Bakers have plenty of everyday experience with wheat flours, but many recent product introductions take their flavor and nutrition appeal from nonwheat grains, milled into variety flours. Some such as those made from ancient grains are new to US bakers while others like rye and barley are old friends.

Today’s gluten-free fad drives much of this. About a third of US adults say they seek gluten-free options in foods, the NPD Group, Chicago, stated in March. The category is expected to reach $6.2 billion worldwide by 2018, according to a report issued in May by MarketsandMarkets, a Dallas-based research firm. Bakery and confectionary will lead volume at 46% share of market, while overall gluten-free sales in North America represent a 59% share of the global market.

But variety flours also support the baking industry’s long-term swing to variety goods. Share of sales in the $8.7 billion fresh-bread market has shifted away from white bread toward whole grain breads, including whole wheat. Today white holds a 35% share, with whole grains at 21% and “other” variety bread at 44%, according to data recently published in Milling & Baking News.

“The flours getting the most attention are those that provide additional nutritional benefits, functionality and appealing taste, texture and color,” said Brook Carson, director of R&D, ADM Milling, Overland Park, KS. “While there isn’t [a nonwheat] flour that can replace the exact functionality of wheat flour, using a combination of other flours can bring unique properties.”

While gluten-free gets the lion’s share of attention right now, there’s lots of potential in more conventional variety breads. Ms. Carson continued, “Most traditional commercial bakers are not looking to use nonwheat flours for gluten-free products, but rather to be used along with wheat flour.”

Such approaches foster diversity in the market, according to Colleen Zammer, director of product marketing, Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, MA. “It’s more difficult for bakers to differentiate themselves in a sea of white and whole wheat breads,” she said. “You have to do more to catch the consumer’s eye.”

Gluten-free at the forefront

All seeds contain protein, but only wheat, rye, barley and oats carry gluten, the protein implicated in celiac disease. Nonwheat flours that lack gluten are a diverse bunch, milled from other cereal grains, beans, pulses, seeds and even tubers. Another factor was noted by Bryan Scherer, director of R&D, Penford Food Ingredient Co., Centennial, CO. “There is not a single ingredient solution for replacing wheat flour when formulating gluten-free products,” he said.

In gluten-free applications, some nonwheat flours work better than others. Rice flour has the most history in this category, and recent advances strengthen its usefulness. Yoshi Mochizuki, director of product development, PGP International, Woodland, CA, described medium-grain (Uruchi) and sweet rice (Mochi) in white and brown versions, noting that both contain high levels of amylopectin. This composition builds batter and dough viscosity and moisture retention, thus imparting desirable smooth and soft texture to baked foods and helping replace fats.

“Medium-grain white rice flour is a good substitute for the starch part of wheat,” he explained. Brown rice flour works in whole grain formulations while sweet rice flour exhibits very slow starch retrogradation and aids in preventing syneresis in frozen products.

Pregelatinized rice flour is particularly suitable for gluten replacement. “It acts as a binder like gluten in wheat,” Mr. Mochizuki said and recommended a combination of pregelatinized and regular rice flour for gluten-free baked foods.

Sorghum is relatively new to gluten-free applications but offers interesting properties, according to Ms. Carson. “Because formulating gluten-free bakery items can be difficult, the whole grain aspect often gets overlooked,” she said. “Whole grain sorghum flour provides protein and fiber contents that are twice the level of brown rice flour.”

Beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas — the pulses — find use in gluten-free foods because of their beneficial amino acid profiles. Relatively new to baking, these ingredients come in flour form and fit many applications. “They are gluten-free and nutritionally dense, being high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and slowly digestible and resistant starches,” observed Heather Maskus, MSc, project manager, pulse flour milling and food applications, Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI), Winnipeg, MB.

New processing technologies make these flours friendlier to foods. For example, Caremoli USA, Inc., Ames, IA, developed a proprietary process to stabilize its legume flours by limiting the enzymatic oxidation that can occur after milling, according to Andrea Caremoli, PhD, the company’s president and CEO. Mark Reuber, a member of the company’s R&D staff, added, “This technology significantly increases their shelf life because it limits off-flavors and oxidized odors that can occur in unstablized flours over time. Further, it is not an extrusion process, uses no chemicals and doesn’t destroy the nutritional content of the legumes.”

Ingredion Inc., Westchester, IL, approached gluten-free formulating from a different standpoint by developing a portfolio of bulk flour systems. Patrick O’Brien, Ingredion’s bakery marketing manager, explained, “The Homecraft functional flours … are derived from rice and tapioca and allow the production of high-quality, gluten-free baked foods that are indistinguishable from wheat-containing alternatives.” The company’s Homecraft line, which has two gluten-free styles, also includes flours milled from unique varieties of wheat for formulators working on clean-label applications of baked foods outside the gluten-free range.

Nonwheat flours made from amaranth, brown and white rice, fava bean, potato, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca, teff and white bean are used by Penford in its new PenTech line. “Customers often look for flours that can add structure to baked goods without gluten and also have a mild or pleasant flavor profile,” Mr. Scherer said. To fit exact formulating needs, these flours may also include food starches and hydrocolloids to replace gluten’s functionality.

Pea, bean and lentil flours attract attention on their own merits. “With gluten intolerance gaining recognition, nonwheat grains, specialty grains and beans, peas and lentils have come to the forefront as viable alternatives for wheat,” said Tara Froemming, business development, SK Food International, Fargo, ND.

Options galore for bakers

Shoppers today are much more aware of baked foods made with variety grains than ever before. This is notably true for the so-called ancient grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, emmer, farro, Kamut, millet, quinoa, spelt, teff and others. “Ancient grain flours have been continually gaining interest,” Ms. Froemming said. “Not only a healthy alternative to its wheat counterpart, ancient grains are said to have a more distinctive and flavorful taste, having remained a purer grain for centuries.”

Growing awareness of the benefits of specific grains is another factor. “Quinoa has become particularly popular for its history, uniqueness, culinary versatility and nutritional value,” said Beth Arndt, PhD, director of R&D, ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE. “Also, amaranth and buckwheat provide high-quality protein compared with the cereal grains, which are limited in lysine.”

Many qualify as gluten-free. “They give baked foods a lot of ‘play’ because of the popularity of gluten-free,” said Susan Kay, manager, product applications, Bay State Milling.

Dr. Caremoli confirmed such interest and said, “The ancient grains are important because of good taste and higher protein as in spelt and higher calcium as with quinoa.”

Barley, among the oldest grains cultivated by man, took a major step forward when conventional breeders developed a high-fiber barley variety. It contains 12% beta-glucan, provides three times the amount of fiber found in oats and is at least 30% total dietary fiber overall.

The new barley, the basis for ConAgra Mills’ Sustagrain line, also has a beneficial starch profile, according to Dr. Arndt. “It has about half the starch content of other grains. Viscous beta-glucan fiber and waxy starch have each been shown to impart fat mimetic properties in baked goods.” When substituted for 10% of the formula’s flour, this barley flour improves bread crumb softness during storage.

Rye ready for renewal

Outside the Northeast and limited metropolitan markets, rye bread is a hard sell. That may change as word gets out about rye’s health benefits, now supported by a substantial body of science. Plus, a new whole grain rye flour may change the way bakers use this grain.

Consumers could reap big health-and-wellness benefits if they would eat more rye breads, according to the Nordic Rye Group, a coalition of Scandinavian bakers, cereal researchers and university cereal science programs formed in 1944. Scientific research reveals rye’s potential to reduce risks for heart disease, cut insulin response, alleviate metabolic syndrome and fight inflammatory factors. The group summarized this research in its recent “Rye and Health” white paper.

“There’s always interest in rye,” Ms. Zammer said, “but as a flavor, it has a strong association with caraway, which can be a polarizing flavor. Rye received a lot of attention from the artisan market because it is a component in many Old World levains and bigas. It needs to go mainstream.”

Bay State introduced a rye flour that can do the job. “This is actually a whole grain flour, not the refined or coarse rye,” Ms. Zammer explained. Its optimized granulation improves its functionality in bread, where it works well in combination with whole wheat flour. “It demonstrates the ability of rye to suppress off-notes sometimes associated with whole wheat, and it proves that rye breads don’t always have to taste like typical German rye.”

Color, flavor, fiber from corn

Bakers’ interest in whole grain corn flour has increased in the past year, according to Jeff Casper, R&D manager, Horizon Milling, Wayzata, MN. He noted that this nonwheat flour adds new colors, textures and flavors to foods.

“Corn bread is the traditional use for corn flour,” he said. “But now corn flours are being pulled into new categories.” The company made prototypes of pasta, pan breads, baking powder biscuits and even cookies with its Cargill’s Maizewise corn flours. Consumers particularly liked the caramel corn and kettle corn cookies. In blueberry “morning glory” muffins, corn flour delivered a desirable slightly sweet flavor.

“Sensory work on items has been very positive, especially with kids,” Mr. Casper observed. “The color is an attractive yellow, and in some markets, that aspect may be desirable. You need only 10 to 15% to achieve a nice color.”

For those seeking even more color effects, SK Food International’s Crimson Red Corn brings a different look to foods: a natural red color maintained into the finished product. “This hybrid red corn has a unique colored aleurone, which carries over into the flour,” Ms. Froemming explained. “The color remains intact. Other varieties’ color is in the seed coat, which causes corn to lose its color during processing.” Formulations need no added colorants to achieve a visually appealing finished product. “The result is a clean product label,” she said.

A specialty hybrid high-amylose corn supports big improvements in fiber content for baked foods. Made from it, Ingredion’s Hi-Maize whole grain corn flour carries 30 to 33% total dietary fiber content. “That’s about triple what you would expect from traditional whole grain sources such as whole grain wheat and whole oats,” Mr. O’Brien said, “along with fewer calories.”

New look at spelt, sorghum

Now viewed as an ancient grain, spelt has been in everyday bakery use for a long time. “Although it has a different ratio of gluten proteins than wheat, it is not gluten-free,” Ms. Zammer explained. “Yet it has a halo effect of superior digestibility. It has a sweeter, less bitter flavor than many other whole grains, and it is certainly different from conventional wheat.”

The ratio of glutenin to gliaden in spelt reverses that of wheat, Ms. Kay explained. “Spelt has more glutenin and, thus, produces a more extensible dough but without as much elasticity as wheat.”

Water absorption with spelt changes dramatically compared with wheat, and the dough is easily mixed out. “But when you want extensibility, spelt is your grain,” Ms. Zammer said. “We experimented with pizza and found that 10% spelt improved the crispiness of the crust.” In pizza and tortillas, spelt eliminated any need for reducing agents.

Sorghum, like rye, has benefited from recent research centered on nutritional qualities. It has many food applications around the world including porridges, breads, cookies, tortillas and extruded foods. “Grain sorghum is a significant crop in North America due to its tolerance to growing conditions not suitable for other crops, but it has traditionally been overlooked for food applications,” Ms. Carson observed.

The cereal’s color ranges from dark brown and red to white, each with various associated benefits and flavors. ADM Milling uses white sorghum for its flour because it has a light color and neutral flavor. “Processed similar to wheat flour, white sorghum flour has a bland flavor that can be beneficial because it does not add an unfamiliar or distinctive taste,” Ms. Carson said.

Nutrient boost from pulses

Pulses take nonwheat flour choices far beyond cereals and enlarge the nutrient pool available to formulators. Strong scientific research supports these benefits, noted Ms. Maskus. This past September, the British Journal of Nutrition published a supplement with 16 articles covering nutritional values and health benefits for pulses related to obesity, diabetes, heart disease

and cancer.

CIGI, whose Pulse Canada program coordinated the journal supplement, recently tested lentil flours in a variety of food products including cookies, crackers, pan bread, pita bread, gluten-free pizza crust and tortillas. “What we’ve seen so far is that these ingredients have tremendous potential in baked product applications with some modification in processing and formulation,” Ms. Maskus reported.

Typically, pulse flours have a higher water absorption capacity compared with wheat flour; however, in optimized formulations, using less water usually helps with machinability and handling. “Consistency is key when successfully reformulating with pulse flours,” Ms. Maskus explained.

VegeFull brand precooked bean ingredients from ADM Edible Bean Specialties are finding use for their health appeal in several new baked foods and snacks, even sweet treats. “Bean powders, or flours, are interesting additions to baked products because they offer nutritional benefits such as increased fiber as well as improve moisture retention,” Ms. Carson said.

Stabilized legumes, specifically lentils and chickpeas, are a specialty of Caremoli. “We believe these can contribute essential components to the diet,” Dr. Caremoli said. “Their amino acid profile is very close to that of wheat. And many consider legume proteins to be healthier than wheat’s.” Applications include bars, bread, pasta, pastries, snacks and gluten-free products.

In all, there’s plenty of variety in variety grains and the nonwheat flours made from them. They carry some interesting health and nutrition benefits, too. The difference they bring to baked foods can also make a positive difference to their consumer appeal and the baker’s bottom line.