Formulation challenges: To obtain a quality baked product, the age-old adage, “you get what you pay for,” still stands. Fancy grades of pecans offer less bitterness and less foreign material, such as shell. This is especially critical if the pecans will be used as toppings for items such as cookies and cakes, as the pecans will be one of the first things a consumer tastes, one nuts supplier says. “A consumer is looking for a crisp, light nut with a good aroma and flavor profile, and pecans definitely deliver on this,” the supplier says. “Not only do nuts have excellent shelf lives but they also add value to your products.”
Health benefits: One serving (28 grams) has 20 grams of fat, which includes 2 grams of saturated fat. Pecans have high contents of oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. Scientists believe that these fatty acids reduce levels of “bad” LDL—cholesterol that promotes coronary heart disease—while keeping constant the levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, the kind that protects the heart. Pecans also offer a “good source” of fiber and more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, the antioxidant vitamin E, several B vitamins, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Applications: While most people think of pecans only in pie, these nuts also find applications in other baked goods such as quick breads, cookies and cakes. Pecans are plentiful in an old southern favorite, pecan pie.
Formulation challenges: “Pistachios complement the flavor of other nuts and work well in either sweet or savory bakery applications, a pistachio supplier says. “A combination of pistachios and almonds has proved popular and has been appearing in a number of products such as biscotti and cookies.” In addition, pistachio processors are able to supply this nut in many different ways, so it is important that bakers know their exact pistachio specifications and needs before purchasing, she says.
Health benefits: A good source of protein and complex carbohydrates, each 1-oz. serving of pistachios contains more than 10% of the daily value for dietary fiber, vitamin B6, thiamine, magnesium, copper and phosphorus. Pistachios especially are rich in phytosterols, compounds directly associated with lowering cholesterol levels.
Applications: Finely diced pistachios go well on top of chocolate cakes, because pistachios’ rich buttery tastes and unique light green color add a touch of decadence to desserts. In combination with red fruits such as cranberries, pistachios add a festive holiday appearance to baked goods. Pistachios also work well chopped and used in biscotti, or crushed and used in scones, breads, pastries and baklava.
Formulation challenges: “Bakers who want to improve the flavors of their products and add some textural attributes as well can add walnut meal in their batters and then subsequently as a topping after baking,” one nuts supplier says. “However, do not put nuts into moist batter that will not be baked right away, as time exposed to moisture makes the nuts soggy and lowers their shelf lives,” he says.
Health benefits: Walnuts are unique in their high omega-3 fatty acid contents (2.6 grams per ounce) in comparison with other nuts. This omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), plays an important role in the regulation of inflammatory immune reactions and blood pressure. Studies also show that ALA reduces the risk of arthritis, and prevents coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Applications: Walnuts work well in date nut and banana nut breads and fruitcakes. They also complement the flavor of chocolate in brownies and go well with oatmeal bars and nut rolls or logs.
Formulation challenges: Bakers find that adding diced hazelnuts and meal in the formulation gives an even distribution of flavor to breads, cakes and muffins. However, when part of the flour in a recipe is replaced with hazelnut meal, the structure contributed from the gluten decreases and recipe adjustments may need to be made depending on the final product. For example, while cookies are fairly hearty and require minimal, if any, ingredient adjustments to achieve their specific cookie structure, breads or cakes require the addition of vital wheat gluten and egg and butter adjustments. Replacing part of the flour in a bakery item with hazelnut meal will produce a lower carbohydrate product.
Health benefits: Hazelnuts have the second highest level of vitamin E and vitamin B6 of all the nuts. They also are rich sources of several important minerals such as phosphorous, potassium, zinc, magnesium and selenium. Hazelnuts contain about 10% dietary fiber, 15% protein, very low levels of saturated fats and high levels of the “good-for-you” monounsaturated fats per serving.
Applications: “Hazelnuts work quite well when formulating indulgent baked goods,” one hazelnut supplier says. “The unique, slightly sweet flavor profile of hazelnuts really complements chocolate. Chocolate-hazelnut biscotti is a popular bakery food.” Hazelnuts are sold in many forms: whole, blanched, diced, sliced, meal, butter (a creamy, smooth spread prepared without sugar) and paste (prepared with sugar).
Formulation challenges: “With all of the numerous varieties and grades of almonds that are available, the challenge is in deciding which form of this mild flavored nut works best in a particular baker’s application,” an almond supplier says. Almonds have one of the longest shelf lives of all of the tree nuts, especially sliced almonds, which can keep well for over one year.
Health benefits: Almonds are an excellent source of protein: one serving (28 grams or 20-25 almonds) provides 7 grams. Almonds also are rich in calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. In fact, a 1-oz. serving of almonds supplies as much calcium as one-quarter cup of milk, 21% of the daily recommended intake (DRI) for magnesium and 15% of the RDI of phosphorous. The monounsaturated fat is primarily oleic acid, the same type of monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil.
Almond skins contain phytochemicals such as flavonoids and anthocyanins. These compounds offer protection from disease and oxidative stress. Almonds are a great source of these powerful antioxidants, which team up with vitamin E to provide even extra protection.
Applications: Bakers can use almonds and almond meal to give savory flavored crackers rich nutty tastes. While sliced almonds go well as a topping for pastries and Danish, blanched almonds give a nice color contrast as toppings for chocolate cakes. Bakers who want distinct European flavors for their bakery foods should use almond paste or marzipan. Almond prices also are becoming less expensive with the arrival of larger harvests each year. “If a baker is looking for a stronger burst of flavor in a cookie or cake, using roasted almonds will do the trick and also add some color,” the supplier says.
Ingredient: Poppy seeds
Formulation challenges: Poppy seeds have a crunchy texture and a nutty flavor, and have been used to flavor cakes, cookies and Danish. Poppy seed filling is prepared by combining poppy seeds, sugar or a combination of sweeteners, starch and spices. The poppy seed filling holds onto moisture and makes bakery foods soft and tender, thus improving their eating qualities.
Health benefits: Although very small, poppy seeds are composed of 40% to 50% oil that is rich in unsaturated fats, such as the two essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic. Poppy seeds also have less than 10% saturated fat. A 1/3 oz. of poppy seeds (a mere tablespoon’s worth) has more than 10% of the daily value for calcium.
Applications: Preparing sweet pastries with poppy seed fillings have been a very popular European tradition for centuries. There are circular tarts from Czechoslovakia named kolache as well as triangular buttery cookies called hamantaschen.
Formulation challenges: Although flax can replace all of the oil or shortening in a recipe in a ratio of three parts milled flax to one part oil or 8% to 10% (flour basis), one flax supplier says, to maintain the same texture and consistency in these bakery foods, bakers must increase water by up to 75% (based on the flax weight added) to compensate for the increased fiber content and increase yeast by up to 15%. Additionally, the bread is likely to have a browner crust so an adjustment to lower the oven temperature is recommended, she says.
Health benefits: Research suggests that substances in flaxseeds called lignans may protect against breast, prostate and other hormone-sensitive cancers. Flaxseed also contains twice the amount of heart protective omega-3 fatty acids as found in fish oil. In 2004, FDA approved a nutrient content claim for omega-3s which states that only 1.3 grams of flaxseed (260 mg ALA omega-3) per serving is needed to make a claim of a “high” or “excellent” source of omega-3s.
Applications: Milled flaxseed traditionally has been used alone or in combination with other grains in breads, rolls and bagels. However, milled flaxseed also is used in cookies, muffins and granola bars. Canada Bread and Natural Ovens Bakery have successfully used flaxseed to enhance their products’ wholesome tastes as well as nutritional value.