Pizza crust manufacturers increasingly are turning to whole grain formulations to increase the healthfulness of their products.
Tortilla choices have increased from traditional flour versus corn to include a wide variety of whole grains.
What can one say about whole grains that has not already been said? Plenty. Despite the overabundance of media coverage, new product launches and ingredient innovations, whole grain usage in the baking industry continues to be discussed, debated and analyzed. Why? Innovation.
The high-volume baking industry, including both suppliers and bakers, has pushed whole grains to the forefront, owing to a slew of new product launches and ingredient innovations–all using whole grains in new and exciting ways.
In the last year, Sara Lee Food & Beverage and Flowers Foods have introduced innovative whole grain products to millions of consumers. Gone are the days when the only whole grain innovation were coming from small, regional bakeries focused on health-conscious consumers.
In September 2006, Flowers Foods, launched six new varieties of Nature’s Own bread, all formulated with whole grains. On the surface, this launch does not stand out. Upon closer inspection, two of these breads are not only formulated with whole grain, but also use organic flour.
Nature’s Own All Natural 100% Whole Wheat made with organic flour contains 24 grams of whole grain per slice. Flowers Foods use of organic flour signifies a further evolution in the bread aisle. White bread begets wheat bread. Wheat bread begets low-carbohydrate bread. Low-carbohydrate bread begets whole grain bread. Whole grain bread begets white whole wheat bread. White whole wheat bread begets organic whole wheat. And so on.
This evolutionary trend shows no sign of slowing. Bakers are committed to pushing the boundaries of whole grain formulation, and consumers appear game to buy the new products. This environment gives flour millers and grain suppliers greater flexibility to expand their offerings.
"The big questions is how do you make whole grain products more palatable," says Tod Bramble, King Arthur Flour’s Northeast bakery flour manager.
Anand Rao, director of technical sales, Edlong Dairy Flavors, agrees the overall challenge is the whole grain "flavor profile." She says concentrated butter flavors can help round out any "sharp grainy notes" and provide richness to bakery products. "Dairy flavors play an important role in the whole grain products that are low in fat by bringing in some of the sensory attributes of fats," Rao says.
Sara Lee Food & Beverage is the high-volume baking industry’s pioneer for innovative solutions that incorporate more whole grains without negatively impacting flavor. The company’s much publicized use of blends of white whole wheat and enriched flour brought whole grain products to white bread lovers. More recently, the company introduced a 100% wheat bread without the grainy texture and bitter flavor of some whole wheat products. Sara Lee Soft & Smooth 100% Whole Wheat Bread has 14 grams of whole grain per slice.
"Sara Lee has a track record of success in introducing new products because we listen to consumers and develop innovative products that do not ask them to compromise on taste," says Peter Reiner, Sara Lee Food & Beverage’s vice president of Sara Lee brands, when the product was launched late last year. "We’re poised to continue mainstreaming whole grain nutrition by offering great tasting products that will please the whole family."
It’s no secret that one of the keys to many of Sara Lee’s recent new product launches is ConAgra’s UltraGrain® white whole wheat flour. Although ConAgra was not the first miller to bring white whole wheat flour to the market, it raised the bar in terms of research and development.
"The time was right for an innovative product that really fit well with the mainstream," says Mike Veal, ConAgra Mills’ director of marketing. "The success has been tremendous, but there is still a lot of opportunities."
ConAgra’s newest whole grain offering, Healthy Choice® All-Purpose Flour with Ultragrain®, provides bakers with a road map for evolving their product lines from traditional enriched flour to whole grain entities. The new line of flours consists of two varieties: T-1 and T-2. The "T" stands for transition, and the products provide blends of whole wheat flour and enriched white flour.
Healthy Choice All Purpose Flour T-1 with UltraGrain is a 1:1 replacement for white flour in all bakery food applications, ConAgra says. The product is a blend of 30% Ultragrain and 70% enriched white flour, which gives bakers about 9 grams of whole grains per 1-oz. serving. According to Veal, this product was designed to replace a product’s existing flour without changing formulation or processing.
For bakers seeking more whole grain nutrition in a product, ConAgra offers Healthy Choice All-Purpose Flour Blend T-2. This product contains 55% Ultragrain.
In January, ConAgra’s efforts in whole grain formulation were recognized with the 2006 Golden Shopping Cart award, which honors the best new retail food products. The industry has come a long way when baking flours are being honored as innovative retail food product launches. Remember, less than five years ago, bakery foods were fighting for their lives against a scourge of anti-carbohydrate consumers.
The success of white whole wheat flour not only is evident on the bread aisle and with ConAgra. Most flour milers now carry white whole wheat, and home bakers have also bought into the product’s benefits. King Arthur’s consumer white whole wheat flour reported a year-over-year sales increase of 72%, Bramble says.
Most developments in whole grain formulations have relied on derivatives of whole wheat flour, a trend that is changing as bakers seek additional sources of grains to formulate multigrain bakery foods. Small millers and grain importers have benefited the most from the increasing popularity of whole grain.
"When whole grain usage started growing, manufacturers started using our bulgur in bread mixes," says Mike Orlando, chairman of the board for Sunnyland Mills, Fresno, Calif. "My goal is to push bulgur into the mainstream, and an easy way to do that is to get it into breads."
Diane Walters, vice president of marketing for Nu-World Amaranth, Naperville, Ill., reports the same growing interest in alternative grains. "Our business started to service the needs of the gluten-free population," Walters says." However, with the tremendous interest in whole grains, the interest in amaranth has skyrocketed."
Amaranth’s popularity in gluten-free formulations eased its transition to mainstream bakery foods. Amaranth’s flour flavor profile is similar to other whole grains, with an additional "greenish grassy taste characteristic," Walter says. Bakers can eliminate this "grassy" flavor by using toasted amaranth bran flour, which carries the nutty profile most whole grains possess.
Amaranth’s health characteristics allow it to be used with other whole grains to create fortified products without the use of chemical-based fortification systems.
"If you formulate a 25% amaranth replacement in a whole wheat formula, you will increase the iron by 100%, increase the calcium by 87% and increase the fiber by 6%," Walter says. "You can mix and match grains to the point where you would not have to fortify your products with any chemical additives."
Alternative whole grain suppliers have also ramped up innovation to give bakers more options. Sunnyland Mills offers four different grinds of its bulgur, and Nu-World Amaranth offers multiple amaranth flours, catering to each baker’s needs.
To date, whole grain usage in the baking industry shows no signs of slowing. Nor do innovative offerings from both bakers and suppliers.
Looking forward, many suppliers point to organic whole wheat flour as the next logical evolutionary step. Flowers Foods already has dipped its toe in these waters, and other bakers are expected to follow.
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