Although exciting for bakers, growing consumer interest in whole grains presents several problems. One involves flavor. “Whole grains, while better for you, do not always taste better,” said Marlene Smothers, associate director, sweet applications, WILD Flavors, Erlanger, KY. This can be addressed by flavors, but which ones to use? “Strong flavors such as cinnamon go with whole grains better than delicate flavors such as strawberry,” she observed. Addressing the problem in a different way, the company developed a flavor-based approach to mask the bitter, grainy notes that often accompany whole grains.

“Phenolic compounds and tannins in bran that provide pigmentation and the characteristic flavors of many whole grain products often degrade into compounds delivering bitterness and astringency,” said Ron Heddleson, director of technical services, QualiTech, Inc., Chaska, MN. Sweet or savory flavor systems or use of herbs addresses this difficulty and provides culinary complexity. So do corn ingredients. The company offers a stabilized corn ingredient that can be used to accentuate either masa-like or nutty-type flavor profiles and enable whole grain claims.

Flavor compatibility is important because “not all flavors go well with the grain character,” noted Polly Barrett, director, R&D, applied flavors technology, Kalsec, Inc., Kalamazoo, MI. “The product developer needs to balance in the grain, malt and caramel notes that are already present. There is also some interest in stabilized flavors that protect the whole grains from rancidity while delivering a delicious product.”

Formulators may add extra sugar to mask bitter notes, but milk, cream and butter flavors can be more useful with less negative impact on the nutritional label. “Whole grain flours have varying degrees of flavor,” observed Jennifer Lowry, vice-president, sales and marketing, Edlong Dairy Flavors, Elk Grove Village, IL. “Flavors need to be selected that will add creaminess and/or sweetness to balance the bitterness.”

Butter and cream concentrates improve mouthfeel of whole grain products, too. “They smooth out the gritty mouthfeel that can come with added fiber,” said Bill Buhler, president, Butter Buds, Inc., Racine, WI. “In this case, flavors that can be used at lower levels without contributing a top note are more helpful.”

So-called brown flavors help as well. Speaking for Mother Murphy’s Laboratories, Greensboro, NC, Pat Butler, vice-president of R&D, and Dean Kasper, vice-president of technical services, explained that honey, brown sugar or molasses carry such flavors but add to the costs of production. The same flavor impact can be achieved by brown sweet flavors that evoke these more expensive flavors.

Whole grain baked foods involve complex formulations. “[Flavor use] depends on a variety of factors in the processing such as combinations, how it is baked and particle size of the whole grain used,” said Phil Sprovieri, vice-­president of sales and marketing, Flavorchem, Downers Grove, IL. “In many cases, the flavor in the finished product can actually taste better. This is where working closely with a flavorist is beneficial.” That advice pertains not only to whole grain foods, but all baked products and snacks.