Protein plays vital supporting roles

by Laurie Gorton
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Like any good actor, protein can play many parts. First, it’s an essential component of a healthful diet. But especially important in bakery applications, protein performs as a dough conditioner, structuring agent and moisture controller as well as in myriad other roles.

Lately, protein is getting even more of a star turn because of its ability to thwart hunger, aid muscle management and boost the nutritional well-being of kids and the elderly alike. Of course, supplemental protein addresses the formulating needs of gluten-free foods, but adding protein has become a consumer marketplace trend all by itself.

“Consumers have jumped on the bread truck looking for an avenue to add value to a simple slice of bread,” said Sam Wright IV, CEO, The Wright Group, Crowley, LA.

Horizons stretch even wider. “Adding protein to baked foods began with the low-carbohydrate trend,” said Rosa Sanchez, group leader, food science and technology, Solae, St. Louis, MO. “There also is increasing consumer awareness of protein as a nutrient that can help consumers more effectively manage hunger and, thus, aid weight loss.” She noted another budding market among parents concerned about the nutritional quality of their children’s snacks. Adding protein boosts the appeal of bars targeting this demographic.

When individuals adopt vegan and vegetarian diets, they stop eating animal proteins. Mr. Wright reported an emerging need for supplemental protein among people cutting consumption of it from other areas of their diets.

There’s yet another demographic in play as well. Many aging baby boomers now seek more nutritionally dense foods in convenient acceptable styles — in other words, a more food-like form of sports nutrition. “This is a population that wants to remain active and healthy but is having trouble managing their weight and maintaining muscle mass,” said Michael Beavan, project manager, Watson, Inc., West Haven, CT.

Stages of opportunity

Which baked foods make the paramount vehicles for protein? You can guess that they won’t be those for which federal Standards of Identity exist. “Newish varieties offer the best opportunities to deliver meaningful protein-fortified foods than do traditional bread products,” Mr. Beavan observed.

Protein’s functional qualities enable featured performance in high-fiber baked foods, with vital wheat gluten especially outstanding in this supporting role. Commonly used to ensure hinge strength in hamburger and hot dog buns, added gluten provides similar effects when put into bread and rolls made with dietary fiber.

“Because fiber is inert, it tends to weaken the dough and tear it during mixing,” explained Joe Carmosino, technical director, Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, KS. “Fiber does nothing for the structure of doughs, especially insoluble dietary fibers.

“Gluten is a more costly ingredient than many others,” he added, “but gluten is the baker’s best friend.”

From a nutritional standpoint, breakfast presents a special opportunity. Of the 90 g of protein that most adults consume daily, more than two-thirds is eaten at dinner. Breakfast typically provides less than 12 g of protein.

“The breakfast meal is critical for maintaining skeletal muscle and healthy body composition in adults,” said Phanin Leksrisompong, PhD, technical services scientist, Davisco Foods International, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN. “The low protein content of breakfast fails to provide sufficient leucine to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and allow the body to recover from the nighttime period of fasting.”

Breakfast readily accommodates baked foods in the form of toast and pastries. Most of their protein comes from wheat gluten, which contains only 6.8% leucine, an essential amino acid. The bread in that lunchtime sandwich could also be fortified with complete protein ingredients. “New goals that emphasize at least 30 g of protein at two or more meals with an emphasis on breakfast and with the quality of protein measured by the leucine content are likely the future standards for adult health,” Dr. Leksrisompong predicted.

Foods eaten between meals raise another curtain. “Snacks are ideal for protein enrichment due to consumers’ needs for satiety and portability,” said Ted Lengwin, business management director, Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, CO.

Changing directors

Until recently, athletic performance directed most food development projects involving added protein. It still does, but new concerns about the nutritional needs of children, gluten-sensitive individuals and the elderly are moving onto center stage.

“The new child nutrition programs involving school lunch and breakfast allow Alternative Protein Products (APP),” explained Terese O’Neill, key account manager, Arla Foods Ingredients, Basking Ridge, NJ. The highly restrictive rules for APP foods are spelled out by the National School Lunch program. They may not suit the commercial goals of bakers because such foods must contain at least 18% protein by weight, a difficult goal for any baked product. The category best suits soy flours, soy concentrates, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and casein. Processed foods such as vegetarian burgers or patties may contain APPs, but the entire item cannot be considered an APP if it has other ingredients such as seasonings or breading.

Nutrition bars, selected by parents for their kids’ snacks, offer more promising opportunities. “When manufacturing bars for the children’s nutrition market, including protein equal to that of a glass of milk is important,” Ms. Sanchez observed, “but also fortifying the bar with additional vitamins and minerals allows the snack bars to offer more of a nutritional boost than a traditional granola bar.”

Medically necessary diets don’t normally attract big box office sales, but gluten-free certainly did after several high-profile celebrities adopted this eating pattern.

“Initially, gluten-free formulating focused on taste and texture,” Mr. Lengwin said. Penford developed PenTech GF for gluten-free products. “However, due to the wellness trend, protein has become one of the key nutritional ingredients along with increased fiber and vitamin content in the new generation of gluten-free baked foods and snacks.”

People today are just simply more interested in higher protein foods, according to Ms. O’Neill. “A lot of the low-carb diets — Atkins and the so-called caveman diet — focus on protein,” she noted. “A few people ask about the completeness of the protein, but the most interest is basically in higher overall levels of protein.”

Body of work

And then there are the baby boomers, whose nutritional desires for more protein fit the category of muscle management, one shared with sports and performance buffs. “A significant amount of protein is used in bars, dry powders and ready-to-drink beverages to build and restore muscle,” Mr. Lengwin said. “In the next decade, a substantial number of baby boomers will be entering a stage of muscle loss. The opportunity to offer this segment protein-rich food will be in the forefront for marketers and formulators.”

Protein quality enters the picture in these applications, and complete proteins — those containing all the indispensable amino acids not synthesized in the human body — have the inside track. “Whey proteins are high in branch-chain amino acids, often a key component in sports nutrition products,” Mr. Wright said.

Specifically, whey is a rich source of isoleucine, leucine and valine. Dr. Leksrisompong explained that these amino acids are necessary for building muscle and lean body mass, thereby improving body composition and enhancing athletic performance. She noted immunity benefits from whey, as well.

Most of us associate the desire for extra dietary protein with athletes and physical performance, but it also plays into satiety.

“We’re seeing trends emerging around the belief that a product high in protein and fiber will help keep you full longer,” said Tim Christensen, senior food technologist, Cargill, Wayzata, MN. “This is driving some bakers to offer bread with added protein and fiber.”

Appealing to dieters, added protein lowers the amount of carbohydrates in foods, according Ody Maningat, PhD, vice-president of applications technology and technical services, MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, KS. He credited protein with contributing to satiety while delivering the amino acids needed for growth, maintenance and repair of the body’s tissues. “Proteins are also known to have a high thermogenic effect, meaning that foods high in protein require high energy expenditures during metabolism by the body,” he explained. In other words, the body consumes energy to burn calories to generate more energy.

Revising the script

Formulators often cast protein in functional roles to improve dough handling and finished product characteristics. “Vital wheat gluten is both a dough conditioner and a structure builder,” Mr. Carmosino said, which makes this wheat protein important to the success of low-carb, high-protein and high-fiber products. Manildra supplies Gem of the West vital wheat gluten and GemPro HPB wheat protein isolate.

Adding specialty wheat proteins accomplishes several objectives. Among these Dr. Maningat listed elevating protein content to compensate for low-protein flours and improve performance in bread and snack products. “To increase the viscoelastic properties of dough,” he continued. “To improve dough extensibility, or machinability. To generate savings by reducing mixing and proofing times. To increase shelf life and lengthen the retention of flexibility for flour tortillas. And to deliver peptide-bonded glutamine, a conditionally essential amino acid.” MGP produces the Arise line of wheat protein isolates and enzyme-hydrolyzed wheat proteins.

Soy flour, another example, plays its part in improving crumb structure, crust color and sheeting characteristics, according to Cheryl Borders, manager, soy foods applications and edible beans technical service, ADM Research, Decatur, IL. “Refatted and lecithinated soy flours can also act as a partial egg replacement,” she added. Concentrates and isolates are used for emulsification properties, film forming and a partial replacement of non-fat dry milk.

Cooked bean powders and grits, which provide a significant amount of protein and fiber compared with traditional cereal grains, also provide low sodium advantages, Ms. Borders said about ADM’s VegeFull product line. “In baking applications, flour can be replaced 1:1 with cooked bean powders,” she reported. The same 100% replacement rate applies to extruded snacks, while sheeted products can be made with up to 50% cooked bean powder.

What a given protein does in the dough under actual working conditions can determine the formulator’s choice. “Some proteins attract a lot of water and give you a very stiff dough,” Mr. Christensen explained. “Others will not attract water and make the dough very soft, which makes it hard to develop the gluten.” Cargill markets Prolia soy flour and GluVital vital wheat gluten.

Ms. O’Neill confirmed the need to pay attention to processing conditions. “What you see happening in the bowl,” she said, “is what you’ll get in the final product.”

Sometimes, specific end use needs dictate protein choice. Because vital wheat gluten is great at sequestering water, it reduces moisture migration in frozen baked foods as well as frozen dough products, according to Mr. Carmosino.

Soy has excellent water-retaining properties that help increase yield, Mr. Wright noted. This effect is well-known. His company pioneered use of soy protein isolates as well as whey protein isolates for the baking and snack segment with its WrightDough line.

Gelation gives whey proteins interesting water-binding properties, too. “Gelation occurs when native globular whey proteins are denatured, or unfolded, in the presence of heat,” Dr. Leksrisompong explained. “The denatured proteins aggregate and form three-dimensional matrices that entrap and hold water.” The result is moister mouthfeel and better palatability.

Some processing revisions may become necessary. “The increased protein usually requires increasing the liquid in the formulation,” Ms. Borders observed. “It may be necessary to change the order of ingredient addition to reduce the amount of added liquids in the formula to avoid a negative effect on texture.”

Character parts

Proteins are not all alike, and the choice of one type vs. another will affect gluten development in baked foods made with wheat flour, and that change influences final product volume and texture. “Lower-viscosity proteins will have less effect on volume loss than higher-viscosity proteins,” Ms. Sanchez said. “Desired end result is the biggest factor when selecting an ingredient.

“In some cases such as extruded snacks, nonwheat protein sources can provide a wide variety of textures from crunchy to crispy,” she added. Solae offers the Surpo line of soy protein ingredients.

Suppliers differentiate protein ingredients by source and protein content, with materials termed concentrates offering the highest protein content. A certain amount of customizing is possible. “Different products offer slow or fast absorption,” Ms. O’Neill explained. Arla tailors its Nutrilac whey proteins to alter their water absorption, flavor and cost as well as dough handling and final product characteristics such as volume and cell structure.

Davisco uses ion-exchange technology to sort whey proteins for specific functionality, Dr. Leksrisompong explained. “Because our BiPRO wheat protein isolate is a complete protein, it delivers all of the essential amino acids needed by the human body without carbohydrates and fat,” she said.

Flavor should figure into protein choice, too. “Bland flavor and low cost are also important,” Mr. Christensen said. “You want the bread to still taste and eat like your un-protein-supplemented variety.” He reported that some proteins harden over time, so the right choices for breads or snacks will be proteins that stay soft and tender throughout the product’s shelf life.

If the reason for adding protein is to boost a product’s nutritional profile, then the formulator must compare of various options to determine how much will be needed to reach the target, Ms. Borders explained. “Also, if listing the percent Daily Value or making a good or excellent source claim for protein is desired, the protein quality of the ingredient has to be taken into consideration,” she added.

To achieve the amino acid profile required, the formulator may need to balance different protein sources. “In addition, many gluten-free products allow no allergens and may require ingredients to be natural or organic,” said Bryan Scherer, director of R&D, Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, CO. “These requirements will have a significant impact on the ingredients used to replace wheat flour in a formula.”

The idea of balancing ingredients inspired Watson inspired Watson to develop its gluteNONE line of gluten-free mixes using a combination of egg, legume and grain proteins, according to Mr. Beavan.

Make no mistake: meaningful protein fortification of breads is challenging. Proteins are expensive compared with starches and flour, and many are allergenic. There can be issues with water binding, flavor and finished product structure.

“As we found out with low-carb breads, replacing starch with protein — and fiber — and still producing acceptable bread is not easy,” Mr. Beavan recalled. “However, with processing innovations, using heat and enzymes together with micronizing and encapsulation, we are working to overcome some of these restrictions.” 

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