It’s hard to resist the allure of the low-carb frenzy, where lowering net carbs may potentially yield higher net profits. That’s why the hottest question in the industry these days seemingly is: How do I make these reduced-carb products?
In a nutshell, the process is about reducing the digestible carbohydrates, the ones that directly affect blood sugar, and replacing them with a variety of less directly affective ingredients. Some options include whole grains, vital wheat gluten, soy flour, chick pea flour, resistant starches, sugar alcohols (known collectively as polyols, such as maltodextrin, maltitol, sorbitol) and other ingredients. Instead of calories, these reformulated creations are expressed in net carbs: the total carbohydrates minus the fiber carbs. And, there are as many substitutes for flour, protein, fat, fiber and sugar as there are bakers. Probably more.
With so many possible combinations and permutations, though, it is easy to get caught up in the process, the alchemy, of reduced-carb baking. The challenge is staying true to the fundamentals of baking, that is, creating the flavorful, visually appealing products customers want.
“If all you’re doing is trying to get a certain number on a label, it’s easy to make something that doesn’t taste very good,” says Kirk O’Donnell, vice president, education, at the American Institute of Baking, Manhattan, Kan.
Here are a few practical tips on how to get the best results.
The domino effect
For Ed Fraser, Fraser’s Bakery, Kelso, Wash., low-carb baking is a balancing process. If you’re making a cake, he explains, you balance the sugar and the flour against the shortening for tenderness and other cake characteristics. In low-carb breads, you’re balancing protein verses starch.
As with any baking process, changing one ingredient creates a domino effect of functionality. Replacing the wheat flour (65%-70% carb and about 11.5% protein) and sugar (99% carb) with higher quality protein and more fiber adds moisture but no structure or digestible carbs. The result, predictably, is a stiffer (28% protein), bucky dough that has longer mix times and a ton of moisture (42%-43% in the finished product). This requires longer, hotter, bake times. It also results in a more shelf-stable product, but one with more risk of molding (unless you add calcium propionate, which can be hard on yeast, and might require a bit of yeast food).
The result means trading net carbs for loaf volume, dough viscosity and, all too often, flavor and eye appeal, since the polyols do not participate in the maillard effect and do not brown.
Building the mix
Fraser, who also chaired the session on low-carb baking at the recent RBA Show in Orlando, likens blending ingredients to replace the wheat flour to “building artificial flour,” which is then bulked up with “the lead.” The bulk can be any starch-free fiber filler from the “mile-long” list of ingredients that comes from a growing plant that uses photosynthesis, which could include oat fiber, sugar beet or sugar cane fiber, bean fiber and others.