Achieving the “new look” of health-and-wellness when formulating grain-based foods often requires choosing a different flour. Although enriched white flour brings positive vitamin and mineral benefits to baked foods, today’s product developers frequently turn to whole-grain wheat and specialty grain flours to prepare items that appeal to health-conscious shoppers. These flours are the choice “when you want a flour that can create an interesting and fresh label on the product,” explained Wayne Flood, vice-president, sales and marketing, Dakota Specialty Milling, Fargo, ND.

Such applications mark a new era for specialty flours, taking them far beyond their traditional uses in ethnic specialties and variety breads. “Specialty flours allow bakers and food manufacturers to tailor products to fit their particular customer needs and diversify product lines,” said Mike Veal, vice-president of marketing, ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE.

Gluten-sensitive consumers, in particular, have much to gain from products developed with flours milled from the “ancient grains” (amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa and teff). “We have seen more inquiries from bakeries trying to use specialty flours to develop ‘free from’ products (egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.),” said Jon Stratford, sales and marketing manager, Natural Products, Inc. (NPI), Grinnell, IA.

As bakers embrace customer demand for whole grains and healthier bread options, they will consider whole-grain or specialty flours as a partial or full replacement for conventional white flour, according to Brook Carson, technical products and market development manager, ADM Milling, Overland Park, KS. “Bakers are adding products like ADM’s Kansas Diamond extra-fine white whole-wheat flour and ADM’s whole-grain white sorghum flour to achieve a ‘made with’ whole-grain claim,” she explained.

Another trend favoring variety flours is the rising tide of snacking. “According to The NPD Group, snacks now account for 20% of all eating occasions and are forecasted to grow 18% over the next 10 years,” Mr. Veal said. “To stay ahead of that trend, baking and snack manufacturers often look to new ingredients to help them innovate”

Variety flours fit right into this trend. “There seems to be a strong focus to re-energize the snack food and baking industries with the incorporation of new and unique flours,” observed Jennifer Tesch, sales/marketing director, SK Food International, Fargo, ND. She cited use of pea, lentil and bean flours to add protein and fiber to such applications.

“The key is, the health-focussed consumer desires nutrition, but it has to be tasty and satisfying in a convenient form,” Mr. Flood stated.

GRAIN BASES. A good proportion of today’s new bakery and snack product development projects focus on whole grains, according to Ms. Carson, and they use whole-wheat or non-wheat specialty flours. Generally, specialty or variety flours involve non-wheat sources, but for many emerging products, especially whole-grain baked foods, the term also denotes whole-wheat flour.

“Consumers are showing more interest in healthy grain products,” said Randal Robinson, director of sales, southwest region, 21st Century Grain Processing, Kansas City, MO. The advent of whole-wheat flour made from white hard and soft wheats has enabled preparation of the “new look” in grain-based foods. Compared with whole-wheat flour made from red wheats, these new flours give a sweeter flavor yet retain all the natural vitamins and bran. “Also, different bran sizes will help each user reach the goal they are searching for in the cosmetic appearance of their fin- ished products,” Mr. Robinson added.

ConAgra Mills developed its proprietary Ultragrain 100% whole-wheat flour to be an all-natural, whole-grain ingredient, with the taste, texture and appearance of refined white flour. Mr. Veal observed that it is milled from specially selected wheat using patented technology and delivers end products with a lighter color and softer smoother texture than traditional whole-grain products.

Dave Kovacic, director of technical services, Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, MA, reminded bakers that white wheat comprises two different crops. One, hard white wheat, suits yeast-raised products, while the other, soft white wheat, is best for chemically leavened products such as cookies, cakes and pastries. Bay State Milling offers its whole-wheat ingredients in two forms: whole wheat including flaked, crushed and cracked wheat, and various granulations of whole wheat flours, including fine, extrafine, medium and coarse.

Bay State also produces rye in whole-grain meal styles and also white, medium and dark rye flours. “Incorporated in small percentages, rye flour or rye meal gives a great flavor,” Mr. Kovacic said. He described a recent study done in Europe that reported rye to have similar health benefits as whole wheat.

Barley is another grain that provides impressive nutrition benefits with a mild flavor. ConAgra Mills’ Sustagrain is made from a proprietary barley variety with 30% fiber, which is three times more fiber than oats, giving it the highest fiber content of any commercially available whole grain, according to Mr. Veal. At least 40% of its fiber is beta-glucan soluble fiber, which is important in heart health.

Mixtures of specialty whole grain flours address the growing interest in multigrain breads, according to Mr. Flood. Dakota Specialty Milling recently introduced its MG Flour Blend 100, made by combining eight different light-colored grains: white wheat, triticale, oats, rye, barley, millet, buckwheat and brown rice. The grains are milled into a fine 100% whole-grain flour. “Customers can use MG100 to create soft-textured multigrain products,” he said. The finished baked foods are smooth in texture, an important characteristic to consumers in certain segments. It can be used in bread, buns, crackers, tortillas and pancake and wa• e mixes. “The baker blends MG100 with his own flour in plant and doesn’t have to inventory all the different flours,” he explained.

SANS GLUTEN. Specialty flours find increasing use in today’s growing number of gluten-free products. “In some instances, bakers request gluten-free flours that are natural, non-GMO and/ or organic,” said Jennifer Stephens, marketing manager, Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, CO. The most common gluten-free flours are made from rice, sorghum, potato and tapioca. Other sources include teff, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, soy, corn, chia, millet and fava and garbanzo beans. Ms. Tesch added lentil and pea flours to the list.

“Ancient grains are an appealing choice for bakers looking to add wholegrain nutrition and culinary appeal,” Mr. Veal stated. ConAgra Mills’ Ancient Grains line encompasses flours milled from amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff and then blended to achieve unique nutritional and flavor profiles. These flours are naturally gluten-free, and the company also uses them to prepare its Eagle Mills Gluten-Free All-Purpose Multigrain Flour Blend, purposely designed for gluten-free applications.

ADM Milling produces white sorghum flour, including a whole-grain style. White sorghum flour was described by Ms. Carson as “a unique, specialty flour with a neutral flavor and color that is excellent for gluten-free applications that are expected to be nearly identical to the traditional products.”

Soy flour, also a gluten-free ingredient, is used by bakeries to emulsify, extend yield, increase protein, add fiber, enhance texture and condition dough in commercial bakery products, according to Mr. Stratford. NPI offers a line of non-GMO and organic full- and low-fat soy flours, as well as blended ingredients that cost-effectively reduce or eliminate eggs or milk from bakery formulations.

Although careful to point out that flaxseed, while a pseudocereal, is not considered a whole grain under current Whole Grain Council definitions, Dan Best, principal, Best Vantage, Inc., Northbrook, IL, speaking on behalf of ENRECO, Inc., Sheboygan Falls, WI, reported increasing interest in the company’s stabilized whole-seed flaxseed ingredients. Flaxseed, offered in different styles, sizes and forms, provides formulators with a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that is stable up to two years. ENRECO uses a proprietary method to manage the seed from harvest through milling, which also drives down plate counts.

Flaxseed is highly functional in tortillas, according to Mr. Best. It improves structural integrity and release. The soluble fiber in flaxseed has film-forming activity that helps trap leavening gases. “It is a good way to manage moisture and combat drying,” he added. “Flaxseed also seems to have antifungal mold-inhibition properties in pasta.”

FORMULATING TIPS. Except when used at 10% or less (flour weight basis), variety flours can complicate dough and batter performance. Many experts offered a common piece of advice: Be patient. A second recommendation: Don’t put too much in, but ramp up usage levels gradually. Take an incremental approach, advised Mr. Kovacic. “That way you can market [the new product] using the consumer’s preference for its original taste,” he said.

“We work with customers on formulating,” Mr. Flood noted. Such projects start with the desired white flour substitution, typically replacement of 5 to 25% of the patent flour with whole-grain and multigrain blends.

“Rely on the supplier to teach you to use the new ingredient and gradually increase its usage,” Ms. Stephens recommended. “Troubleshooting a common minor ingredient is much simpler than troubleshooting a specialty flour where the inclusion rate can be very high.”

When developing whole-grain products, formulators have choices, Ms. Carson observed. “The first is to create products that are obviously whole grain — dense and dark in color, possibly with inclusions. The other is to add whole grains into traditionally white-flour-based products so the consumer cannot tell the difference,” she said. To make best use of variety flours, bakers must take into account several factors. “You must adjust absorption,” Mr. Kovacic said. “For every 10% of wholewheat flour, increase absorption by approximately 1 percentage point. Whole-grain flour hydrates slower. The dough may look sticky and may possibly will need more floor time. Bran weakens the gluten matrix, so slower mixing speeds are needed.” But he cautioned against over-mixing. The weaker gluten structure may need to be adjusted by the addition of vital wheat gluten and/or dough conditioners. New enzyme systems have been introduced specifically for wholegrain products.

“And here’s another one: Bake time and temperature may need to be adjusted for lower temperatures and longer times,” Mr. Kovacic said. “The dough tends to be denser [than that of conventional white bread], so longer bake times may be necessary.”

Full-fat soy flour also requires more water in the dough or batter. “Additional water can be a problem because of increased water activity and changes in texture,” Mr. Stratford said, “but it can also be beneficial for keeping baked products tasting fresh on the shelf longer and can improve mouthfeel. Adding water can also increase yield.”

Cookies and muffins don’t present the same challenges as bread, according to Mr. Kovacic. “The application opportunities are huge, particularly in indulgent products,” he added. “Soft whole wheat in cookies is a great concept.”

Taking out the gluten from formulations creates another set of problems. Simple replacement of wheat flour with just gluten-free flour alternatives does not produce quality products, according to Ms. Stephens. “Issues can range from shelf-life stability and fragility to poor texture and flavor,” she said. “Depending on the glutenfree flour/flour blend used, a gluten-free food requires a hydrocolloid system to optimize the product’s processing, storage and quality requirements.” Penford Foods recommends a customized ingredient system such as its PenTechGF to handle these factors.

Many suppliers provide expertise to support customer projects with variety flours. “Customers typically begin with an end goal in mind, and our cross-functional teams help them select the best flour ingredient or custom blend to meet the end-goal specifications,” Mr. Veal said.

In recent years, bakers have gained experience with whole-grain and variety flours. “It was a greater challenge 25 years ago to get whole grains into products,” Mr. Flood observed, “but today, it is common practice.”

The same is true of consumers. “There is a trend to more consumption of whole grains, but nothing happens fast,” Mr. Flood said. “Give health-minded consumers access to whole-grain foods, and in their own self interest, they will make the right decision.”