterranean Diet effort, and oversees the Whole Grains Council, an international program supporting increased consumption of whole grains.

In one of the most successful efforts to increase whole grain awareness and consumption, the Whole Grains Council (www.wholegrainscouncil.org) developed the Whole Grain Stamp. It’s offered to food processors for use on compliant products as a marketing tool to help consumers quickly spot foods containing at least a half serving (8g) of whole grains. So far, nearly 2,000 products bear the stamp.

Back to the Future: Ancient Grains
“As whole grain products mature [across multiple] channels, there will be continued pressure to differentiate,” says Mike Veal, vice president of marketing for ConAgra Mills. “The need for variety will cover varying aspects of flavor, texture and nutritive content.”
One way products can look new is … well … to look old. A number of old-fashioned grains are being rediscovered and incorporated into many foods. Most are suitable for grinding into flours. Many can provide a gluten-free claim.
ConAgra released a dual line of such variety. Sustagrain is a line of barley flours with naturally high fiber and protein. Ancient Grains are varying forms and blends of flours from such grains as amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.
Bob’s Red Mill Inc. (www.bobsredmill.com), Milwaukie, Ore., is the ancient grain pioneer, providing hundreds of stone-ground grain flours, legume flours and finished products for more than three decades, with special emphasis on organic and gluten-free.
“Developed with their little brains in mind,” Wonder+ Headstart bread has whole grain and omega-3 DHA.
AHD International, Atlanta, just rolled out its chia flour ingredient in January. “Chia flour offers producers of finished baked goods a gluten-free, omega-3-rich alternative to white flour,” says President John Alkire. “Chia flour allows baked goods manufacturers to target consumers suffering from gluten intolerance or celiac disease, as well as those looking for an enhanced nutritional profile in their favorite comfort foods and baked desserts. Chia flour can be used in a variety of breads and baked snacks, cakes, cookies and brownies. Its high omega-3 and fiber content can also help to maintain healthy blood glucose markers and promote healthy cholesterol levels.”
Beans, peas and lentils (pulses) can be made into flour, and they have “enormous potential as disease-fighting agents and contributors to good health,” according to Peter Watts, director of market innovation for Pulse Canada (www.pulsecanada.com), Winnipeg, Manitoba. “They have been shown to lower cholesterol and help with blood sugar control, satiety and gut health.” They also are naturally high in fiber and protein.
Go Ahead and Go Nuts
The addition of nuts and seeds to baked goods always has been a popular and easy way to boost health in a formulation. While almonds are one of the most popular nuts in healthful baking because of their high protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin, recent research shows almond skins contain levels of antioxidant flavonoids similar to many fruits and vegetables, according to Karen Lapsley, director of scientific affairs for the Almond Board of California.
According to Aaron Brown, pastry faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America, using almonds in better-for-you baked goods is a way to incorporate flavor and healthful fats. “In baked goods such as scones, muffins, cookies and quick breads, almond flour has a tenderizing effect, making the end product more delicate and crumbly,” Brown says.
The combination of almond flour and whole-grain flour produces a lighter, more delicate baked good than could be produced with whole grain flour alone. In breads, using almond flour produces an appealing contrast in texture, offering a satisfying “bite” or crunch to the bread.
Note to Marketers
George Eckrich, owner of Dr. Kracker Inc. (www.drkracker.com), Dallas, points out an aspect of healthy baking not usually considered: packaging, that is the “Easy To Handle” factor.
“Consumers expect few difficulties in product handling at all stages of consumption,” he reports, “including buying, carrying, opening, using and disposing — products with a design or package that provides a real benefit.”
Among other examples, he points to flexible, recloseable and pourable packages that do a better job of preserving product. Ecology is part of this, and Eckrich notes today’s consumers actively “look for products that display a promise of respect for nature, animals, the environment in general and help preserve or save the planet for future generations.”

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