Americans are becoming increasingly health conscious and say they want to eat more healthful foods. And while bakery foods often get a bad rap on the health front for containing high amounts of fat and sugar, with the proper ingredients and techniques, bakery products can be a part of a healthful diet.
Flour plays an important role in this, and that is where whole grains, whole wheat and ancient grains come into play. According to an American Dietetic Association survey conducted in May 2011, 48 percent of consumers said they were eating more whole grains than five years ago and 45 percent said their whole grain consumption had stayed the same. To help encourage whole grain consumption, the Whole Grains Council (WGC) is launching the first annual National Whole Grain Sampling Day on April 4.
According to New Nutrition Business, “good” grains will be one of 10 key food trends in 2012. These grains benefit from a consumer perception of being all natural and healthy, even when included in highly processed foods. Consumers also are willing to try new and innovative grains. “There’s been a steady increase in the numbers of products launched based on new and more esoteric grains, such as the so-called ‘ancient grains,’ like amaranth and quinoa,” Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business said in a press release. Data from Mintel plays into this; bakery product introductions with whole grains have increased almost 15-fold from 2000 to 2011 (see chart on p. 27).
While consumers may be on the hunt for more “good” grains, their definition of what constitutes a good grain and what bakers think of as a good grain are not always the same.
“There’s a division between the industry standard and what some businesses are doing with whole grain to boost the integrity of the product and the nutritional value,” says Amy Boots, sales and accounts manager for Schwartz Brothers Bakery, Renton, Wash. “There are no real rules or regulations to what they can call a whole grain. So, say they put a handful of whole grain in the batch and they call it a whole grain product. The consumer then thinks they’re getting something that’s good and isn’t necessarily savvy enough to look at the content level of the whole grain.”
Most wholesale customers of B True Bakery, Chicago, do understand the quality of the grain they’re getting with Brady Braden’s 100 percent natural, 100 percent whole grain products. “However, there’s a huge portion of America that doesn’t understand the difference between a whole grain and a processed grain,” Braden says.
Abe Faber, co-owner of Clear Flour Bakery, Brookline, Mass., sees this same consumer confusion in his retail bakery. When customers ask what’s in his rye bread, for example, he tells them it’s 75 percent whole rye flour, 5 percent whole wheat and 20 percent refined white flour. Once they hear the refined white flour, they immediately think it’s not a whole grain product. What they don’t realize, he says, is that the bread they’re buying in the grocery aisle most likely isn’t made with only 100 percent whole grain flour either. It can contain wheat flour, which is refined, as well as have a lot of oil and sugar–not particularly healthful ingredients.
“People are rushed, and the marketing imagery works,” Faber says. “I think a lot of people glance at a product and it says that it’s healthy, but the consumers aren’t looking at the fats and other things. It may say it’s whole grain, but it’s filled up with other stuff.”
What is ‘good?’
Faber is more concerned about the healthfulness of the whole product in general. “Making something in the most traditional, authentic way that brings out the flavor of the grain is the healthiest way to do it,” he says. “We use a lot of whole grains and organic grains. We make things without preservatives or additives because that’s what makes the best flavor.”
For him a good grain is processed less. “I feel the less you process something, the better. The less time that it takes to go from harvest to when you eat it, the less it’s pulverized, has got to be better for you.”
Others, such as Schwartz Brothers, use the definition established by the WGC. According to the WGC, “whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”
According to Braden, a good grain flour is one that contains all parts of the wheat kernel. “Flour should have a sandy texture; that is the sign of a really good whole wheat flour,” he says.
Mill your own
Other bakers, like Ron Anderson, owner of Whole Grain Natural Breads Co., Mesa, Ariz., have taken control of the flour-making process by milling their own flour. “A good grain is something that gives me a good finished product. We’ve milled our own flour from the beginning. The big advantage is we use 100 percent of what’s milled,” Anderson says.
He also likes the flavor the fresh flour gives his products. “Like a coffee drinker who grinds his own beans, it’s the same with wheat. It’s a flavor advantage,” he says. “We take the wheat immediately after we mill it and use it in our mixes. What you have is a loaf of bread full of flavor; you can taste the wheatiness of it and the natural goodness that it has.”
Milling your own flour sounds daunting, but even small bakeries can do it. Whole Grain Natural Breads is only 2,500 sq. ft. with about 80 percent of its business coming from retail. Anderson gets about 40 50-lb.bags of grain a week, and mills just what he needs for that day’s production (about 400 lbs.) in his mill room. A 5-ft. by 5-ft. window allows customers in the sales area to see into the mill room and watch the process.
He chose a mill that has emery stones rather than the traditional granite. By using emery, less heat is transferred to the wheat during the milling process, and Anderson doesn’t have to wait before he uses the flour in his bakery products. He factors the milling costs into his products. Cinnamon rolls retail for $2, croissants are $1.50 and a loaf of cracked flax wheat is $4.50 while walnut cinnamon raisin is $4.75.
Good grain also can be grown almost anywhere. Anderson sources his wheat from Montana, where he has found it consistently produces flour with the ash and protein content he is looking for. Faber is experimenting with flour grown in western Massachusetts and Braden sources his flour from Michigan, within 250 miles of his Chicago bakery.
“To me, a good healthy grain is a locally produced grain. I think we’re on the fringe beginnings of it,” Faber says. “It begins with local. The kind of partnerships that are forming between millers, farmers and bakers is great. We’ll source raspberries for a pie locally in New England, but it never occurred to us that we could source grain.”
While whole grain consumption is up, a common complaint from consumers who don’t eat whole grain bakery products is that they don’t like the way they taste. “A lot of people think they hate whole wheat or whole rye, and the reason they think they hate it is because they’ve had a lot of bad whole wheat or whole rye,” Faber says. He compares white flour to a clean palette or canvas; it tastes like nothing but is easy to add flavor to.
“With whole wheat or whole rye, there are some inherent qualities that people experience as harsh or bitter, but when you properly acidify rye flour or work with sourdoughs and levains, you get breads that are whole wheat and people think are wonderful,” he adds. “You have to learn how to make good whole wheat, learn how to handle sprouted grains in bread. There are ways to use ingredients to make wonderful flavor profiles so it’s not like you’re masking the flavor, it’s more you’re unlocking the potential of the grain, not to sound too cliché.”
Working with whole grain flour does require different production processes than products made with refined flour. “Overhandling whole grain causes some of that bitterness,” Braden says. “With most whole grain products, you try to handle the dough as little as possible so you don’t create too much gluten.” Gluten are strands of protein, and if you have too many strands of protein or overdevelop the gluten, you end up with a tough, leathery dough that is difficult to handle.
Braden doesn’t follow the traditional production methods used for refined flour products. When using refined flour to make cookies, the flour is added after the butter and sugar and then the “fixin’s” are added, such as chocolate chips. For the whole grain version, Braden adds the flour last after all the ingredients, including the fixin’s, have been added. He mixes the dough just long enough for it to come together and then works with it right away.
B True Bakery has a full line of muffins, scones, cookies, brownies, biscotti, cupcakes and custom cakes all made from whole grain flours.
Braden is especially proud of his whole wheat croissant, which is an especially tricky product to make without using refined flour. “That formula took 363 trials before I got it the way I wanted it. After 100, I should have stopped counting,” he says.
Sweetgoods pose a challenge when formulating using whole grain flours. For the 100 percent whole wheat cinnamon rolls at Whole Grain Natural Breads, Anderson has discovered he has to sheet the dough a little thicker than normal and the dough is more difficult to work with. He tried to use whole wheat flour to make scones, but he couldn’t achieve the correct flakiness or texture.
Braden also admits he has run into some challenging products. “There are certain products we just don’t make because there’s no way to create them using just a whole grain flour and without using partially refined flour.” He doesn’t offer quiche or pies because he can’t get a whole grain crust to have the flakiness customers want. “It’s usually products that you’re relying on that refined flour to absorb moisture quickly,” he adds.
Varied product lines
Schwartz Brothers offers a variety of product lines, with some products that are 100 percent whole grain, some that are a mix of whole grain flours and refined flours and others that contain no whole grain flours at all. “Whole grains have come in waves to us,” Boots says. “We caught on fairly early to the whole grain trend and started producing whole grain pastries. We had whole grain croissants, whole grain muffins and the taste and mouthfeel were great. But some customers at that point– maybe we were a little too early on the scene–were thrown off by the term whole grain and thought it wouldn’t taste as good.”
The bakery went back to its previous iterations of the pastries. It has since acquired a bread facility, which is producing a lot of whole grain sandwich breads, rolls and buns. Schwartz Brothers is beginning to look at its pastry line again to see where whole grain products could fit in. “We feel that now there’s been a little bit more of a head’s up and the consumer demand is where we want it.”
While consumer demand for whole grains is up, most bakeries have to be realistic. “For every loaf of seven-grain or German rye that you sell made with 100 percent organic and rye flour, you’re going to sell 10 French baguettes,” Faber says. “It’s not that whole wheat is good or bad, it’s important to differentiate that the finished product has to be good. It has to be well done and well crafted.”
Working with the flavor profile of the whole grain flour is key, whether it is properly using sourdoughs and levains to bring out the natural hints of flavor in the flour or combining the flour with complementary flavors in other ingredients.
“B True Bakery has a specific flavor profile,” Braden says. “We use a lot of interesting flavor and texture combinations to make the whole grain and all natural process more more palatable for the customer.” The bakery’s most popular product is the apricot oatmeal ginger cookie. The ginger holds up well to the oats and the apricot’s sweetness goes well with the ginger’s spiciness, Braden says. Another favorite is the triple chocolate espresso whole wheat brownie. Adding the espresso flavor actually enhances the whole wheat’s bitterness but it turns it into almost a coffee bitterness instead, he adds. Playing with flavors is key when using whole grain flours, Faber agrees, but it doesn’t always have to be with ingredients you add. “With whole grains, you get to play with the wonderful flavors and aromas that are in the grain because you didn’t destroy them in the milling process,” he says. “It’s all chemical what goes on, and you can bring out sweet flavors or acidic flavors.”
You can make complex flavor profiles with the sourdough process or through the natural yeasting process, he adds. “Through the use of preferments and methodology, you create aroma and flavor out of byproducts of the whole fermentation process.” Consumers may be more aware than ever of the health benefits of whole grain, and bakeries are turning out tastier whole grain products, but there is still room for growth. “There are a lot more people out there than you would think that are willing to pay and will buy product made out of whole grains,” Anderson says. “There are so many varieties from so many parts of the world that add color and texture to your product that can open up new product lines.”