What baked foods offer the best opportunities for whole grains? Bread tops the list, followed by snack foods and breakfast cereals, according to experts from Bay State Milling, Quincy, MA: Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing; Susan Kay, manager, product applications; and David Kovacic, director of technical services. In this exclusive interview, they consider formulation needs as well as ingredient formats.

Baking & Snack: Among baked foods and snacks, what category offers the most untapped potential for whole grain formulating? Why?

Colleen Zammer: There’s a lot of room for expansion of the whole grain category.

Bay State’s whole grain ingredients are included in many bread and other baked foods, including tortillas and pizza. We’re looking at snack foods and bars, too. There is a lot of potential in these categories. I consider the best opportunities to be in two major camps: bread first and then snack foods.

First is the category of basic healthy foods that normally contain lower fat and sugar content, namely bread and bread products, which include bagels, tortillas and flatbreads. They are great carriers of whole grains, and a lot of new SKUs are possible. There’s plenty of room to increase the percentage of whole grains in these products without adversely affecting palatability. The whole grain health claim can be used for these foods because they are low in fat and sugar.

Second are snack products, which are more challenging to market as “healthy” whole grain products. It’s difficult for these foods to make the whole grain health claim, but you can still make an indulgent product with a healthier formulation. You can still make a content claim for whole grains even if you can’t make the health claim. And thus, these become not so much health foods but healthier-for-you foods that people can feel better about eating.

The more whole grains we can get into these foods, the better. Breakfast cereals prove the case. Look at what General Mills has done to make all its RTE cereals whole grain. There are other breakfast items that can be made whole grain as well, and this has been one of the fastest growing categories for whole grain foods.

David Kovacic: I think there are three categories where whole grains can play an important role: pizza, gluten-free products and batters and breadings.

Pizza is still a prime category for whole grains, both at food service and retail. But there has not been that much demand so far, and perhaps there is still the need to improve the flavor profile of whole grain pizza crust to have mass market appeal.

Gluten-free stands to benefit because of the inherent lack of nutrition in these foods. Most are made of starches and gums, so by adding gluten-free whole grains like amaranth and sorghum, you can increase the fiber, vitamins and minerals dramatically, which is something celiacs really need.

Third are batters and breadings. Most of these are in fried applications, but more are being offered for baked preparation. A whole grain crumb can easily be applied to chicken and fish. In batters, whole grains may present viscosity challenges, which may require additional formula adjustments.

As for current whole grain products, there’s still room to put more whole grains in. As several TV and popular press accounts reported, many are only 4 or 5% whole grain, which often confuses consumers into thinking they are getting a greater benefit than they are.

Ms. Zammer: Despite all the public attention, whole grains have yet to generate an overwhelming pull from consumers, perhaps because they don’t truly understand the benefits yet. But companies are working with a stealth approach — the “made with whole grains” approach — to reach the general consumer, and that has made some progress. However, there’s another category of consumer who likes the unique flavor and texture of the various whole grains. For these, the flavor is the benefit, and it comes first.

I see two camps forming here as well. One is the consumer who wants whole grains to be neutral in their impact on the food’s eating qualities, and the other looks deliberately to whole grains for a different, more adventurous eating experience. It makes for a wide range of market opportunities for manufacturers because whole grain products exist to serve both categories of consumers.

What should formulators and new product developers know about whole grains that would help implement such applications?

Mr. Kovacic: There’s the matter of grain choice. I come across two types of whole grain use by formulators. One involves little knowledge of the nutritional, textural and performance of the various whole grains, and the choice of which whole grain to use seems to be random. The other approach is to be aware of the flavor profiles and how combinations of various whole grains offer synergies and deliberate selection of specific grains. If you are not sure which way to go, your grain supplier can help provide guidance.

A third factor for formulators to consider is that each whole grain has a different hydration rate, due to particle size and just natural ratio of starch and bran. Also, whole grain ingredients continue to hydrate after mixing and during processing, which may lead to the dough drying out. You may need a few trials to determine optimal water additional and hydration time.

Susan Kay: Flavor is an important factor. We need to help the consumer understand that whole grains have unique flavors, and that not all are bitter, as consumers often assume. Spelt, for example, is very mild. You don’t need to use bitter maskers in spelt products, so it may actually reduce the formulation’s overall sugar content.

Whole grains also have many functional effects. Wheat is different than rye, and rye is different than barley.

Wheat has gluten that traps the leavening gases, but other grains don’t, and they dilute the gluten, affecting volume and texture. You have to build that volume, airiness and chewiness in to offer the texture with which consumers are familiar. You may need to change the yeast level, add a chemical leavener and enzymes. It’s quite a challenge.

Ms. Zammer: With snack products, crackers, flatbreads — where leavening is not as critical — whole grains can be easier to incorporate. Here the technology is in favor of whole grain addition.

Formulators can create different products that take advantage of the eating experience common to whole grains by working with the functionality and flavor of the whole grain, instead of against it as in a white pan bread.

While bakery formulators are likely familiar with whole grain flours, are there other forms (cracked, crisped, puffed, pre-gelatinized, soaked, etc.) that would be interesting to use in new baked foods applications? What adjustments in processing conditions will be needed?

Ms. Kay: A formulator can add cuts, flakes, toasted flours, toasted grains. The biggest thing is to understand the optimal absorption and rate of hydration. Pre-soaking may be a solution. Whole grains should be incorporated as soon as possible, preferably at the sponge stage. This helps get them fully hydrated earlier in the process.

There is a lot of ‘dead weight’ that the dough must carry. That’s why bakers often adjust the mixing times to make sure it is not over- or underdeveloped.

You have to understand the whole system, and it takes a lot of trial and error.

As a miller, we concentrate on particle size and on how we separate and collect the various millstreams. For example, with whole white wheat, the finer the particle size, the whiter the flour, but if you mill too fine, you affect the starch integrity. We’re doing a lot of work to optimize particle size of bran and starch integrity, which helps optimize water absorption and flavor.

Mr. Kovacic: By reducing the particle size of the bran, you also reduce the impact of the bran on the gluten. The flinty bran can cut the gluten protein network, deflating the structure.

Ms. Zammer: Each whole grain contributes unique nutritional profiles. For example, rye is experiencing a revival. But it’s not your usual rye bread. The producers want to market a whole grain rye, one with higher fiber content that still maintains the soft texture consumers seem to prefer. You still need to use wheat flour to get the loaf properties, but a combination of whole white wheat and whole rye delivers a great-tasting rye bread with greater nutrition than today’s typical rye.

What whole grain ingredients does Bay State Milling offer?

Ms. Zammer: Bay State Milling created GrainEssentials as the brand umbrella for whole grain ingredients. We are growing that category, both for individual grains and for blends of grains.

This brand is open to an infinite number of blends and styles (flour vs. pieces or combinations of both), depending on what the customer wants. We are expanding our OrganicEssentials line with new grain varieties as well.

Bay State Milling Company has strategically partnered with exclusive growers to offer OrganicEssentials Whole Spelt and OrganicEssentials White Spelt flour. Providing the health benefits of whole wheat with a milder flavor profile, Spelt is Bay State’s first offering of an ancient grain as we expand our portfolio of flours and grain-based ingredients to offer new tastes and textures for product innovation.

In the GrainEssentials line, the newest offering is our Multi-Grain Flour Blend, made of whole wheat, oat and rye flours milled for optimal performance and blended with golden flax seeds to provide 83% whole grains, 14% dietary fiber, 2.5% soluble fiber and 3.4% omega-3 fatty acids.

Other choices in this line are:

  • GrainEssentials Whole White Wheat Flour: white wheat milled fine and extra fine for whole grain products with light color and mild flavor.
  • GrainEssentials Whole Rye Flour: whole rye milled fine and extra fine for increased inclusion, performance and superior flavor.
GrainEssentials Grain Blends: blends of whole grain flours, cuts and flakes for use in dough and topically for the whole grain texture, appearance and nutrition. Grains include wheat (red and white), rye, spelt, triticale and barley … just to name a few.