Staying ahead of the protein game

by Laurie Gorton, Baking & Snack
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Hitting a home run is every product developer’s goal. Right now, batting averages favor protein as that star strategy, but how exactly does this buzzworthy consumer trend fit into bakery formulations? Answer: just as carefully as batters take aim at fastballs.

Americans’ fascination with protein-enhanced foods continues to influence their shopping habits. “Satiety, not weight loss” and “quick, complete nutrition” are key drivers of protein, according to Lynn Dornblaser, director, innovation and insight, Mintel, Chicago.

“The protein trend was first seen in sports nutrition and dietary supplements,” noted Nicole Rees, business development manager, ingredient technologies, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, WI. “Now it’s in mainstream bars, beverages and cereals. It hit baking last.” She cited P28 Bread, made by New York Bakery, Syracuse, NY, as a game-changer. “Two slices provide 28 g of protein. That’s huge. The whole protein thing is just starting in bakery. The portfolio of such products is likely to double within the year.”

However, pumping more protein into baked foods isn’t the easiest pitch to make. “You can’t just throw a handful of protein into your formula,” said John Gelley, sales manager, bakery North America, Arla Food Ingredients, Basking Ridge, NJ. “You have to work to find the right protein for the application.”

Making it to the ‘bigs’

In the eyes of its fans, protein radiates nutritional star power, and bakers have always valued it for functional reasons. First, however, a few facts need to be put up on the scoreboard.

“The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that adults should consume between 10 and 35% of total calories as protein,” said Glenn Gaesser, PhD, director, Healthy Lifestyles Research Center, and professor, Arizona State University, Tempe. “So, baked foods, at around 10%, are in that range, albeit the low end. But Americans also consume a lot of foods that are much higher in protein. On a balanced diet, this will ensure that protein needs are being met. Excessive protein intake is unwarranted.”

The Institute of Medicine established the daily reference intake for protein at 46 g for adult females and 56 g for adult males. Nearly all Americans regularly consume enough protein to meet the body’s daily needs, although some of the very elderly do not.

For the most part, consumers seek high-protein foods, expecting to achieve weight management and exercise recovery benefits. Joanna Clifton, a market analyst with Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, said that 30% of US consumers choose foods because they are high in protein and are willing to pay 5% more for products with added protein. New protein product development for bakery items and plant-based protein are expected to gain strength.

Protein’s appeal is simple. “Protein has the halo of satiety,” Ms. Rees said. “That’s what is driving this trend. What people believe is that a variety of protein will help with weight loss, satiety and energy.” It’s a trend especially appealing to Gen Y, she noted.

Much research backs up protein’s nutritional power. Consumption of whey protein, for example, results in rapid, enhanced amino acid presence in the blood, observed Phil Blanchard, bakery division manager, Agropur Ingredients, La Crosse, WI, citing information from the Dairy Research Institute. Whey is high in leucine, which acts as a signaling molecule to regulate mRNA translation, or “turning on” of protein synthesis. “It helps promote muscle repair and recovery and can help build more lean muscle after exercise,” he observed. “Dairy-derived proteins as well as other varieties of proteins have shown good success in increasing satiety, thereby helping to control caloric consumption.”

Hydrolyzed wheat protein is high in glutamine, reported to be effective in prevention of exercise fatigue and over-training syndrome among active athletes, according to David Whitmer, corporate director of quality, R&D and innovation, MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, KS, summarizing studies in which the company collaborated with the Department of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University, Manhattan. His colleague, Mike Lasater, vice-president of ingredients sales and marketing, noted that this protein’s neutral pH, bland flavor profile and easy solubility in water allow it to raise protein levels in many types of finished products.

Soy protein even has its own Food and Drug Administration-approved health claim. “Because low-fat soy flour or meal is high in protein, it can be used in snacks and bars to increase protein content and reach the FDA ‘heart healthy’ claim of 6.25 g of soy protein per serving,” said Jon Stratford, sales and marketing manager, Natural Products, Inc., Grinnell, IA. “Low-fat soy meal and flour are clean-label, low-cost alternative to soy protein concentrates or isolates.”

Home field advantage

Inside their own ballparks, bakers readily assign protein to playing useful functional positions. It can field improvements in shelf life, product volume, batch yield and dough extensibility, and lately, it’s been given the job of partially or completely replacing eggs.

“For instance,” Mr. Planchard explained, “functional whey proteins can provide structure, impart shelf-life extension properties, contribute richness in flavor and help boost post-bake volumes. Sometimes, the incorporation may be more about resolving another issue such as egg or egg white replacement rather than boosting protein levels.”

Wheat’s gluten is no slouch at replacing egg whites either. Manildra Group USA, Shawnee Mission, KS, just released results of a Kansas State University study using two of the company’s wheat protein isolates as partial and total replacements for egg whites and whole eggs. Manildra’s vice-president of R&D and technical services, Ody Maningat, PhD, described the results in high-ratio cakes, pancakes and waffles at 25%, 50% and 100% replacements. Cell number, size and wall thickness were similar to controls, as was crumb texture as indicated by firmness and elasticity.

Formulators can supplement the gluten naturally present in wheat-based products with additional wheat proteins in the forms of vital wheat gluten, defatted wheat germ and, most recently, wheat protein concentrates and isolates. Mr. Whitmer described the MGP’s wheat protein isolate line as demonstrating exceptional elastic properties. “It is effective in increasing dough extensibility, water absorption, bread loaf volume and crumb firmness while decreasing dough mix time.

Hydrolyzed wheat protein, also described by Mr. Whitmer, reduces mixing time and increases extensibility, which makes it suitable as a replacement for L-cysteine. “While L-cysteine has been an effective ingredient in bakery products, its chemical-sounding name, plus its non-plant-based origins, can make it unappealing in various instances,” he said.

Textured vegetable proteins are better known for their meat and meat analog applications but have unique structural and sensory properties. “They provide a protein-rich solution for certain types of snack foods and breakfast cereals,” Mr. Lasater explained.

The texturizing power of protein inspired ADM to develop a new line of protein crisps for use in cereal bars, cereals and healthy snacks. The crisps are available in a range of protein contents and can be tailored to include fiber or characterizing flavors, noted Tom Burrows, director of strategic marketing, ADM Soy Proteins, Decatur, IL.

Bakers also know the role soy can play in building yield. “The combination of protein and oil in full-fat soy flour gives it strong water-binding properties,” Mr. Stratford said. “When used in bread, it can actually increase yield. The rule of thumb is, for every pound of soy flour added to the dough, add a pound of water. In a 100-lb batch of dough, that amounts to three to five extra loaves, without a significant increase in water activity or loss of volume.”

There’s another property that bakers use to their advantage. Roasted full-fat soy flour is commonly used in cake donuts to reduce oil uptake during frying. “It can also be used as a clean-label emulsifier in sweet baked goods at a level of 1 to 3%, wheat flour basis,” Mr. Stratford added.

Scouting report

Knowing the capabilities of different proteins can help win the game for product developers. “A formulator would need to know what protein and fiber levels they want to target and what the taste and appearance objectives of the final product are to be,” said Larry Labens, North American sales manager, Viobin U.S.A., Monticello, IL.

The protein’s source, whether it is animal or vegetable-based, can make a difference, noted Bryan Scherer, vice-president of R&D, Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, CO, whether it is animal or vegetable-based. “From a nutrition standpoint, many formulators who are looking to boost protein may want to consider protein quality, measured by its protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) and then blend complementary proteins to maximize the score,” he said.

Various product styles have differing needs, Ms. Rees explained. “Every application requires different proteins to meet texture and shelf life requrements.” she said. “So the soy or whey protein you like for a bar may not at all be suitable for a cookie. There is a lot of screening to do to preserve the flavor and texture of the bakery item.” The formulator may choose different proteins for each use, including even foregoing soy and whey.

Sometimes, it’s the source that piques interest. “Chia is the biggest driver for us this year, and there is a lot of consumer support for it,” Ms. Rees said.

Bridget Shrigley, nutrition sales specialist, Prinova USA, Carol Stream, IL, noted an interest in rice protein, although she added, “Whey is best because it has no grittiness; however, it needs to be heat stable.”

At ADM, sorghum and ground bean powders are making it all the way around the bases in this game. “Whole grain sorghum flour provides protein and fiber contents that are twice the level of brown rice flour — the common choice for whole grain gluten-free products,” said Brook Carson, director of R&D, ADM Milling, Overland Park, KS.

Cooked ground bean powders also carry fiber along with their protein content, and both are present in greater amounts compared with the major cereal grains, according to Cheryl Borders, research manager, soy foods applications, and technical service, edible beans, ADM, Decatur, IL. She described applications in extruded and sheeted snacks, dips, crackers, sauces, baked goods, tortillas, soups, dry mixes, bean crisps, particulate bars and gluten-free snacks.

Sometimes, protein enhancement must avoid functional complications. Ron Heddleson, senior director of R&D, QualiTech, Inc., Chaska, MN, indicated that too much protein in the dough can negatively affect texture, mouthfeel and rheological properties. That’s where high-protein inclusions can become the designated hitter.

“Inclusions with added nutritional supplements provide a combination of cost efficiency, ease of use, ambient storage, extended shelf life stability and the added value of protein,” he said. “By using inclusions, a food developer can customize the nutritional content they deliver, decreasing the total fat and increasing dietary fiber or protein in their formulations.”

Setting the lineup

In terms of performance, formulators looking for a “natural” know they can rely on vital wheat gluten. It, along with defatted wheat germ and fractionated wheat proteins and isolates, has a natural synergy in baked foods based on wheat flour, noted Mr. Whitmer. “This advantage can provide formulation and blending ease and reduce the need for processing adjustments during the food production phase,” he said, adding that because there is not any genetically modified wheat commercially available, all wheat proteins are also non-GMO.

This synergy means wheat proteins will incorporate well during dry blending and dough mixing steps, Dr. Maningat said.

When toasted, defatted wheat germ contributes a nutty flavor. “Many other high-protein and high-fiber products tend to have a bitter flavor or leave a lingering grainy feel in the mouth,” Mr. Labens said. This ingredient can be ground and toasted to different levels, yielding an appealing visual appearance as well.

Protein sources such as low- and full-fat soy flours provide functional properties to formulas. “A common use of raw (enzyme-active) full-fat soy flour in white breads is as a bleaching aid and dough conditioner at 0.5%, flour weight basis,” Mr. Stratford said.

“If a specific protein-related functionality is desired — for example, emulsification or water binding — that will typically be achieved with a full-fat soy ingredient at levels of 3%, flour weight basis, or below,” he added. “That level of inclusion will not result in a meaningful increase in protein in the finished product, but it will deliver the desired functionality and might even reduce the overall cost of the formula, considering that other more expensive proteins (eggs or milk) or fats (lecithin) might be able to be reduced.”

One important question to ask when putting protein into products is what will it displace in the formula. “Typically, the best plan is to first replace any other proteins, including eggs, next go after dairy ingredients such as skim milk powder, and lastly make up the balance with flour,” said Craig Sherwin, PhD, director of the protein technology center, Davisco, Eden Prairie, MN.

When boosting the protein level in baked foods, the variety and quality of protein can impact final results, noted Maxime Saffon, application scientist, Penford Food Ingredients. “For example, the structure of dough results from the association of protein through disulphide bridges,” she said. “Additional protein will increase the number of disulphide bridges, resulting in a stiff and sturdy dough.

“To help prevent this, the formulator would then need to use an oxidant in order to reduce the level of interaction.” Ms. Saffon continued. “Another solution would be to choose a protein that is poor in thiol groups.”

Other adjustments are often necessary. For example, fruit-based pastry fillings can be quite acidic, a condition that can denature proteins. Proteins, specifically milk’s casein, when added to low-pH fillings and heated or pasteurized may tend to aggregate and precipitate, resulting in grainy textures, separation and curdling, according to Ana Maria Garavito Rojas, food scientist, Gum Technology, a business unit of Penford Food Ingredients. “High-methoxyl pectin is very useful to stabilize dairy proteins in low pH conditions,” she said, recommending use at levels of 0.25 to 0.45%.

Formulators may need to compensate for unwanted effects from excess protein — odd colors, off flavors or aromas, Maillard browning and effects on texture. “For example, starch and gum blends can help maintain volume in baked and extruded products and help bind ingredients in protein bars,” Mr. Scherer said.

Game day strategy

Winning the protein game also takes skill at moving the new formula into commercial production. Mr. Planchard explained that harmony is needed between the formula’s solids and its hydration sources. “Formulators shouldn’t be intimidated with protein incorporation,” he said. “There is a science to it, and a little product will take a formulation a long way.”

Protein additions will change the viscosity of the dough, thus affecting depositing and handling, ultimately affecting the taste and texture of the finished product, Ms. Shrigley said.

Hydration becomes key. “Typically, with higher protein content — and/or fiber content — more water is absorbed,” Ms. Borders observed. “This may require additional liquid or a change in the order of ingredient addition.”

Dr. Sherwin advised shifting mixing practices by adding the protein during the second stage to ensure that other ingredients are fully hydrated. “While whey proteins are high in solubility compared with other proteins, they are less soluble than sugars and other starches,” he said. “But if you can ensure complete dispersability through mixing, even if not completely dissolved, things should turn out fine.” As the product heats and bakes, there will be sufficient water to fully hydrate the whey protein and unlock its functionality.

The process may need more energy input, according to Mr. Heddleson. “In general, the baker will need to account for increased energy required to mix doughs with high protein content due to increased viscosity,” he said.

And the final results must appeal to consumers. “Taste is always the No. 1 consideration, followed by handling ability either on a bench or in a plant,” Mr. Labens said.

Certainly, protein in on everyone’s mind right now, and it poses a variety of challenges. “Bakery projects such as these are all fairly individual in terms of requirements in structure, protein enhancement, replacement factors, target audience, price points and labeling,” said Terese O’Neill, new business development, Agropur Ingredients.

Dr. Maningat concluded, “A good balance of the protein additive at optimum usage level is a must.”

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