by Ann Juttelstad, contributing editor
General Mills reformulated its line of Big G cereals to contain whole grains. The company launched a massive public relations campaign to coincide with the launch.
Bakeries throughout the country are promoting the whole grain content of their breads by peppering product packaging with whole grain and whole wheat references.
As the low-carbohydrate craze continues to diminish, it is a good time to look back at this fad diet and determine its short-and long-term effects on the baking industry. No one will argue that the short-term implications of the low-carbohydrate craze damaged the reputation of bakery foods and forced many bakeries to close their doors or scale back operations. But can an argument be made that the long-term impact of the carbohydrate craze will prove beneficial for the baking industry?
Although the industry will not know the answer to this question for a couple of years, it is evident that the lowcarbohydrate diet has bred a new generation of products that may restore the perception of carbohydrates as a healthful nutrient. These products substitute whole grains for refined flour and tout laundry lists of healthful benefits.
The growth of whole grain bakery foods has received a standing ovation from consumers, dieticians, government and, most importantly, bakers. Consumers have turned to these products to improve their health, the government clearly has stated that whole grains are a good thing, and bakers are reaping the benefits of products that possess higher price points and increased margins.
More importantly, it appears that whole grains are here to stay. "It's more of a lifestyle issue than a fad," one flour miller says.
Whole grain's representation as a lifestyle issue, and not just another diet, reinforces whole grain's potential impact on the baking industry. The losses occurred during the low-carbohydrate fad may now be recouped if bakers formulate whole grain breads.
Whole grains are just what they sound like: the entire seed, or kernel, of a plant. Unfortunately, this definition does not appear on ingredient listings. As a result, consumers often buy "brown bread" thinking it contains whole grains.
According to the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC), whole grains must consist of the entire kernel, which has three components: bran, germ and endosperm.
Whole grains are incorporated into bakery food formulas in a variety of forms, including whole, milled, ground, cracked or split. When milled into flour for bakery food formulas, the AACC says that the flour "must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain" to be considered a whole wheat flour.
Besides whole wheat flours, bakers can use a variety of whole grains, including corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt and rye.
Refined flours are not whole grains because the refining process removes the bran and germ. Bran, wheat germ and other fiber ingredients also are not whole grains, although they can be used to improve a product's nutritional properties.
Using whole wheat flours in bakery food formulas poses many challenges. "It's kind of like a competition that we used to have at the state fair," Tom Lehman, American Institute of Baking's (AIB) director of bakery assistance, says. "We would eat a cracker, then chew a piece of bubble gum and try to blow a bubble. It was a delicate combination of getting enough elasticity in the gum and the right particle size in the cracker. If the cracker crumbs were either too coarse or too fine, the crumbs would break the matrix of the gum."
In the same manner, the coarse bran and wheat germ of the caryopsis break up the matrix of the gluten in dough. As a result, whole grain bakery foods generally require the addition of vital wheat gluten and other dough conditioners and strengtheners. These ingredients improve the gluten network of bakery foods, making them more palatable and attractive to consumers.
And that is just the beginning. Whole grain formulas also require more water, emulsifiers, shortenings and mold inhibitors.
"Whole wheat flours are an adventure when applied to baked goods," one supplier of whole wheat flours says. "Shelf life is dramatically cut."
Bakers can increase the shelf lives of whole grain bakery foods by using honey, which has a built-in shelf life stabilizer, instead of sugar.
Although whole grain breads can run on standard bread lines, careful attention must be paid to every aspect of the process. According to Kirk O'Donnell, AIB's vice president of education, whole grain breads have a low tolerance to overmixing. As a result, bakers are urged to reduce mixing speeds, use colder doughs and formulate with a lower sponge ratio. O'Donnell also recommends prehydrating some coarse grains used in whole or multi-grain formulas.
Whole grain makeup is accomplished on traditional makeup equipment with minor adjustments. Whole grain dough's stiffness may cause problems on a dough rounder, O'Donnell says. For bakers using sheeters and moulders, O'Donnell says whole grain dough has a tendency to oversheet.
Proofing and baking whole grain products requires longer times than traditional pan breads. In the proofer, a whole grain loaf will not spring like a white pan bread loaf. In the oven, whole grain products require longer bake times at lower temperatures because of the denseness of the products, O'Donnell states.
Whole grain advancements
As consumer interest in whole grain products increases, so does the scientific push to develop new types of whole wheat flours. Many bakeries are using a new generation of white whole wheat flours to create bread products with the nutritional benefits of whole wheat flour and the taste and appearance of white bread.
One white wheat flour supplier produces a wheat that is a sweet variety of hard winter wheat, thus eliminating the sometimes harsh taste of whole wheat breads. The wheat supplier manufactures the white wheat with a patent-pending process that mills the grain into a fine particle size, which imparts a smooth texture to the bread, and has a much broader appeal to people who are used to products made with white flour. The flour has a higher absorption rate and lower gluten content than white flour, resulting in longer mix times.
White whole wheat flours have a pale, golden color and mild flavor, and can be used in bread, pizza crusts, tortillas, cinnamon rolls, hamburger buns and pastries. A soft wheat variety also exists, and is used in cakes and cookies.
A new type of whole grain soy flour contains 80% more dietary fiber than whole wheat, the ingredient supplier says, and can be used to obtain Food and Drug Administration-approved claims for protein and fiber.
Although demand for whole grain products is high, a deficit exists in consumer education. Reports estimate that the average consumer eats one serving of whole grains per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming three, 1-oz. servings per day.
"To move from one to three servings per day would mean an additional 200 billion servings of whole grains per year that must be manufactured, placed on store shelves, purchased and eaten," the Whole Grains Council says. "Closing the whole grains gap is more of an educational hurdle than an economic one for consumers."
The Whole Grains Council is a consortium of food industry members, scientists and chefs working with Oldways Preservation Trust to increase consumption of whole grains. Its 50 members include large and small companies, from General Mills and Kellogg's to Barbara's Bakery and Hodgson Mill.
The Whole Grains Council created the whole grain stamp for foods containing certain levels of whole grains. The stamp makes it easier for consumers to identify whole grain products.
The stamp identifies three levels of whole grain products:
- A "Good Source" of whole grains has at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving
- An "Excellent Source" of whole grains has at least 16 grams of whole grain per serving
- A "100%/Excellent Source" of whole grains has at least 16 grams of whole grain per serving and contains no refined grains
Many companies, including Roman Meal Bread, Rudi's Organic Bakery, Great Harvest Bread and Bruegger's Bagels, have started using the whole grain stamp on their products, or are planning to in the near future.
General Mills also is trying to educate consumers through whole grain claims. Last year, the company filed a petition with Food and Drug Administration to establish the following whole grain descriptive claims:
- Excellent Source of Whole Grain: 16 grams or more per labeled serving
- Good Source of Whole Grain: 8 grams to 15 grams per labeled serving
- Made with Whole Grain: at least 8 grams per labeled serving
Although these claims will go far in promoting whole grains, incorporating the required levels is difficult for bakers due to bakery foods' high moisture content. As of press time, FDA has not acted on this petition.
However, FDA does allow a qualified health claim for whole grain products that meet the following requirements:
- Products must contain 51% or more whole grain per referenced amount (RA)
- Products must have a dietary fiber content of at least 3.0 grams per RA of 55 grams, 2.8 grams per RA of 45 grams, or 1.7 grams per RA of 35 grams
- Products must be low in fat, which FDA defines as 3.0 grams of fat or less per RA
If a product meets these requirements, it can be labeled, "Diets rich in whole grains and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers."
All of these claims provide many opportunities for bakers. Bakers also benefit from whole grain's improved ingredient and processing profiles and increased support from government and educational groups. These market trends give bakers a solid reason to jump on the whole grain bandwagon.
Muffin manufacturers join whole grain frenzy
Bread manufacturers are not the only bakers getting involved in whole grain production. Muffin manufacturers Main Street Gourmet, Akron, Ohio, and Bake'n Joy Foods Inc., Nort Andover, Mass., both launched muffin products manufactured with whole wheat flour.
Main Street Gourmet's Isabella's? Thaw & Sell Whole Grain Muffins come in three varieties, Blueberry, Honey Raisin Bran and Cranberry Apple Bran, and are a good source of fiber and are trans-fat free. The company also manufactures whole grain muffin batter that is all natural, transfat free, low fat and cholesterol free.
Bake'n Joy Foods' All Natural/Whole Wheat PANfree? predeposited muffin batters use white whole wheat flour. The 5.25-oz. products are available in the following varieties: Blueberry, Banana Nut, Corn, Cranberry Apple, Oatbran Raisin and Triple Berry.