Two major nut recalls caused renewed vigilance in GMP and HAACP programs. A reaffirmation of nuts' safety has bakers turning to nuts to boost products' nutritional profiles and appearance.
Bakers are reexamining how they use nuts because of two product recalls, one involving Salmonella typhimurium in peanut butter and peanut paste, and another involving salmonella in pistachios. The peanut incident was one of the largest FDA recalls in history. To date, more than 200 companies have voluntarily recalled more than 2,100 products. Many of the affected products were in the brownie, cookie, cake, pie, cracker and snack bar categories. The pistachio recall was much smaller and involved primarily snack bar, cake and pie products. These two events caused both the bakery and the nut industries to re-evaluate their processes and specifications. Following these incidents, the nut processors have improved their quality assurance programs, resulting in nut products that bakers can use with renewed confidence.
Bakers should remember that both the peanut and pistachio recalls were each linked to a single supplier. Peanut Corp. of America filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on February 20. Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc. resumed full production of roasted pistachio products June 1. The company reported it had taken aggressive and comprehensive actions to enhance its facility and process.
These events drove home a lesson to the entire food industry that food safety is critical. “Different nuts require different processes to achieve a kill step for pathogens. This process can be blanching, roasting, other heat treatment or gas sterilization,” says Bobby Tankersley, senior vice president-industrial sales, John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc., Elgin, Ill. “For example almonds can be blanched, while macadamias are typically dry roasted. Propylene oxide gas sterilization has long been approved for use on all nutmeats, and numerous steam or heat treatment processes now are validated for treatment of a number of raw nut applications. Bakers should rely on their supplier to verify that the appropriate validated kill step is used for each type of nut, and product specifications should address micro standards.”
Each nut variety's respective governing board works to ensure the safety and reputation of its product. The recent recall was the first ever to involve pistachios. Richard Matoian, executive director, Western Pistachio Association, Fresno, Calif., notes, “Pistachio processors are diligently working to strengthen food safety guidelines. This includes improved GAPs (good agricultural practices) and GMPs (good manufacturing practices).”
Processors are taking steps to ensure raw nuts are kept on separate lines from roasted and salted nuts to avoid cross contamination. Before the recall, salmonella testing was done only by customer request. In the future, salmonella testing will be standard and will be conducted by third party labs, he adds.
Almonds also go through safety procedures. “All almonds are pasteurized to eliminate pathogen risk before leaving California. The almond paste made with those almonds is a shelf stable product,” notes Priscilla Martell, culinary director, American Almond Products Co., Brooklyn, N.Y.
The California walnut industry produces the highest quality walnut kernels in the world while maintaining a superior food safety record. Walnuts have never been implicated in any foodborne illness outbreak in any market worldwide, says Michelle McNeil, marketing director, California Walnut Board & Commission, Folsom. “This is the result of both walnuts' unique botanical structure and an industry membership committed to safe practices,” she adds.
Many bakery manufacturers have revised their micro specifications for nuts and are now focusing on the positive ways that nuts can enhance their products. The addition of nuts contributes an interesting texture to bakery products and boosts consumer perception of overall product value. “A generous sprinkling of nuts on a brownie, cookie or muffin is a visual signal that the product is more upscale. Newer trends include more coated and flavored nuts, such as cinnamon glazed,” Tankersley notes. Traditionally the most popular nuts for baking have been walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts and cashews.
Peanuts— Peanuts and peanut butter traditionally have been the most cost-effective way to add nuts to bakery products. The peanut industry has been hit hard with food safety and allergen issues recently, but brighter days may be on the horizon. The Peanut & Tree Nut Processors Association website has posted news of a possible therapy that targets peanut allergies in children. In this research, doctors at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital taught a handful of children, once severely allergic to peanuts, to tolerate peanuts by feeding them small amounts. Although this treatment remains experimental, it offers hope for individuals who are allergic to peanuts.
Pistachios— Grown primarily in California, pistachios add unique flavor and color to bakery products. Pistachios are available in whole kernels, diced (large, medium, small, or fine), sliced, slivered or meal. They maintain their green color, even after being roasted, which makes them ideal for holiday bakery products. For example, adding green pistachios and red cranberries creates a great holiday biscotti, Matoian notes.
Almonds— Almond flour is proving popular for gluten-free products, such as pumpkin almond muffins. The moistness of pumpkin puree and the moisture-retaining properties of ground almonds along with rice flour work well to create a flavor system with a texture that mimics a product containing wheat. Almonds also boost the protein profile in gluten-free biscotti. Almonds in all forms work well in bakery applications. Coarsely chopped brown skin almonds add fiber, textural contrast and color in whole grain muffin and cookie applications.
“We're seeing many more sweet and savory introductions and here's where whole roasted almonds come into play. The furrows or ridges on their skins hold spices, sugar and salt. We're seeing sweet and salty almond toppings on everything from indulgent brownies to energy bars. Roasted granulated almonds are uniform in size and pack a powerful almond taste. Their crunchiness is maintained in buttercreams and chocolate coatings. Almond butter is a favorite for nutritional bars and increasingly used as a filling either alone or when paired with chocolate, spices or ingredients like coconut,” Martell says.
Walnuts— The combination of flavor, texture and versatility makes walnuts an indispensible ingredient for baking. “New baking applications include a Trail Mix Cookie from Tim Horton's coffee chain in the U.S and Canada,” McNeil says. Sweetbreads remain a popular product for walnut inclusion, and manufacturers are increasingly developing new breads that are non-sweet and savorier, with the addition of cream cheese and Camembert, he notes.
LaRocca Creative Cakes recently introduced a Walnut Caramel Pear cake featuring roasted pears and caramel mousse with walnuts and Costco offers a walnut-crusted caramel bourbon cheesecake, McNeil adds. While all of the USDA grades and standards for walnuts are excellent matches for baked products, the most popular types include pieces — medium and small (chopped or diced) — for ingredient usage and walnut halves for garnishing.
In addition to their textural qualities, adding nuts to bakery products can boost the nutritional profile. Walnuts with their polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) are a good source of magnesium and phosphorous, and they contain fiber, protein and antioxidants, McNeil says. “A 1-oz. serving of walnuts contains 2.5 grams essential alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant based form of omega-3 fatty acid,” he adds.
Almonds have been recognized as one of the more nutritional nuts. “The fiber content of natural almonds (with their brown skins) and the color contrast this provides make almonds ideal in whole grain muffins and breads. Almonds are a good source of protein and work well in healthful applications, such as granola, where sliced almonds mimic oats in the formula. Studies underway suggest that fiber in almonds may inhibit fat absorption in the body, another plus for adding them to the diet,” Martell says.
As with walnuts and almonds, pistachios also have health benefits. One serving of pistachios contains 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, plus potassium (9 percent daily value) and vitamin B6 (20 percent daily value), Matoian notes. The fat in pistachios is mostly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.
Consumers are becoming more health conscious regarding their snacking habits, and the inclusion of generous amounts of nuts are a great way to create more healthful bakery items. “There is always the temptation in an economic downturn to reduce the product lineup to the plain, simple and most economic items,” Tankersley notes. “But bakers should remember that consumers are also looking for indulgence in their snack items. Nuts are a great way to create indulgence and differentiate upscale products from the plain vanilla offering.”