Common sense backed up by epidemiological studies easily makes the connection between whole grain consumption and positive health benefits. It’s been harder, however, for scientists to describe the mechanics of how this works and which whole grain components are responsible. But in the meantime, bakers are reaping the benefits of adding whole grains to their product lines.

“We’re starting to get more crossover studies and other clinical trials that balance out the large body of population and epidemiological studies from earlier years,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, Whole Grains Council, Boston, MA.

While scientists find more evidence of the beneficial effects of whole grains on heart health and weight control, formulators must consider the practical aspects of making whole grain foods appealing to consumers. The healthy halo that consumers associate with whole grains extends as well to bakery results.


“One decade later, whole grains verdict — a resounding success,” stated Milling & Baking News in its Feb. 22 issue. While output of whole-wheat flour by US millers remains steady at roughly 5% of total volume, the real advances are taking place at bakeries. For example, during the past five years, sales of whole-grain products by Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, GA, climbed 75%. Sara Lee Fresh Bakery, Downers Grove, IL, reported that its share of products with whole grains nearly doubled to 45% in 2010 from 24% in 2005, estimating 27% overall share growth for the category from 15% in 2005.

At Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, Fort Wayne, IN, J. (Bohn) Popp, vice-president of marketing, described the company’s results from its whole-grain program. “In 2001, we generated 2% of our business from whole grains,” he said. “Today, 38% of the bread and rolls we sell contain at least some whole-grain flour.”

Fueling demand are the many made-with-whole-grains products now reaching the supermarket shelves in ever-increasing numbers. Although the market information firm Mintel, Chicago, IL, did not differentiate between “made with” and 100% whole-grain products, it reported in its Global New Product Database the launch of 3,272 new whole-grain products in 2010, up from 855 in 2005 and 164 in 2000.

Another measure is the rising number of foods — more than 5,600 as of July 2011 — that now carry the Whole Grain Stamp issued by the Whole Grains Council. In April, the council authorized nearly 200 new stamps, according to Ms. Harriman. “Whole grain is still going strong,” she said. The Whole Grains Council welcomed the 23rd country to the stamp program when Australia’s Bodhi’s Bakehouse put the symbol on its bread in July.

“Whole grains are becoming more important to bakers,” confirmed Darren Schubert, vice-president, sales and marketing, Grain Millers, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN.


The list of whole grains includes both cereals and pseudocereals. It runs the gamut from amaranth to quinoa to buckwheat, rye and triticale then back to wheat and einkorn, an ancient precursor of wheat. A number of organizations maintain lists of whole grains, but in most instances, when bakers talk whole grain, they mean whole wheat.

Working with whole-wheat flour presents different challenges than those of enriched flour. These involve taste, texture, color and process. “Consumers will always go for taste,” Mr. Schubert said, “but bakers also have to provide them with the texture they prefer.”

Taste and texture make the most difference for consumers who seek white-bread properties in their whole-grain breads and rolls, according to Jessica Wellnitz, senior food technologist, Cargill Bakery Technology, Plymouth, MN, and Christine Cerkvenik, dry corn ingredients commercial manager, Cargill Corn Milling, Minneapolis, MN. “Taste maintains product integrity,” Ms. Cerkvenik added, “but texture can be a key attribute, too.”

With whole wheat, taste differences boil down to the tannin content of the bran. These red pigments in hard red wheat carry a bitter flavor. “Whiter whole-grain varieties typically contain fewer tannins, which results in a less bitter taste,” said Brook Carson, technical product manager, ADM Milling, Shawnee Mission, KS. “Differences in taste can also be overcome with added sweetness or with a masking agent.”

Partial substitution of whole-wheat flour into conventional formulas offers product developers another choice, although this will generally require minor changes to some ingredient levels and processing. “Ultragrain — ConAgra Mills’ proprietary whole wheat flour that has the texture, taste and appearance of white flour — makes transitioning to whole grains even easier,” said Elizabeth Arndt, PhD, director of R&D, ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, NE. “At 25 to 30% inclusion levels, it delivers meaningful whole-grain nutrition without having to modify your formula.” And it provides a more mainstream taste experience when compared with traditional whole wheat, she added.

Use of hard white wheat flour might be considered a stealth approach that allows the baker to emulate products made with refined flour. “That has worked pretty well,” said Colleen Zammer, product manager, value-added products, Bay State Milling, Quincy, MA. “Some consumers still report a bit of bitterness from the bran, but the product is as close as possible to white while delivering fiber and additional nutrients.

“The other approach is to deliberately emphasize the whole-grain character, the nutty flavor and brown color, and market it for what it is,” she continued. “There are many people who enjoy
these characteristics.”

Most made-with-whole-grain products don’t have huge percentages of whole grains and, thus, don’t present flavor issues, according to Kris Nelson, technical manager, sales and marketing, Grain Millers. But she cautioned formulators that some non-wheat whole-grain flours have significant taste concerns. She described whole red wheat and rye as fairly strong in flavor while rice, buckwheat and barley are bland.

Texture differences can be considerable. “Will you be using flour or flake styles in the product?” Ms. Nelson asked. “Each form provides a different texture as well as other functional properties.”

Consider oats. Steel-cut oats now enjoy high interest from consumers, but they can be quite chewy. Ms. Nelson described a no-soak style that is pre-hydrated to avoid the need to soak it overnight.

“The real question is, how much do you want the whole grain to disappear into the crumb?” she said. Her colleague, Mr. Schubert observed that ultrafine milling technology has helped.


Granola and muesli are relatively easy to adapt to include whole grains, but when mixtures are thicker, as in yeast-raised doughs, the formulator will see considerable differences, according to Ms. Nelson. “The dough and finished product will be heavier, with not as much rise,” she said. “Flaked whole grains soak up a lot of water and release it later in the process than refined grains.”

Doughs made from whole grains, including whole wheat, present issues of absorption and strength, which affect the texture (or crumb) of the finished product. “Balancing the granulation of the whole grain, the amount of water required and adding time to allow for proper absorption are all ways to resolve changes in the finished product texture,” Ms. Carson said.

On an equal weight basis, whole-grain flours absorb more water than refined flours. “But they do so at a slower pace,” Ms. Zammer said. “You have to be ready to adjust water and yeast levels and change the time frames for proofing and baking. You may also need to adjust oven temperature.”

Whole-grain doughs require less mixing and have less tolerance for over-mixing, according to Dr. Arndt. “Breads made with whole-grain ingredients may also require an increase in other functional ingredients such as gluten and oxidation agents,” she added.

But the consumer perception that whole grains equate to natural may require formulators to remove certain ingredients from the product, cautioned Brian Walker, divisional technical service manager, Horizon Milling, Minnetonka, MN. Without conventional emulsifiers or dough strengtheners, gluten becomes much more important.

Bran contains many active phytonutrients, but it also dilutes the gluten responsible for the elastic dough matrix. Ms. Zammer explained, “Because of the bran, there is proportionally less gluten, which translates into lower loaf volume and weaker doughs. You may have to add vital wheat gluten or dough conditioners to get back the structure. In addition, bran particles are sharp and may poke holes in the gluten matrix, thus contributing to reduced volume.”

Bakers will need to consider altering their processing methods. “Modern wholesale bakeries have been designed primarily as high-speed producers of white bread,” Mr. Walker observed. “With whole grains, the bakery will need to adjust the fermentation system, mixing, hydration of water and line speeds.”

Baking conditions, too, come into play. “It may also be necessary to make adjustments to the baking time and temperature to ensure that the product is thoroughly baked without being overly browned,” Dr. Arndt said.


The bran and germ components of whole grain flours can complicate shelf stability for finished products because of their native oils and enzymes. While this is not so much of a problem for bread, it is for low-moisture goods such as crackers, biscuits and bakery mixes, resulting in shelf-life limitations of three to six months. However, “bran and germ can be stabilized with heat treatment to reduce enzyme activity,” Ms. Carson said.

“Flour is a short-turnaround material,” Ms. Zammer explained. “It doesn’t stay in the bakery long, so its oils are not much of a concern.” For longer-shelf-life products, she encouraged formulators to use antioxidants such as vitamin E to keep oils from oxidizing during the expected time.

Dr. Arndt recommended the use of antioxidants such as mixed tocopherols or deodorized rosemary extract in the fats and oils that go into bakery formulation. She also advised, “Foremost, it is important to control the quality and age of the flour at the time of use to maximize the shelf life of bakery products made with whole-grain ingredients.”

Many suppliers of whole-grain ingredients offer stabilized products, including wheat and corn brans. In flaked grains, the problem enzymes tend to be denatured by the flaking process, Ms. Nelson explained. Because of the method used to remove oat hulls, oats are stabilized in all their ingredient forms. “Most oat millers use kiln processes, which knock out the lipases,” she said. “But some grains are more difficult than others.”

Generally, wheat flours receive no additional treatment after milling. Most customers use flour quickly enough that stabilization is not required. “But we have to have good forecasting by customers of their needs to be able to manage just-in-time delivery to them,” Mr. Walker said. “Planning must be built into supply chain management. And of course, there will be more challenges in the summer than winter.”


Because of stability issues, some bakers are considering reconstitution, a method that creates whole flour at the mixer bowl by adding component parts separately. In other words, bakers may be able to combine their regular supply of flour with stable micronized bran and germ.

Millers follow well-accepted practices to prepare whole-grain flours by blending millstreams to match the profile of endosperm, bran and germ in the original kernel. Bakers may be able to do something similar by reconstitution.

“Combining separate millstreams is how millers produce whole-wheat flour by reuniting all the components in the wheat kernel in their original proportions,” Ms. Harriman said, “but this is a different problem at the bakery. You have to be careful to determine the original proportions of the grain.”

The micronized material — a co-processed blend of wheat germ and bran made by a proprietary method — can be blended with the baker’s own supply of patent flour, according to Michael Weibel, vice-president, R&D, Watson, Inc., West Haven, CT. At about 1 micron, the small particle size of the company’s Perfect Grains falls well below the organoleptic perception level of around 30 microns. “If you tried to grind whole-wheat flour to get the germ and bran size down that low, you would damage the protein and starch in the endosperm,” Mr. Weibel said.

The process that micronizes the bran and germ solves another problem common to whole-grain products. “With leavened products, ground whole grains usually contain bran particles with very sharp edges that can perforate the developing gas cells and prompt them to coalesce,” Mr. Weibel said. “That’s why you see such an open crumb structure in many whole-grain products.”

The small particle size also optimizes appearance because, as Mr. Weibel explained, it mitigates the contrast of the pigmented bran and endosperm content of the dough.


Wheat flour millers locate their mills strategically to ensure surety of supply across North America, but the same is not true for small grains. In the past, bakers seeking amaranth, quinoa and similar non-wheat grains had to scramble to find year-round availability. Today, however, companies such as ConAgra Milling, Omaha, NE, and Bakers Elements, Chicago, IL, can aggregate supplies of these “ancient grains” and other non-wheat cereals and pseudocereals for their customers.

Variety flours are commonly available from most flour millers. Grain Millers, for example, specializes in oats, wheat, barley and rye. Along with wheat, barley and rye, Bay State Milling adds triticale and spelt to make up its five
main grains.

“With the emerging grains, we work with their suppliers on market development,” Bay State’s Ms. Zammer explained. “We can source these grains now from their traditional growing regions, often overseas. But as these grains become more popular among American consumers, we will contract with US grower sources so we can control our supply.

“We don’t want a baker to have to work with multiple suppliers,” she added. “We can do the leg work.”

Although contracting directly with farmers on wheat is not a common practice among millers, some use this approach for small grains to make sure they have enough for customer orders. Ms. Nelson said that Grain Millers contracts with suppliers for some materials. Grains coming from overseas such as teff present challenges. “The kernels of quinoa, amaranth and teff are really quite small in size,” she said. “The biggest concern is whether those sources screen adequately to remove foreign matter.”

The key, of course, is planning and good forecasting of needs by bakers. “With a perishable product like bread, the baker has a very short window for sales,” Mr. Walker observed. “If a baker runs a promotion for a new multigrain bread, for example, and it becomes a big hit, they will need more flour very quickly. Meeting that need can challenge our customers
and us.”