Bakers have plenty of everyday experience with wheat flours, but many recent product introductions take their appeal from nonwheat grains milled into variety flours. Today’s gluten-free fad drives much of this, and rice flour applications have burgeoned. Here’s a look at how pulse flours fit this formulating trend in an exclusive Baking & Snack Q&A with Heather Maskus, MSc, project manager, pulse flour milling and food applications, Canadian International Grains Institute, Winnipeg, MB

Baking & Snack: How has interest from commercial bakers about variety flours changed in the past few years? What is driving the change?

Heather Maskus: Commercial bakers have become very interested in the potential to use nonwheat flours in baked applications over the past few years. A lot of this change is due to consumers and their changing demands for food products. Apart from wanting healthier food products high in protein and fiber, there is a growing desire for multigrain and gluten-free products. Consumers also want high quality, safe and delicious products, and we’re seeing that commercial bakers are looking beyond wheat to deliver on many of the growing demands of their customers. In some international markets, we are seeing that it’s not only consumers driving the changes but also government legislation.

Recently we met with a small Turkish delegation who had mentioned that bread should be formulated to be healthier. (An article explaining the rationale and history can be found here.) A lentil-and-sprouted whole wheat product that we demonstrated during this visit could have significant potential this market.

Which variety flours get the most interest? Which deserve the most attention? Why?

There are many different nonwheat flours that are receiving a lot of attention lately. There is a lot of recent focus on the ancient grains like spelt, amaranth, quinoa, millet and Kamut, but there are several other nonwheat grains such as food barley, pulses and flax that are growing in recognition and bakery product use. Each of these nonwheat grains provides unique functional, nutritional and sensory properties, so it’s important to consider all of these aspects in product formulations using nonwheat flours.

Pulses, which include peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas, are relatively new ingredients that can be used as flours in a variety of food applications. They are gluten-free and are nutritionally dense being high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and slowly digestible and resistant starches. In food formulations, they have unique functional properties and are widely available and grown in Canada.

What advice do you give bakers to enable successful use of these flours?

To be successful using nonwheat flours such as pulse flours in food formulations, it’s important to fully understand ingredient quality in terms of physical, functional and nutritional properties. Currently at the Canadian International Grains Institute, we are working to better understand all of these properties of pulse flours. What we have seen so far is that these ingredients have tremendous potential in baked product applications with some modification in processing and formulation. Typically, the pulse flours have a higher water absorption capacity compared with wheat flour; however, in optimized formulations, using less water typically helps with machinability and handling when using pulse flour ingredients. Overall, it appears that flour consistency is key when successfully reformulating with pulse flours, so be sure to talk to your supplier about the flour specifications needed for a specific application.

Can we share scientific research on health and nutrition of the grains?

There is scientific research on health and nutrition of pulses which can be found on the Pulse Canada website, For more specific information on pulse flour functionality and utilization, contact the Canadian International Grains Institute.