KANSAS CITY — Consumers recognize the benefits of whole grain products. Only protein and fiber stand ahead of whole grains as the dietary components consumers are trying to consume on a regular basis, according to the International Food Information Council’s 2016 Food and Health Survey. Yet despite the positive perception, only a small percentage of the U.S. population consumes the daily recommended amount of whole grains.
The challenge is to bring more consumers more in line with the daily recommended amounts of whole grains they should consume. Taste is a barrier. Brian Strouts, vice-president of baking and food technical services at AIB International, Manhattan, Kas., addressed the issue of flavor during a presentation this past October during the International Baking Industry Exposition, held in Las Vegas.
“What’s fairly common in whole grain or multigrain is that you have to balance out what becomes a bitter or tannic flavor that comes with many of those whole grains,” he said.
Balancing out that bitterness may call for more sugar or a longer fermentation time. White wheat has a lesser impact on taste and color than red wheat, Mr. Strouts added.
Harold Ward, technical services representative for the Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, Mass., said wheat varieties play a role in whole grain flavor.
“In general, red wheat has a stronger, grainier flavor than white wheat, while white wheat tends to have a milder, sweeter flavor than red wheat,” he said. “Those are generalizations though as some red wheat can be milder flavored than others, while some white wheats can be stronger flavored than other white wheats.
“With wheat in mind, in my experience, sprouted wheat tends to have a sweeter flavor than its un-sprouted counterpart. With regard to alternative grains, spelt tends to have a mild, slightly sweet flavor while teff has been described as having a mild molasses-like flavor.”
He added that wheat breeders are working on varieties that exhibit improved performance in baking applications as well as sweeter, less bitter flavor characteristics.
“Some milling companies have programs in place for developing or seeking out and evaluating wheat varieties for those specific characteristics, with Bay State Milling’s 5th Generation Seed, L.L.C. being a great example,” Mr. Ward said.
Introduced this past February, 5th Generation Seed, Yuma, Ariz., is a business that focuses on the development of novel varieties of grains such as wheat, barley and spelt with beneficial customer and consumer-centric output traits like baking performance, nutrition, color and flavor for differentiated grain-based foods.
“By leveraging our new grain varieties and working with plant breeders and seed farmers, we now have the tools available to solve real problems that our customers are dealing with, such as insufficient or inconsistent stability of wheat flours, or consumer dislike of healthful whole grain foods,” said Michael Pate, vice-president of research and development for Bay State Milling, when the new business was introduced.
Researchers at the Flavor Research and Education Center at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, are focused on addressing flavor issues in mass produced food and beverage products and one vein of the centers research has touched on is whole grains.
“We know that eating whole grains is healthy, but only 10% to 12% of the population eats the recommended amount,” said Devin Peterson, director of the center and professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, at the university. “Someone could go to an artisan bakery and buy a loaf of whole grain bread that’s likely to be more acceptable, but the general population doesn’t do that, and whole grain foods are less liked overall.
“We want to provide food solutions that have a population-wide impact. Flavor is a primary driver of food choice. So to increase the consumption of healthier foods, we need to make those foods taste good.”
An example of the center’s findings is its investigation of compounds that form when whole grains are used in processed foods.
“When we investigated the bitter compounds that your tongue responds to, we found they originated from the whole wheat flour when water was added to make dough,” Mr. Peterson said. “When water is added, enzymes in the flour generate these compounds, and they do that within about five minutes.”
With this information, companies may choose flour made from wheat that doesn’t have as many of the enzymes that promote bitterness and encourage the breeding of new wheat lines to meet flavor standards.
“Nature can do more of the heavy lifting for us, if we understand how,” Mr. Peterson said.