The needs of gluten-free formulas throw new light on the role of starch in baked foods, but bakers have been taking advantage of the versatility of native and modified starches for a long time.

This class of ingredients helps create satisfying products that stand up to the rigors of distribution. Now, there’s growing evidence of their role in maintaining good health. But above all, starches enable preparation of convenient foods that people like to eat and are designed for today’s on-the-go society.

Starches critically affect the appeal and eating experience of foods, explained Ricardo Rodriguez, bakery marketing manager, Ingredion, Westchester, IL. “Texture terms, such as creamy, crunchy and so forth, are among the most important call-outs on food packaging, and starch plays directly into that area,” he said.

Many formulators now view texture as second only to taste, especially for foods targeting consumers interested in health and wellness. It’s a market segment that “will command texturizing solutions,” said Bryan Scherer, vice-president of R&D, Penford Food Ingredients, Centennial, CO.

Starch gets involved in this market in another way — and another form: resistant starch. Because it is basically indigestible, it acts as a prebiotic fiber and cuts calories. Research with MGP’s Fibersym resistant wheat starch showed that, in addition to aiding digestive health, it can assist management of blood glucose levels and help lower cholesterol. And a new study by Ingredion noted that its Hi-Maize high-amylose resistant starch may improve insulin sensitivity in women.

“Health benefits are key to bringing such starches to the fore,” said Mike Lasater, vice-president of ingredient sales and marketing, MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, KS.

Brook Carson, director of R&D, ADM Milling, Shawnee Mission, KS, added, “Clean-label requirements will continue to drive starch development and use.”

Clean and multifunctional

The usual reason to add starch to a bakery formula is to manage its viscosity — to thicken it. But they also work as moisture managers and contribute bulk and structure. Other ingredients do similar things; however, starches provide a clean-label advantage. This can be a big differentiator in gluten-free products.

“The predominant trend of the types of food ­starches used for gluten-free products is a cleaner label declaration,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Ingredients that can be labeled simply cornstarch, tapioca flour, rice flour, potato starch and so forth are generally perceived as more desirable.”

Managing shelf life is another job that can be given to starches, particularly in sweet baked foods, according to Bill Gilbert, principal food technologist, Cargill, Minneapolis. “There is increased interest in extending shelf life in chemically leavened products where starch will have the best cost in use,” he observed.

Starches bring non-GMO status to the formulator’s bench, too. For example, the waxy maize corn that is the source for most food-grade corn starches is not GMO, neither are starches derived from ancient grains, rice and wheat.

Yes, wheat. “We can safely claim the non-GMO status of our wheat-based protein and starch ingredients,” said David Whitmer, corporate director of quality, R&D and innovation, MGP Ingredients, observing that no commercially available GMO wheat is grown in the US, despite the blip in Oregon.

Mr. Scherer confirmed this interest, noting, “Clean label and non-GMO are growing trends among product developers. The PenPure starch line, which consists of native potato, tapioca, rice and waxy corn starches, are very well suited for these requirements. There is also a growing interest in other botanical sources such as sweet potato, pea and mung bean starch.”

On the gluten-free circuit

The best proof of the versatility of starches today can be found in the gluten-free category.

These types of baked foods lack the support of a gluten network, and something needs to stand in for it. “Multiple ingredients are typically needed to provide the same functionality as gluten-containing counterparts,” Ms. Carson said.

“Gluten-free products designed to match traditional bakery items require flour, starch, protein and gum sources to match the functionality of wheat,” she continued. “Because these baked goods require multiple ingredients to create the desired texture, starch is critical for body, structure and moisture retention.”

Starch builds and sets the crumb structure in the oven. “Understanding the starch component of ­gluten-free flours is important to obtain optimal finished product characteristics,” Ms. Carson said. For example, the company’s Harvest Pearl sorghum flour has a higher starch gelatinization temperature than wheat flour, requiring the process to be adjusted.

Both cook-up and pregelatinized starches are recommended for gluten-free foods, and formulators are expressing an interest in using native starches to maintain a clean label, according to Mr. Scherer.

“Potato and tapioca starches are the most commonly used [in gluten-free formulations],” Ms. Carson noted, “though it seems as if developers continue to experiment other options as the gluten-free consumer continues to demand higher quality products.”

Sarah Wood, PhD, manager of R&D, Penford Food Ingredients, reported, “Potato and tapioca starches are neutral in taste and provide a clean flavor profile for the finished gluten-free baked goods.”

Matt Gennrich, research food technologist, Cargill, confirmed the value of tapioca and corn starches in gluten-free baked foods. “Both tapioca and native corn starches are general, all-purpose replacements for standard wheat flour but are most beneficial when used in combination with other starch sources,” he observed. “The use of modified starches can help to add some texture back into gluten-free applications although this is more frequently achieved through the use of gums and other hydrocolloids.”

Blend a partnership

To nurture the next generation of gluten-free products, formulators are strengthening ingredient synergies. Many now work with sophisticated blends of ingredients. “Using the right combination of starches along with gums, whole and ancient grains and other materials allows formulators to develop products that can come close to replicating the textures and flavors of their gluten-containing counterparts,” Mr. Gennrich said.

It all boils down to the application, said Ana Maria Garavito, food scientist, Gum Technology, Tucson, AZ, a business unit of Penford Food Ingredients. “Ingredient recommendations are application-based,” she explained. “It is essential to identify the role of gluten in the particular baked good application in which gluten functionality will be replaced.

“Its absence is a challenge to structure,” she continued. “There is not an individual ingredient that when hydrated and mixed will display all the functionalities of developed gluten. Blends containing starches and gums are typically recommended.” Starches and gums can act synergistically, as they do in the company’s GumPlete SAXG-SC-401, a blend of corn starch and Arabic, xanthan and guar gums. Many textures and functionalities can result by varying their ratios.

The company typically recommends a blend of starches, gums and specialty gluten-free flours such as sorghum to replace wheat flour in gluten-free products, Mr. Scherer explained. The selection is tailored to the application, bread vs. cake vs. cookie.

“The other consideration is whether the finished product needs to be allergen-free and/or have a clean ingredient legend,” Mr. Scherer said. “Potato and tapioca starches are typically the most recommended starches for gluten-free baked goods.”

Pregelatinized starches, used with gums like xanthan, can help make the raw gluten-free dough more workable and improve its performance, including air entrapment during proofing, he said. “Cook-up starches, in conjunction with gums and non-glutinous flours, form the final crumb structure and texture in the finished baked good.”

The first attempts to bake gluten-free often used gums alone to substitute for gluten, but good results were hard to achieve. “Food starches can provide a bulk system that other ingredients, such as hydrocolloids, cannot provide,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Food starch is often a much more cost-effective way to achieving a desired formulation.”

Although earnestly offered to a grateful celiac community, many early gluten-free foods suffered from flavor problems. “Many gluten-free starch alternatives have flavor profiles that consumers may not be used to,” Mr. Gennrich said, “but this can be an advantage of using MaizeWise whole grain corn flour — it is a flavor with which most consumers are familiar.”

Ingredion took a different course and developed Precisa Bake GT and Homecraft Create GT 10 and 20 as bulk product systems. “These ingredients can be used to directly replace bulk wheat flour 1:1 with minor formulating tweaks,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

Nutritional value, too, was sometimes questionable, hence today’s focus on gluten-free grains of higher nutrient value. “Using whole grain versions of corn, rice and ancient grains — quinoa, teff, amaranth and millet — can help to improve the overall nutritional profile and also provide a variety of flavors and textures,” Mr. Gennrich said.

Resistant starches provide a boost of fiber, according to Ms. Wood. The company developed PenFibe RS and RO ­potato-based resistant starches that provide a source of ­dietary fiber that is allergen-free and non-GMO.

By the way, taste issues extend beyond gluten-free. Mr. Lasater described using wheat starches in fruit pie fillings. “Starches used in sweet fillings require a clean flavor, and wheat starches give you that,” he said. “When using a wheat-based starch, more of the natural fruit flavor comes through. In some cases, you can cut down the supplemental extract needed.”

Exploring new territory

But gluten-free is not the only emerging use for starches. Sugar, fat and sodium — considered to be major bad guys by food industry critics — may meet their match in tailored starch ingredients.

“New starch technologies will be developed to help improve texture when fat and sugar are reduced or when nutritional ingredients such as fiber are added,” Mr. Scherer said. “This may entail the use of starch and gum blends which demonstrate synergistic benefits. There will be new technologies developed to improve the functionality and stability of native starches while still maintaining their clean-label status. And finally, new starch technology developments will help reduce the use of costly ingredients while still providing the functional benefits desired.”

Mr. Gilbert described Cargill Safar modified starch that achieves a 25% fat replacement. “It keeps all the eating quality while lowering saturated fats,” he said. “Striving for 50% fat replacement is still on Cargill’s radar.

“Finding the right carbohydrate to replace sugar has been a dream of the bakery customers not wanting polyols,” he continued. “It’s common knowledge that corn syrup solids can replace some, but the unmet need is still on the horizon waiting to be developed.”

Gluten-free formulators try to keep their products allergen-free, thus demanding replacement not only of milk and soy proteins but also eggs, according to Mr. Scherer.

Such demand comes from producers of conventional baked foods, as well, but much replacement of whole egg and egg white involves their cost. “Although whole egg prices are stable, customers can still see 20% savings,” Mr. Gilbert said. “Egg white, on the other hand, has hit historic high prices.” The right blend of starches will give aeration and structure in snack cakes to replace 50% of the albumen. Angel cakes are the most difficult; however, blending the right starch with protein and hydrocolloids can achieve 50% replacement, he said.

There is even a series of starches good for sodium reduction, noted Mr. Whitmer. Currently used mostly in soups and sauces, they have potential for savory applications in other categories.

Recently, healthier food choices are moving beyond CPG sectors into the foodservice arena, raising opportunities for resistant starch. “Larger fast food restaurants are trying to raise the health quotient of their menus,” Mr. Lasater observed. “The bread component is a good place to add health benefits and reduce calories. Our resistant wheat starch will do that for sandwich bread and improve the profile of the whole sandwich.”

In flour-based applications, MGP’s resistant wheat starch acts very much like fiber, Mr. Lasater explained. “It has similar hydration, but you may need to add a bit of gluten. In cookies, it’s a 1:1 replacer for up to a quarter of formula flour.” He predicted the introduction of more fiber-enhanced cookies in the next 12 to 18 months. “This is definitely a trend, and you should see some products launched in 2015 in the category of healthier but still indulgent,” he said.

Finally, starches make handheld foods more convenient. “Starches, such as wheat starch, address factors related to three critical ‘Ts’ — taste, texture and time — as well as certain nutritional considerations,” said Steve Pickman, MGP Ingredients spokesperson. “By time, I mean convenience in terms of ease and quickness of preparation and availability. And convenience is extremely important to consumers in today’s constantly on-the-go society. Of course, if foods aren’t palatable, then no matter what other benefits they possess, demand for these goods will dissipate.” And that’s a challenge worthy of bakery formulators.