Boosting the nutritional profile of grain-based baked foods — from breads and bars to cookies and crackers — has become increasingly common as bakers appeal to intensifying consumer interest in health and wellness.

The addition of new nutrients to a food, also known as fortification, is not to be confused with enrichment, which is the adding back of nutrients lost during processing to return the food to its original nutritional status. Both techniques are common among bakers, and both rely on nutrient premixes to ensure consistency and quality, as well as simplify the addition and tracking process.

The act of fortifying foods is less than 100 years old, just long enough ago for today’s food purists to not fully appreciate the necessity of the practice. The fact is, many nutritional authorities believe if certain fortification practices were ceased, a number of debilitating and often fatal diseases would quickly return.

Modern-day fortification

At the educational session “Fortification in 2014: Understanding the Importance” held during the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo in mid-June, Johanna Dwyer, senior nutrition scientist, National Institutes of Health, Washington, DC, told attendees that in some situations, fortification “clearly makes a difference.”

For example, the bone-debilitating disease rickets affected around 75% of infants in the 1920s, while at the same time, pellagra was the 8th leading cause of death in the US. Fortification of milk with vitamin D and bread with niacin eradicated rickets and pellagra, respectively. Further, fortification is to thank for taking folate inadequacy from 88% to 11% and iron deficiency from 22% to 7%, Ms. Dwyer said.

But fortification can be a double-edged sword because formulators are challenged with delivering enough of a nutrient without going past allowed limits. “We are fortifying in context of high background use of dietary supplements, which increases the risks of exceeding the upper levels,” Ms. Dwyer said. With some nutrients, this can pose a health concern, especially among vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children.

Ms. Dwyer advised the industry to avoid the excesses of the past. She cautioned against “sprinkling in nutrients” for marketing purposes, as this can do more harm than good if it drives consumers to have a negative opinion of all fortified foods, even those crucial for health.

Another speaker during this session, Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice-president of nutrition and food safety, International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, Washington, DC, further emphasized the need for responsible fortification, explaining that six out of 10 consumers think they get enough nutrients to meet their health needs, but food consumption data indicate the contrary. This is why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 named “nutrients of concern” to be potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D.

Baked goods function as ideal carriers for these nutrients, as well as those associated with preventing disease and enhancing overall health and wellness. Because most are added to baked goods at relatively low levels, ensuring adequate addition to meet label claims can be tricky.

However, answers to these concerns are readily available and customizable. Barbara Bufe Heidolph, director, commercial development and applications, Innophos Inc., Cranbury, NJ, said, “The simplest manner to deliver these components is to use a pre-blend or premix of nutrients.”

Why flour gets enriched

Bakers have long been adding nutrients to grain-based baked products either through the use of enriched flour or by selective direct addition. The purpose of enriching flour is to replenish nutrients present in the wheat that were lost during processing, thus returning flour to match the nutritional status of the unrefined product.

“The international effort to start enriching flour was initiated in the 1940s with the ‘wartime population,’ ” explained Diane Hnat, senior technical marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ. “The decision to choose flour for enrichment was based on its commonality in the diets of all socio-economic classes. A main factor contributing to the switch to enriched flour in the US was when the Army restricted its purchase to enriched flour in 1942.”

Enrichment of standard wheat flour is mandatory in the US. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a pound of enriched flour must contain 2.9 mg thiamine, 1.8 mg riboflavin, 24 mg niacin, 0.7 mg folic acid, 20 mg iron, plus calcium may be added at a minimum of 960 mg.

“Standardized enrichment premixes are formulated to meet legal specifications,” said Monte White, president and CEO, Research Products Co., a division of McShares Inc., Salina, KS. “Bakers can also request specialized blends of nutrients. Formulators must communicate the types of vitamins and minerals they would like to add and the levels they would like to meet in the finished product. In most cases, a single premix can be formulated to meet their needs.”

For example, vitamin D, a nutrient with restricted use in many food categories but also one deficient in many diets, can be added to grain products at a level of 90 IU. This ingredient can be part of the enrichment premix.

At IFT, Ms. Smith Edge explained that while 68% of consumers believe they get enough vitamin D for their health, only 32% actually do. Baked goods are a good carrier to help bridge the gap.

Tom Reed, vice-president of North American Sales at Viobin, Monticello, IL, agreed there is an opportunity to include vitamin D into standard premixes to address the deficiency of this nutrient of concern. “We also believe there’s an opportunity for enrichment of whole grain and gluten-free products,” he said.

Why use a premix

There are numerous advantages to using a premix, as opposed to procuring individual nutrients, then measuring and adding them separately in the bakery environment.

For starters, adding one product — the premix that has already been formulated to meet specifications — is much easier for the baker to accomplish. “The scaling of the premix can be done on a more macro level than the micro level required for each component,” Ms. Bufe Heidolph explained. “The premix is a multi-component product in a single unit.  For the ultimate end-user — the baker or flour

 manufacturer — premixes allow inventory of one stock-keeping unit (SKU) versus the individual

nutrients. Further, the premix supplier conducts quality testing to confirm nutrient concentration.”

Randy Kreienbrink, director of marketing, BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, CA, added, “Premixes are usually used because they minimize costs and maximize efficiency. Since a multitude of ingredients are replaced with one premix, sourcing, production and storage are simplified.”

Manufacturers appreciate the simplified inventory management that comes with using premixes rather than sourcing individual ingredients.

“Every ingredient that enters a manufacturing facility must be tested and tracked,” said Alice Wilkinson, vice-president of quality and nutritional R&D, Watson Inc., West Haven, CT. “With premixes, you only have to manage documentation for one incoming ingredient.”

The onus of ensuring stability and bioavailability of individual nutrients in a premix falls on the supplier. “The shelf life of the least stable nutrient determines the shelf life of the premix,” Ms. Wilkinson said. “Because premix suppliers have purchasing power and are using micronutrients in large volumes, they are most likely working with much fresher ingredients than a manufacturer who purchases individual nutrients in bulk and stores them in the warehouse.” 

Premix suppliers also assist with ensuring homogeneity of low-use micronutrients throughout the premix. “Vitamin B12 is a great example,” Ms. Wilkinson noted. “The Daily Value (DV) for this ­micronutrient is 6 mg, which is about five particles of the pure crystal product. If a baker wants to deliver 10% of the DV of this vitamin in a serving, that’s less than one particle.

“Premix suppliers can ensure delivery by solubilizing the B12, then spraying it onto a carrier,” she said. “Now every particle of the carrier has some B12.” Some suppliers will just blend the vitamin with the carrier. This will not ensure sufficient delivery to the finished product.

“Wherever there is a concern with getting all the micro ingredients uniformly dispersed in the end product in order to meet a label claim, you should be using a premix,” Mr. Kreienbrink said, suggesting bakers need to stay abreast of what is happening in the market. As product launches of functional foods and beverages increase, differentiation becomes increasingly important.

“It always helps when working with a reputable premix supplier, one with a vast product line to choose from; one with the expertise to help choose the correct ingredients amongst their vast product line and formulate the premix; one with the capabilities to blend the ingredients

to fit your product’s need,” he added.

It is critical that bakers understand there is no one-size-fits-all approach to premix formulation when adding new nutrients to baked goods.

“To create a successful consumer product, the combination of ingredients cannot negatively impact taste, texture, stability or shelf life,” said Cathy Arnold, formulations regional manager-North America, Fortitech Premixes, Schenectady, NY.

“A hallmark of our premixes is that each one is customized to the specific application,” she continued. “Whether it’s a cereal, a bar, bread or a cookie, each of these applications has its own individual ingredient matrix and its own individual processing conditions. Our food scientists take all of this into account as they work with a customer to determine the appropriate nutrients and forms to be included in the premix.”

Handle with care

Many micronutrients are fragile and must be protected from the environment as well as interaction with other ingredients. Gentle handling, exact adherence to the formulation and respect for the process’ reliability and safety are key factors.

“Fluid-bed technology enables us to offer processing in the form of drying, granulation, agglomeration and coating,” said Sabine Hildebrandt, head of R&D, SternVitamin GmbH & Co., Ahrensburg, Germany. “For example, we can spray vitamins onto carriers, encapsulate probiotic microorganisms with a protective and functional layer of fat, or spray enzyme solutions onto wheat flours.”

Of course, technology also assists with flow. “The premix must have good flow properties, adjusted to the existing equipment,” Ms.  Hildebrandt said. This eliminates error and guarantees a consistent finished product.

“One more final safeguard for ensuring sufficient delivery of all nutrients in the premix is to have the supplier custom-package the premix for each individual batch of product,” Ms. Wilkinson said. “This eliminates the chance for error during scaling.” 

Bakers interested in adding value to their baked goods through fortification should heed the words of caution from the speakers at the IFT session. The consensus from the experts is that it’s vital to carefully consider the product type, the nutrients to be added and the target audience when formulating fortified foods to prevent over-fortification or nutrient interaction complications.