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. In the first of this exclusive series, Elizabeth Arndt, PhD, director of R&D, ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, NE, offers her advice to readers of Baking & Snack’s new Formulations Update.

Baking & Snack: What kinds of issues do formulators run into when working with whole grains? How are these usually resolved? Which is more important: texture or taste?

Elizabeth Arndt: The impact of whole grains on bakery formulas, processing and final product attributes is influenced by the inclusion level and type of whole-grain ingredients used. Products made with relatively low inclusion of 25 to 30% traditional whole-wheat flour basis generally require minor changes to the formula and processing conditions. Ultragrain, ConAgra Mills’ proprietary whole-wheat flour that has the texture, taste and appearance of white flour, makes transitioning to whole grains even easier. At 25 to 30% inclusion levels, it delivers meaningful whole-grain nutrition without having to modify your formula. When included at higher levels, Ultragrain provides a much more mainstream taste experience when compared to traditional whole wheat.

The main factors that product developers must be aware of when changing to partial or full whole-grain formulas is that whole grains absorb more liquid, require less mixing and have lower tolerance to over-mixing. Breads made with whole-grain ingredients may also require an increase in other functional ingredients such as gluten and the oxidation agents. 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.

The taste, texture and appearance of the product are all very important factors for consumer acceptance and must be optimized.

When flour is milled from whole grains, the oils in the bran and germ can cause stability problems for products with long shelf lives. What is ConAgra Mills doing to address this situation?

Foremost, it is important to control the quality and age of the flour at the time of use in order to maximize the shelf life of bakery products made with whole-grain ingredients. It is also important that the oil or fat used in the formula is of high quality and stability. The developer may also want to consider adding antioxidants such as mixed tocopherols or rosemary extract to the oil or fat.

Does all the flour have to be whole grain?

No, the grain ingredients do not have to be entirely whole grain. Partial whole-grain products are vital for increasing whole-grain consumption and consumer acceptance. The use of transitional levels of whole grain such as 25 to 30% flour basis in breads and other grain-based foods helps introduce consumers to whole grains and is particularly important for consumers who are not familiar with or may not like whole grains.

The development of products in which 51% of the grain ingredients are whole grain has become more popular for several reasons. First, this level is in line with Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommendations that at least half of grain intake should be whole grain. The 51% whole-grain level provides the advantage that whole grain is listed before refined grain in the ingredient legend and can also provide front-of-pack label advantages. For the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), products such as pepperoni pizza made with a 51% whole grain crust, the crust can be labeled as “whole grain.” For the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), products such as sandwich bread or snack crackers in which 51% of the grain ingredients are whole grain, the products can be labeled “made with whole grain” or as “51% whole grain.”

As per the proposed revisions to meal patterns and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the availability of whole grains in schools must be increased. Upon implementation of the proposed rule, half of the grains offered during the school week must be whole-grain-rich, increasing to all grains must be whole-grain-rich two years post implementation of the final rule. Whole-grain-rich foods may contain less than 100% whole grain, but generally, at least 51% of the grain ingredients must be whole grain.

Surety of supply for ingredients is always a concern for consumer package goods companies like bakers. What does ConAgra Mills bring to the table to address this matter?

One of the great strengths at ConAgra Mills is our ability to ensure a strong, consistent supply of our ingredients. We work with our suppliers across the country to meet the demand for whole-grain ingredients for manufacturers and bakeries of all sizes, large and small.