Bakers looking to incorporate whole grains do not need to jump in full bore. Slowly switching to whole grains allows time for proper formulation to manufacture the light, flavorful products consumers are seeking.
As a result of recent health studies, consumers are demanding more products made with whole grains. But they also want light and flavorful bakery products, not the leaden health foods of the 1970s.
Bakers are finding they can drive sales by slowing substituting whole grains for the white flour in their products and by tying them to current health and environmental trends.
“The whole grain movement keeps gaining momentum,” says Dave Kovacic, director of technical service, Bay State Milling, Wichita, Kan. “And the health and wellness trend is driving it. Consumers are looking for whole grains to get the fiber they want.”
And they're definitely now looking beyond bread, adds Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at the Whole Grains Council, Boston, an Oldways educational program. Consumers are now seeking whole grain croissants, crackers, bagels and pizza crust.
“It used to be if you wanted a whole grain product it was like looking for brown oxfords, and now you can seek out sexy slingbacks,” she says. “One of those reasons it's easy for commercial bakers to go beyond basic bread with whole grains is because there's so much support in the industry now.”
Bakers have a variety of whole grain ingredients to choose from, including barley, amaranth and spelt. However, when making the switch to a whole grain flour, some reformulation is required — it is not a 1:1 swap.
“Everybody we've talked to at the big mills is heavily committed to working with bakers because they know there won't be a market for their products if they don't educate,” Harriman says. “[Millers] realize they can't just put the products out there. They have to explain the difference in mixing times and absorption of whole grains and are wiling to come out and work with you.”
Many mills that produce whole grains, for example, also keep consultants on staff to help bakers with formulation changes and challenges, says Peter Bisaccia, director of sales at ConAgra Mills, Omaha, Neb.
Consumers may be seeking healthful whole grain products, but that doesn't mean they will settle for heavy, flavorless products, Kovacic says.
“We're finding above and beyond everything, products made with whole grains have to taste good,” he adds. “One of the big hurdles to incorporating whole grains is the change in appearance, texture and flavor that some consumers object to.”
One answer is to introduce whole grains slowly into products so that the flavor and texture don't radically change from the products' white flour version, Kovacic says.
For these type of substitutions, bakers can use a whole wheat flour ground to resemble a white flour, such as Grain-Essentials White Whole Wheat Flour Extra Fine from Bay State Milling or the UltraFine product from ConAgra.
By using these light wheat varieties — often called white wheat — bakers can introduce the full range of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, dietary fiber and phytochemicals included in whole wheat products without introducing the phenolic substances that induce the unpleasant bitter wholemeal flavor, says Bettina Zeuch, product manager, Kampff-meyer Food Innovation GmbH, Hamburg, Germany.
Kovacic suggests initially replacing 5 to 10 percent of the refined white flour with whole wheat flour. After consumers accept the whole wheat product, bakers can increase the whole wheat percentage to 15 to 20 percent of the total flour. Introducing a new whole wheat product in this manner helps consumers accept the product. And it also means bakers need not employ special processes or new ingredients, Kovacic adds.
When formulating whole grain products, bakers need to remember that whole grains absorb more water than their white flour cousins, though at a slower rate, Harriman says.
“Water absorption will increase by up to 20 percent depending on the grain, so you'll need to adjust proofing and baking time,” Harriman says.
The rule of thumb is to increase the absorption by 1 percent for every 10 percent of whole wheat flour substituted for white flour, Kovacic says.
Because the density of the dough will increase with the percentage of whole wheat flour used in the product, bakers may need to add dough strengtheners or oxidation systems to their formula, he says. They might also use a smaller pan size than for similar white flour products, he adds.
For products that include a small amount of whole wheat flour, these adjustments may not even be necessary, Kovacic says.
Also, due to the slower hydration rate of whole grains, bakers will need to reduce mixing speeds and increase mixing times when formulating with whole grains, Harriman says.
“Mixing is a big issue,” she says. “With whole grains, you have a narrower mixing window, so it's easier to under- or over-mix. There's less margin for error, so you need to be pretty sensitive and pay attention to timing.”
Bakers also will need to adjust baking time and temperature when moving from white flour to whole wheat products, Kovacic says.
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While a small percentage of whole wheat flour to white flour won't change baking time and temperature, as the percentage of whole wheat flour increases, a lower baking temperature and slightly longer bake time will likely be necessary, he says.
Bakers who have perfected a whole wheat formula may want to reformulate the product using another whole grain, such as barley or rye. Again, a simple substitution of one grain for another will not work. Bake time and temperature, as well as mix time, need to be adjusted, Harriman says.
“Grains have to be seen as first cousins, rather than identical twins of each other,” she adds.
When reformulating, understand that whole grains encompass much more than just whole wheat. By tying whole grains into existing health and environmental trends, bakers will find a ready audience for their whole grain products. Today's foodies also want to become familiar with new and unusual baked products, Harriman says.
Mills now commonly offer ancient grain mixes that can be used to create interesting products, she adds. Gluten-free flours are increasingly used to create baked products for those with wheat allergies.
Consumers looking for whole grains often also are interested in where and how the grains are grown. Francie Caccavo, owner of Olivia's Croutons, New Haven, Vt., married her company's croutons with the newfound interest in eating locally grown products as well as food raised by nonindustrial famers.
Olivia's Croutons currently contain 12 percent whole wheat flour, though that number is expected to increase to 25 percent with this year's crop. Caccavo and her family grow the wheat, soy, oats and millet used to make the croutons, and the wheat is locally milled.
The company also makes a multigrain product composed of locally grown millet, soy, oats and wheat. The products are sold in grocery and specialty stores across the nation. Consumers respond to them because they contain wheat grown and harvested on a family-run farm and milled within the same area, Caccavo says.
“There's a great initiative to buy farm-to-plate,” she says.
The move to whole grains may not be smooth, and it won't be seamless, she says. But with experimentation backed up by some knowledge, it can be relatively painless.