Hitting high marks for whole grains
by Jeff Gelski
Meeting whole grain-rich criteria is vital for companies wanting to qualify food items for national school lunch and school breakfast programs. Still, the companies must refrain from promoting whole grain-rich on product labels.
That’s just one piece of information to be gleaned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Whole grain resource for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs: A guide to meeting the whole grain-rich criteria.” Those in the grain-based foods industry may find the resource helpful in learning about other subjects, such as non-creditable grains.
“We’ve been working hard to not just support our customers with formulation development, but also by staying plugged into industry developments,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing for ConAgra Mills, Omaha. “It’s really opened up a great dialogue over the last few years since all of us — school food service directors, food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers — are working together to understand and meet the guidelines.”
In regard to “whole grain-rich,” the U.S.D.A. determines what products in school meal programs qualify for the term, but the Food and Drug Administration determines what claims may go on the label. According to the U.S.D.A., the “whole grain-rich” term is not permitted for product labels because it is an implied health claim about the fiber content regulated by the F.D.A. and would be in violation of the standards for “rich in fiber.”
Foods that meet the whole grain-rich criteria must contain 100% whole grain or a blend of whole grain meal and/or flour and enriched meal and/or flour of which at least 50% is whole grain, according to the U.S.D.A. The remaining 50% or less of grains, if any, must be enriched and fall into the category of “creditable grains.”
Under non-creditable grains, the U.S.D.A. states oat fiber, corn fiber, bran, germ, modified food starch, corn starch and wheat starch (including potato, legume and other vegetable flours) do not contribute toward meal pattern components.
The Whole Grains Council, Boston, said it would prefer to have bran and germ encouraged over enriched grain.
“We’re sorry to see bran and germ basically disallowed in schools,” the Whole Grains Council said.
The kernel has three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The kernel may be cracked, crushed or flaked during the milling process. If the finished product retains the same relative proportions of the three main components as the original grain, the U.S.D.A. considers it a whole grain.
According to the Whole Grains Council, the F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A. may have reservations about companies that buy endosperm, bran and germ separately and reconstitute it in their factories to create a whole grain.
“What you find out in the industry is that there are varying levels of knowledge about the new meal patterns and things like labeling or non-creditable grains, but that there is a general sense of goodwill to help each other out,” Mr. Trouba said. “Some companies are well-versed in things like this while others aren’t, but it hasn’t been a significant issue in our work with customers.”
To help companies reach whole grain levels, ConAgra Mills supplies Ultragrain whole wheat flour, which offers whole grain nutrition without the typical dark color and bran and germ specks that may be unfamiliar and unappealing to students, Mr. Trouba said. He added ConAgra Mills helps companies market Ultragrain-based products through a SuperKids whole grain sampling program, now in its eighth year. ConAgra Mills works with companies to promote and offer free samples of whole grain-rich foods made with Ultragrain to food service directors for kindergarten through grade 12.
Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass., also works with a number of companies that are supplying or trying to supply schools with grain-based foods that meet U.S.D.A. guidelines, said Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing.
“Our focus has primarily been on bread-based items, such as buns, rolls and the most popular item of all, pizza,” she said.
Bay State Milling offers a crust mix that may be prepared at a pizza shop or within a school kitchen commissary.
“It is called Easy Grain and contains all components except water and yeast, which are added according to the instructions on the bag,” Ms. Zammer said. “It contains 53% whole grain flour from white whole wheat, which meets whole grain-rich criteria and has the appearance and flavor kids love. It was also formulated to be low in fat and sodium so that when toppings are added, the pizza is still within the guidelines.”
Consider corn for whole grain applications
Corn may work as a source of whole grain to provide taste and color to items in the national school lunch and breakfast programs. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture agrees.
The U.S.D.A. listed prototypes incorporating corn in its “Whole grain resource for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.” For example, a whole grain chicken corn dog may include whole wheat flour and whole grain corn in the batter. Other options are cornbread and white corn tortillas.
Manufacturers have many suppliers to choose from when opting to incorporate corn into whole grain products.
Didion Milling, Johnson Creek, Wis., promotes corn as being cost-effective and gluten-free. The company has been storing, milling, fermenting and transporting corn products for more than 40 years.
According to Grain Millers, Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., yellow corn is the most common type of corn used in the United States while white corn may be used in such products as tortilla chips and tortillas.
Cargill, Minneapolis, offers MaizeWise whole grain corn meal, corn flour and masa flour. Potential applications include cereal and cereal bars, tortillas, bread, coating systems, extruded snacks, tortilla chips and taco shells.