A variety of nuts and seeds can improve the health content and functional properties of bakery foods.
Almonds represent one of the most popular tree nuts in America and are sold in about 40 different forms.
Sunflower kernels are commonly found in multi-grain breads, but they also can be used in muffins, bagels and granola bars.
Nuts and seeds come in different shapes, sizes, colors and textures and represent a versatile ingredient for high-volume bakers. These popular foods and ingredients have been consumed since ancient times, and in some civilizations, represent a staple food. When used in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet, nuts and seeds can supply more than just taste. Nuts contain essential linoleic and linolenic fatty acids, dietary fiber, phytochemicals, vitamin E, and are an excellent source of protein and important minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc.
Because they are a plant product, nuts are devoid of any cholesterol, which is good news for health-oriented consumers concerned with heart disease and certain cancers. Many scientific studies show that people who regularly eat nuts, even once a week, decrease their risk for developing coronary heart disease by 25% compared to consumers that avoid nuts.
Although nuts have received a bad rap over the years due to their high fat content, consumer perceptions are beginning to change given last year's approval of the Food & Drug Administration health claim on the heart health benefits of nuts. The new claim states, "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ozs. per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." The average nutritional content (based on 100 grams of edible portion) for a variety of nuts and seeds is listed in a chart on this page.
Nuts and seeds can be used in a variety of ways to enhance the taste and appeal of bakery foods. They can be used whole to decorate the tops of pastries and pies; chopped or diced to provide texture and crunch in breads, cookies and cakes; or finely ground into a meal for use as a partial substitute for wheat flour and as a flavoring agent in bakery foods.
Almonds represent one of the most popular tree nuts in America and are sold in about 40 different forms. "The versatility and consumer appeal of almonds has earned them longstanding popularity," one baking industry source says. "But, they also fit with the trends of today including high-protein/ low-carbohydrate diets. Whether consumers are looking for protein, calcium, or wheat-free foods, almonds provide that healthy halo."
Italian biscotti cookies have been a growing niche market for almonds. These products use blanched almonds that are either whole or chopped. According to one nut supplier, the blanching process consists of putting whole almonds through a hot-water treatment to inactivate enzymes and peel off the brown skin. "The net result is a nut with a glossy, smooth white exterior, a subtle taste and a premium quality image," the nut supplier says.
When used as a topping for darkcolored chocolate cakes, whole blanched almonds provide a stark color contrast. Almonds also can be slivered or thinly sliced to add textural dimension to pastries and other bakery foods.
Almonds also can be finely ground into flour or meal. Almond flour and almond meal are manufactured without the use of additives or preservatives and can be processed to specified mesh sizes, from fine or coarse. These products are light in color, mild in taste and ideally blend with other ingredients, especially delicately flavored fruits such as berries and apples. "Almond meal can be used to add texture to cookies, breads and pie doughs, and makes great crusts for cheesecakes," one nut supplier says. "Almond flour can be used as a 1:1 replacer for wheat flour in cakes to benefit those people who are gluten intolerant."
Both almond meal and almond flour provide a low-carbohydrate alternative to wheat flour, and also enhance flavor and add moisture retention to improve shelf-life, one nut supplier says.
Besides providing textural and appearance functions, almonds also can be roasted for an added flavor punch. "Almonds with or without their skins are dry roasted for about one hour with no extra oils added in the process," one nut supplier says. "These ingredients work well as toppings for Danish, cookies or muffins."
Another important almond use is almond paste, which is a staple ingredient in the baking industry. Almond paste is soft and spreadable, and adds flavor and richness as a filling in croissants, Danish, macaroons, marzipan and cake frostings. Marzipan is a sweet, pliable paste made from blanched, ground almonds; sugar; and water (glycerin optional). Almond paste can be added to doughs to help retain moisture and can assist in prolonging a product's shelf life.
"There are several parameters that determine the final quality of an almond paste, including the quality of the almonds used, milling and mixing processes, and cooking method, which can actually act to de-bitter the almonds and improve their flavor," one almond paste supplier says. "Another critical factor is the final moisture content of the paste, which ranges from 11% to 14%. If it is too high, water can leech out and create sogginess in the dough."
Nut butters, which consist of ground nuts that have not been blanched, can replace animal and vegetable fats, add sweetness and richness to bakery foods, and provide an excellent source of protein. Nut butters or pastes can be used in a variety of pastry fillings, coffee cakes, and other fresh and frozen bakery foods. A variety of nut butters are available including almond, pistachio, hazelnut and walnut. The nuts are dry-roasted and then milled to a smooth consistency by being fed between two rotating plates.
Who says good things can't come in small packages? Seeds such as sunflower kernels, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and caraway are small, yet they deliver significant taste and texture appeal to consumers. Although herb seeds, such as caraway are popular in breads, other seeds such as poppy or sesame are used in a variety of bakery foods, including bagels, muffins and even fillings.
Poppy seed fillings in pastries and cakes have long been popular in Slavic countries in Europe and also have their niche market in America as consumers seem eager to try unique and different ethnic foods. "The type of product being made will dictate whether a poppy butter or filling is called for in the recipe. The differences between a butter and a filling involve the percentage of seeds used and the manufacturing process," one industry source says. "A butter will generally have a higher percentage of seeds and will be processed to a finer particle size. Other ingredients such as starch and stabilizers, vanilla and spices work to improve both the taste and textural characteristics."
Sunflower kernels are high in protein, calcium and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Sunflower kernels are commonly found in multigrainbreads, but they also can be used in muffins, bagels and granola bars. Roasted sunflower kernels add enhanced nutty taste to products but are usually not used as a topping because the residual oil from the roasting process prevents the seeds from adhering to bakery foods, one nut and seed supplier notes. Instead of as a topping, roasted sunflower kernels can be mixed into the dough before baking.
Baking with flaxseeds
Flax is one of the oldest cultivated crops in history and although it has been popular in Europe for centuries, it is rapidly gaining acceptance and popularity in North America. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of many nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, which also can be found in fish. According to many published reports, omega-3 fatty acids have several health benefits, including improving cognitive function and lowering serum triglycerides. Additionally, flaxseeds are a low-carbohydrate ingredient with only 3% simple carbohydrates, and are high in fiber, containing about 28% dietary fiber. Both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber are present in flaxseeds. Flaxseeds also contain 20% protein as well as a variety of minerals and polyphenolic antioxidants.
Baking with flaxseed is relatively simple. Stabilized, whole-grain, finemilled flaxseed flour is typically used in bakery applications because flaxseeds need to be cracked or fully milled in order for their full nutritional value to be available to the body. Because flaxseed absorbs water, the water content of a formula may need to be re-balanced upwards.
"Flaxseeds absorb water and provide binding, especially for low carbohydrate bakery products," one flaxseed supplier says. "Up to 20% of the flour in many bakery products can be replaced with flax. The mucilaginous fiber in flax helps to replace some of the structural properties of gluten in wheat flour. The soluble fiber also makes the flaxseed 'slippery' when wet, so it can be used to replace some or all of the fat in muffins and breads."
The versatile ingredient replaces fat in a 3:1 ratio to the fat being replaced. "Optimum usage levels are about 15% (flour basis) or 8% of the total dry ingredient weight," one flaxseed supplier says. "To compensate for its water-binding ability, the amount of water added to a formula should be increased by an amount equivalent to 75%, by weight, of the flaxseed added. Increase the amount of yeast added by 25% to maintain the same proof time, texture, and consistency."
The applications for nuts and seeds are as diverse as the forms they can take. And, bakers are discovering the profitability of using these versatile ingredients in bakery food formulas. Recent scientific studies only confirm what people around the world have known for centuries. If eaten as part of a well-balanced diet, nuts and seeds add much more than just taste. They also provide many essential nutrients and are beneficial for maintaining good health.
Nutritional Content of Nuts & Seeds (mean values per 100g edible portion)
|Nut/seed|| || || || || || || || |
|Almond|| || || || || || || || |
|Cashew|| || || || || || || || |
|Hazalnut|| || || || || || || || |
|Macadamia|| || || || || || || || |
|Peanut|| || || || || || || || |
|Pecan|| || || |
| || || || || |
|Pistachio|| || || || || || || || |
|Sunflower kernels|| || || || || || || || |
| || || || || || || || |
*SF = Saturated fatty acids, MUF = Monounsaturated fatty acids, PUF = Polyunsaturated fatty acids. All fatty acids are calculated as a percentage of the total fat.