Natural and healthful ingredients give bakers label-friendly options.
In today's competitive world, a clean label gives bakers an edge. More consumers regularly scan labels to see what ingredients products contain before they buy them. Several different types of ingredients contribute to a clean label and give consumers the perception of a premium, value-added product.
All-natural and/or organic items, such as real fruit pieces, fruit juices, nuts and seeds, whole grains and functional ingredients, help a product stand out for its wholesomeness and also can offer improved flavor. Creating baked products without trans fats also is perceived as more healthful. Such ingredient labels for cookies and breads will read better to consumers because they won't appear as a lengthy listing of unknown chemicals.
While staying ahead of the competition is never easy, especially in niche markets, having an active new product development department focused on exceeding customer expectations is key to success. “Creating a variety of artisan breads with cleaner labels offers health benefits to the consumer, as well as an added bonus of improved product processing,” says Dennis Rossetti, president, Italian Home Bakery Ltd., Ontario, Canada.
Typically, breads contain whole wheat flour, but after the milling process, the nutritious bran and germ are stripped away. The bran is reconstituted to an average percentage found in whole wheat, but the germ is not added back because it is susceptible to rancidity and would shorten shelf life. However, the use of whole grains is preferred for added health benefits, and the USDA pyramid now recommends at least 3 oz. of whole grains be consumed each day. “Ancient whole grains, such as spelt, kamut and quinoa, can be used to replace refined wheat flour up to 50 percent and have the added benefit of being less allergenic,” Rossetti notes.
Other terms that enhance a bread's clean label and image include multigrain and organic. However, some organic ingredients are expensive or difficult to obtain in a timely fashion. “Organic raisins have been notoriously difficult to source, so long lead times need to be built into the product development process to ensure that our company is ahead of the game,” says Chelle Blaszczyk, marketing director, Natural Ovens Bakery, Manitowoc, Wis.
While it can be challenging to change an existing ingredient label and remove artificial dough conditioners, such as sodium stearoyl lactylate, ADA or DATEM, it can be done without compromising product quality. “Proprietary enzyme technology can replace these artificial chemicals and actually improve artisan bread appearance by allowing the generation of characteristic outer-surface blistering,” Rossetti adds.
Ascorbic acid also serves as a dough conditioner, providing strength and height to baked products; and even though the source of vitamin C is synthetic, this ingredient has a positive perception among consumers as being all-natural. “While there is not always a clear cut line of distinction between what ingredients constitute a ‘clean label,’ the shorter the list the better,” Blaszczyk notes.
Flax seed offers many health benefits. Studies have shown flax seed is associated with a reduction in total cholesterol, including LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. Besides the beneficial effects on heart health, it also has been discovered that the omega-3 fat and high fiber in flax may play a role in the fight against diabetes. Flax is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber; 1 oz. of flax provides 32 percent of the USDA's recommended daily intake of fiber. This beneficial seed is even a key player in the fight against cancer, particularly breast and colon cancer, because of its high levels of lignans and alpha linolenic acid. Experts recommend a daily intake of at least 1,600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, but only a small percentage of the U.S. population meets at least half the daily requirement.
Ground flax seed is added successfully to baked products at 300 mg to 400 mg per serving and provides an excellent source of omega-3. Unsaturated fats in flax, however, can be subject to rancidity, and a “fishy” flavor might occur at levels above 400 mg per serving. “We have found that the flax seed is easier to process in extruded products, such as bars, and that heavier flavors, such as chocolate, have superior flavor masking abilities, which allow higher levels of flax to be used,” Blaszczyk says.
“Oatmeal can also be used in cookies and bars to augment the heart-healthy, cholesterol-lowering effects of omega-3s from flax seed, and it has a very positive image with the public. Our whole grain cereal bars contain the equivalent of a bowl of instant oatmeal, perfect for people on the run. The oatmeal assists in prolonging the bar's shelf life by helping to keep the product moist,” notes John DePaolis, general manager, Country Choice Organic, Eden Prairie, Minn. It's also important to remember that at the end of the day, just because a product is made with healthful ingredients doesn't mean that it will fly off the store shelves unless it tastes great, DePaolis adds.
Cut the fat
The baking industry has come a long way in removing trans fats from its products since the FDA ruling requiring mandatory labeling took effect in 2005. Trans fats have been shown to be even more harmful than saturated fats and are associated not only with a five-fold increase in heart disease, but also with Type II diabetes, some cancers, obesity and insulin resistance. Fortunately, more alternatives now exist to eliminate trans-fat oils and shortenings, and still provide the same mouthfeel and light, crispy texture to cakes, cookies, crackers, pies and breads.
These drop-in replacements include all-natural palm oil, oils with a high level of oleic acid (i.e. canola), which are suitable for high-heat applications, and inter-esterified, non-hydrogenated shortenings, which are relatively low in saturated fat. “Although bakers have more options in choosing trans-fat replacements, comparative studies are still needed to ensure the re-formulated product retains the same optimal sensory properties as before. High oleic oils were actually able to give a more consistent product for soft bake and snacking cookies than palm oil,” DePaolis notes.
“Trans-fat replacers still have their own unique sensory characteristics. For instance, tropical fats (i.e., palm oil) tend to mask flavors due to their ‘fattier’ mouthfeel, and the use of these replacements will typically require some formulation adjustment of the ratios of sugar and flour to compensate for textural and flavor changes,” says Andrew Close, R&D director, Bake'n Joy Foods, North Andover, Mass.
However, some traditional products, such as butter, still can be effective and work well on a product label. “While butter was out of favor with consumers several years ago, it appears to be making a comeback in baked products due to the negative publicity that trans fat-laden margarine has received,” Close concludes.
Commercial bakers currently can choose between a wide variety of ingredient options that can be used to create more healthful products that have “cleaner” labels, and yet still taste great. While this is good news for consumers, it also is good for long-term business sales and growth.