Mills meet bakers’ demands for refined whole wheat flours, and for niche-market and specialty whole grain flours.
Consumers are expressing their appreciation for the health benefits of baked products made from whole wheat and other healthful flours. In turn, flour manufacturers have stepped up to introduce new products intended to help bakers easily incorporate healthful and tasteful flours into their product lines.
“I like white flour as much as the next person, but whole wheat and other whole-grain flours are important and will be a growing percentage of all flour milled,” says Tod Bramble, national sales manager, bakery flour, King Arthur Flour, Norwich, Vt.
Increasingly, flour mills are moving beyond their whole wheat offerings to create flours for a range of specialty products and markets. Wholesale bakers have asked King Arthur for these specialty products in order to develop new items that meet consumers' growing demand for healthful baked goods that move beyond whole wheat, Bramble says.
“The baking industry and baking consumption will probably always be dominated by white flour,” Bramble says. “From a bakers' standpoint, bakers can do the most — visually and tastefully — with white flour.”
“With new flours, they can get the taste and the nutrients in their products,” Bramble adds. “That's kind of an exciting area; to take the whole grain interest and move it beyond simple whole wheat and make something really tasty, interesting and good for you. Bakers love to try to do new things with new types of flour.”
Mills also are increasingly producing specialized flours for niche markets. ConAgra Mills, Omaha, Neb., for example, is now producing Yoshon flour for the Jewish community, says Peter Bisaccia, sales manager. The company also has recently introduced its Mumbai Gold Fresh Chakki Atta, which is milled from specially selected durum wheat. It is being used by foodservice chains, such Café Spice Express, New Windsor, N.Y., and Gourmet India, Boston, to make Indian flatbreads.
Perhaps the most recent advance has been the introduction of whole wheat flours that can substitute for white flour in baked products, Bramble notes. These flours are intended to appeal to consumers who don't enjoy the nuttier taste of products made with whole wheat flour, but still seek the healthful benefits from whole grains.
ConAgra's Ultragrain is whole grain flour ground ultrafine in order to offer the flavor, color and texture of refined white flour while maintaining the nutritional advantages of whole grain flour, Bisaccia notes. It can be used in breads, pastas, pizza dough, cookies, crackers and pastries, allowing wholesale bakers to market their products as having the health benefits of whole wheat, but the flavor benefits of white flour, he adds.
Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass., recently introduced its own extra-fine whole wheat flour to the market, says Dave Kovacic, director of technical services. “We're reducing the bran and germ to white flour size,” Kovacic adds. And King Arthur Flour has a similar product. Newer technology allows these flours to be milled to the same particle size as white flour.
Whole-wheat flour ground extra fine appeals to consumers and bakers alike because it offers the whole-grain nutrition of whole wheat flour in a closer-to-white-flour flavor profile, Kovacic says. “You can use it as a one-to-one substitute for white flour, so it's terrific for cookie applications; you can make and sell a whole wheat chocolate chip cookie that tastes like a white flour cookie,” he says.
King Arthur is currently focused on producing a number of products specifically requested by wholesale bakers, so they can produce new, distinctive and healthful baked products for their customers. These flours are either newly available or should be available within the next six months, Bramble says.
For instance, the company recently introduced multigrain flour featuring either seven or 12 varied grains ground into flour. The product is specially formulated for use in a range of wholesale baked items that move beyond bread, Bramble says. The multigrain flour allows bakers to produce multigrain products that still contain larger grain particles, but are less dense than products made by simply adding various grains to the base dough.
Sometime next year King Arthur will introduce its sprouted-grain flour, which will be made from grains that are sprouted at the mill, dried and milled into flour. This will allow wholesale bakers to purchase sprouted grain flour without having to sprout the grains and mill the flour themselves, Bramble adds. Sprouted grains are growing in popularity, with proponents claiming that sprouting creates a more easily digestible form of grain with increased bioavailability of key nutrients.
In addition to producing a range of flours that move beyond white, flour mills also are increasingly willing to produce specialized flours of use to particular niche communities. For instance, ConAgra Mills' Denver Eagle Facility, and a ConAgra Mills wheat storage house, are now devoted to Yoshon flour production, says Bisaccia. Although the Denver plant was scheduled to be closed, ConAgra reversed that decision after executives studied the market for Yoshon flour. In the past, Horizon Milling also has milled Yoshon flour, as has General Mills' Buffalo, N.Y., plant.
According to Jewish law, if the grains from rye, barley, wheat, spelt and oats take root prior to the Passover holiday, they are considered Yoshon. Yoshon flour must be maintained to the standards demanded by kosher law, says Rabbi Ari Senter, an authority on Yoshon in America. To that end, ConAgra employs an on-site kosher supervisor and has teamed with KOF-K, a kosher certification agency, to produce the flour, Bisaccia says.
Wholesale bakers are meeting market demand by moving beyond whole wheat flour for many of its products — including cookies and pastries. And, by introducing new whole grain goods and catering to specialty markets, flour mills are stepping up too by providing the specialized flours wholesale bakers seek.
Many bakers will be forced to reformulate formulas in the face of this year's spring wheat crop. Protein contained within the wheat is 1 to 1.5 percent lower than historical average, says Dave Kovacic, director of technical services at Bay State Milling.
The first half of the 2009 hard red spring wheat crop is 13.7 percent protein, nearly 1 percentage point lower than the traditional level, according to Byron Richard, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. A rainy season, with its higher than usual moisture content, made for the lower protein levels, Richard adds.
This lower protein content can affect many bakers, because higher protein wheat is scarce and expensive. Imagine a bakery using 14 percent protein, high-gluten flour for pizza or bagels where protein strength is needed to achieve a chewy texture, Kovacic notes. Now these products will have to be made with a lower protein flour because the higher protein is too expensive, if available. Affected bakery operations will need to experiment with lower-protein spring wheat flours.
“They can look to supplementing with vital wheat gluten and dough strengtheners; but what most bakers will do is work with their local flour miller to see what's available,” Kovacic adds.