Millions of New Year’s resolutions already have been abandoned. Exercise programs have been shelved and dietary habits are back to pre-holiday levels. It’s not a good thing, but it is a reality.
High-volume bakers should be thankful that things are back to normal. The past few New Years have brought on serious hangovers of bad press for the baking industry. From fad diets to anti-carb crusaders, the post-New Year’s buzz has been less than kind to bakers.
This year, however, it appears that the baking industry will skate through the first quarter of 2006 with minimal damage (although mandatory trans-fat labeling has the potential to make the industry a target again). Instead of focusing on bad carbs versus good carbs versus Atkins versus South Beach, everyone seems to agree that the focus of 2006 will be the growing prominence of whole grains.
This bodes well for the baking industry. Along with increased nutrition, whole grains bring increased price points and margins. The only downside to the whole grain craze is getting consumers in all demographic brackets to accept these products. Simply put, how do bakers get children and white-bread loyalists to make the jump to whole grains?
White whole wheat flour has stepped up as one answer to this question. Already, many large bakeries have made big splashes with white whole wheat breads that contain whole grain nutrition in a product aimed at mimicking white bread’s taste, texture and appearance. Ingredient suppliers also have made big public relations splashes with new white whole wheat flours and varieties.
| Sara Lee Food & Beverage’s white whole wheat strategy focuses on blends of white whole wheat flour and enriched white flour. Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White bread contains 70% enriched white flour and 30% white whole wheat flour. |
Myth: White whole wheat flour is a new variety of flour
“White whole wheat flour seems to be real big in the news, but it has been out for quite some time,” a technical manager at a large flour mill says. “The white wheat kernel has been around for a long time, but the industry basically classified hard red winter wheats and hard white winter wheats as simply hard winter wheats.”
White wheat is a general classification for a variety of wheats that include hard white winter wheat, hard white spring wheat and soft white wheat. Although the white wheat kernel is not new to the baking industry, the process by which this wheat is milled has paved the way for a whole wheat product that has a comparable texture to white flour.
The white whole wheat flour used in the baking industry mainly comes from hard white winter wheat and hard white spring wheat. However, growing demand from cookie manufacturers has caused one white wheat supplier to introduce a soft white wheat variety.
There are only a few national suppliers of white whole wheat flour in the industry, and each has a different approach to growing and milling white whole wheat flour. Some millers use standard hard white wheat for the purpose of milling it into a whole wheat flour. Other millers grow specific breeds of white wheat to create a flour with specific taste, color and functional attributes.
“Through the milling process, we can impact texture, but in order to obtain the desired appearance and flavor, we need to drive that through genetics,” one white whole wheat flour supplier says. “We’ve gone through a lot of analysis and come up with varieties of white whole wheat with ideal colors and flavors.”
Myth: White whole wheat flour is white
Despite its name, white whole wheat flour is not white. Flour millers interviewed for this story describe the flour’s color as “tan,” “tannish brownish” and “golden.” On the color spectrum of bread, white whole wheat products lie between white bread and wheat bread. White whole wheat flour is not bleached, therefore, the flour has a tan hue.
Myth: White wheat has a coarse texture.
Similar to most flours, millers can process white whole wheat into a variety of grinds, from fine to coarse. One flour miller uses a patent-pending milling process to drive white whole wheat’s particle size profile to match traditional flour. Other millers also produce white whole wheat flour with the texture and fineness of traditional white flour, while also manufacturing coarser grinds for products that require a more coarse texture.
Myth: White wheat tastes the same as red wheat
White whole wheat flour lacks the bitterness and “wheaty” taste found in hard red winter wheat because it does not contain phenolic compounds found in red wheats. Therefore, the product often is described as having a “sweeter” flavor profile than hard red winter wheats. However, the “sweet” designation can cause confusion, according to one flour miller. “White whole wheat flour is sometimes described as sweet, but it isn’t a higher sugar product and it isn’t nutritionally different than whole wheat flour,” the flour miller says.
| Interstate Bakeries Corp.’s White Bread Fans 100% Whole Grain bread uses 100% whole wheat flour in its formulation while still maintaining the taste, texture and appearance of white bread, the company says. |
Formulating and manufacturing bakery foods with white whole wheat flour is a challenge for bakers who are not familiar with whole wheat flour. Similar to most whole wheat flours, white whole wheat flour has a low protein content that requires additional gluten. “A lot of bakers replace their 14% protein bakers whole wheat flour with white whole wheat flour, and it hasn’t worked well because they didn’t add extra gluten,” one flour miller says. “This disappoints people because the product is not a direct substitution.”
One manufacturer’s white whole wheat flour variety is modified to have an increased protein content compared to standard whole wheat flours. The product’s protein content is between 13% and 14%. “This variety is driven from a spring/winter cross, so it actually behaves like a 50/50 spring/winter blend because it has spring parentage,” the flour supplier says. “We’re sensitive to bakers’ manufacturing requirements, and one is certainly the cost of gluten addition. We’re constantly looking at how to reduce gluten addition in formulas.”
Other white whole wheat flours on the market have lower protein contents in the range of 11% to 13%. These flours need anywhere from 3% to 4% more gluten and additional water. Increased water content is required because the coarseness of the grain affects mix times and gluten structure. In addition, the flour absorbs the water at a slower rate, which may cause bakers to adjust mix times and mixing processes.
Myth: All white wheat products are the same
The two most public white whole wheat product launches have been Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White bread and Interstate Bakeries Corp’s (IBC) White Bread Fans 100% Whole Grain bread under the Wonder® brand. Both products debuted last year to similar fanfare from major media outlets.
Despite the products’ similar launch dates and target markets, they are vastly different. Sara Lee’s product contains a blend of 70% enriched white flour and 30% white whole wheat flour. The flour blend, the company says, ensures that the product tastes and appears like white bread.
IBC’s white whole wheat product is 100% whole grain and lists whole wheat flour as the main ingredient on the ingredient legend. The company says the product is slightly tan, but otherwise tastes and feels like white bread.
Manufacturing a product with 100% white whole wheat flour is difficult, but can be done, flour millers say. “You really have to be on top of formulations to make a 100% white whole wheat product,” one flour miller says. “Every employee has to do their jobs correctly every time, every day.”
Blends of white flour and white whole wheat flour are viewed as transitional products, helping consumers add more whole grains to their diets without shocking their taste preferences. Sara Lee says that using more than 30% of the white whole wheat flour caused a significant drop in consumer acceptance.
Myth: White wheat is only for bread
Although the bread industry has garnered all the white whole wheat headlines, this beneficial ingredient has applications in a variety of bakery foods, including tortillas, pizza crusts and cookies. As demand increases, flour millers plan to launch new varieties with improved performance in specific applications.
“In the flour business, a new variety has to be a pull-through effect instead of a push effect,” one flour miller says. “When bakers start asking for it, then we know the demand is real, and now bakers are asking for it.”