Is high fiber the flavor of the day in the baking industry, or is it a strong trend that has potential beyond niche segments of the marketplace? This question is being asked in bakeries throughout North America. Everyone knows the benefits of fiber in a diet, but are consumers convinced that high-fiber breads taste good?
The baking industry has been waging this battle for years. Historically, fiber’s use in the baking industry has centered on reduced-calorie breads. In recent years, fiber received a boost in low-carbohydrate bakery foods, which relied on the ingredient to lower net carbohydrate counts.
Today, bakers are using fiber solely for the function of boosting fiber content. This novel idea reflects a shift in consumer preferences that started after the low-carbohydrate craze fizzled, and continues to gain steam as consumers switch preferences to more healthful bakery foods.
|Aunt Millie’s says its products under the Fiber for Life banner must be “excellent” sources of fiber.|
Unlike omega-3 fatty acids, whose health benefits are relatively new or unknown to most consumers, almost all consumers understand the importance of consuming fiber. Unfortunately, this understanding has failed to prompt fiber consumption. Studies say Americans eat about half of the fiber recommended by leading health authorities. Bakery foods offer the perfect opportunities to close the fiber gap, and many in the baking industry have taken significant steps to hype fiber in their bakery foods.
Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Downer’s Grove, Ill., produces a high-fiber bread under its Earth Grains brand. Earth Grains Extra Fiber contains 5 grams of fiber per slice, making it an “excellent” source of fiber. Two slices of the bread account for 35% of the daily value of fiber.
Although Sara Lee produces several high-fiber breads, the company understands the limitations of these products. “It’s definitely not a mainstream consumer that eats high-fiber bread,” says Matt Hall, a spokesperson for Sara Lee Food & Beverage. “High-fiber products are for consumers looking for added nutritional benefits in products.”
Hall’s comments signify the struggles and preconceived notions that many consumers have when the word “fiber” is attached to food products. Negative attitudes toward fiber derive from the once-common use of cellulose in low-calorie white breads. The thought of sawdust, as some consumers perceived it, in bakery foods was enough to scare many mainstream consumers away from high-fiber products.
This train of thought is changing, though, behind the efforts of bakers such as Sara Lee and Aunt Millie’s, Fort Wayne, Ind., which produces a line of bread products under the Fiber for Life banner. To qualify for the Fiber for Life designation, Aunt Millie’s says a product must be an “excellent” source of fiber.
To understand the potential of fiber in today’s marketplace, one must first get a grasp on what fiber is, and the various classifications of fiber ingredients. There are two widely accepted definitions of fiber in the baking industry. The American Association of Cereal Chemists defines fiber as: Dietary fiber is the edible parts of the plants or analogous carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion and absorption in the human small intestine with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine. Dietary fiber includes polysacchrides, oligosaccharides, lignin and associated plant substances. Dietary fibers promote beneficial physiological effects, including laxation, and/or blood cholesterol attenuation, and/or blood glucose attenuation.
The National Academy of Sciences defines fiber as: Dietary fiber consists of nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants. Functional fiber consists of isolated, nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans. Total fiber is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber.
In the baking industry, classifications of fiber focus on soluble, insoluble, and most recently, resistant starches. Soluble fibers, such as gums and pectins, are known to lower blood cholesterol levels and make people feel more full after eating. Insoluble fibers, such as cellulose and lignans, help maintain regularity.
“Bakers are always looking for something new, but they are a conservative group,” one fiber supplier says. “Fiber has a comfort level to it based on past use in low-calorie and low-carbohydrate products.”
This comfort level makes fiber a natural choice for bakers wanting to boost bakery foods’ health properties. And, the selection of fibers available to bakers is growing as fiber’s popularity grows. Historically, cellulose was the main fiber source for the baking industry. Although the marketing of this ingredient has been a challenge due to consumer perceptions, its functionality in bakery foods remains positive.
“It’s a very good product to work with, especially in white breads,” one fiber ingredient supplier says. Cellulose also is an inexpensive fiber, another fiber supplier says, making it ideal for high-fiber foodservice products that do not require food labels.
Many other insoluble fibers, such as cottonseed, wheat, soy and oat fiber, are cellulosic in nature, but may be labeled based on the substrate. As a result, cottonseed fiber is labeled just that, and not as cellulose.
|When formulating Aunt Millie’s Fiber for Life breads, the company experimented with more than 20 types of fiber.|
Wheat fibers commonly are used in bakery food formulas seeking a fiber boost. Wheat fiber mostly is cellulosic, according to one fiber supplier, and therefore performs similar to powdered cellulose, except that wheat fiber has a higher absorption profile.
Soy fibers also are used to boost fiber contents. Most of these fibers are derived from soybean hulls that contain naturally occurring cellulose and hemicellulose fibers. One manufacturer’s soy fiber ingredient reduces net carbohydrates and calories while boosting dietary fiber content. The product also improves mouthfeel and has a neutral flavor.
Oat fiber commonly is used to boost fiber while reducing calories. According to one fiber supplier, oat fiber is versatile because it is tailored per application based on the processing method used to extract the fiber.
Citrus fibers, such as apple and orange fibers, commonly are used to boost fiber content in nutritional bars. One fiber manufacturer also produces a citrus fiber designed solely as a functional ingredient, and not as an ingredient to boost fiber content. This citrus fiber has had promising results in many applications, including moisture retention and fat replacement.
Many types of soluble fibers also are used in the baking industry. These ingredients generally are derived from gums, such as guar and agar, and pectins.
Manufacturing with fiber
As most bakers know, the biggest challenge in manufacturing with fiber is managing water. Simply put, most fibers absorb a significant amount of water. “Water is a cheap ingredient and you want to put in as much as you can, but not too much where the product drowns,” one fiber manufacturer says.
The key, according to the manufacturer, is to manage water by managing the type of fiber used. “The longer the strain of fiber, the more water absorption,” the manufacturer says.
In addition to requiring more water, longer-strain fibers also limit extensibility because the fiber network gets embedded in the dough. “This makes the dough tight,” the manufacturer says, “which causes bakers to think they have to add more water when it’s not really a water problem. It’s a physical problem with the fibers acting like reinforcing rods.”
Finding a one-size-fits-all model for water absorption is difficult, if not impossible due to varying bakery formulas and varying fibers. The most common rule to follow, a fiber supplier says, is the higher the level of fiber in a product, the shorter the fiber strand.
In addition to this guideline, bakers should experiment with multiple types of fiber in bakery foods. Rod Radalia, Aunt Millie’s director of technical services, says this is one of the most important items to consider when manufacturing high-fiber products. When formulating the company’s line of Fiber for Life breads, Radalia says he tested more than 20 types of fiber, including soluble, insoluble and resistant starches.
Advances in fiber technology have created countless options for bakers seeking to enhance their bakery foods with additional fiber. No longer are bakers confined to using cellulose. Instead bakers choose from a variety of traditional and non-traditional fiber sources. This smorgasbord of options puts the formulation edge in bakers’ corners.