Inclusions and toppings jazz up baked goods to attract shoppers. After all, most consumers eat with their eyes first, and these little extras contribute color and visual appeal while also suggesting flavor and texture. They provide consumers with a multi-sensory experience before and during eating and, with some ingredients, even deliver a boost of nutrition for long-term impact.

Depending upon the application, choosing inclusions and toppings for baked goods can be a complex process. There are many considerations, starting from the mixing bowl all the way to the time of consumption.

A system in motion

Once introduced into a system, inclusions and toppings are constantly exposed to changes in the environment. These factors must be considered during ingredient selection.

“A very important consideration is temperature,” said Mark Jarrard, R&D manager, Kerry-Americas Region, Beloit, WI. “A baker needs to respect the temperatures the product will be exposed to during manufacture as well as through distribution and merchandising. This is particularly important in chocolate and compound coating-type inclusions where the solid fat may melt and lose its identity.”

Fat is often a component of the various glazes used to cover nuts such as praline pecans and toffee peanuts. Along with carbohydrates, such as gums, starches and sugars, the glaze acts as a barrier to prevent moisture absorption by the nut from the surrounding matrix because moisture absorption will cause the nut ingredient to lose its crunch.

“By using a high-melt-point fat in the glaze, the nut stays protected,” Mr. Jarrard said. “Keeping the nut protected also slows the onset of rancidity.

“Using a lower-roasted nut helps, too,” he added. “The quicker the nut is used from the time of roasting, the longer the final remaining product shelf life will be for the consumer. Adding an antioxidant to the lipid layer can further aid in the retardation of rancidity.”

Brit Walker, business manager, textured proteins, ADM Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients, Decatur, IL, agreed that moisture migration is a critical consideration when choosing inclusions and toppings. “You don’t want the ingredient to pick up a lot of moisture from the product,” he said.

Clusters, crisps and other typically crunchy ingredients can absorb water from the crumb matrix, resulting in an undesirably soft inclusion or topping. “To overcome this, the water activity of the ingredient should be similar to the water activity of the baked good,” Mr. Jarrard said.

Moisture can also cause color migration. This may or may not be desirable depending on the application.

“For example, during baking, colors and flavors from inclusions can be delivered into the dough,” Mr. Jarrard explained. “During the mixing phase, inclusions can be formulated to hold the color or flavor so tightly that they do not marble or discolor the matrix. Upon baking, they break down, releasing the color or flavor.”

Depending on the size and concentration of the particulates, there will either be spots of flavor or color or uniform distribution throughout the system. “This technique can be used to convey caramel or fruit inclusions or as a means to completely change the color or flavor of a product without contaminating the mixing vessel,” Mr. Jarrard noted.

The type of mixer and depositor used also must be considered with inclusions, according to Mr. Walker. “Processing abuse and agitation are important considerations,” he said. Such motion can wreak havoc on some candies or coated ingredients, causing them to break down and lose piece identity. The larger the piece, the greater the chance of deformation.

Small but rarely simple

Inclusions and toppings might appear as small particulates, but their formulation is often quite complex in order to deliver a multi-sensory experience throughout shelf life. This can be challenging for bakers as they try to simplify ingredient statements.

“Consumer desire for cleaner labels is definitely here to stay,” said Lauren Cannaday, R&D chef, Parker Products, Fort Worth, TX. “However, consumers are not willing to sacrifice flavor for clean label.” And flavor is a primary reason inclusions are added to baked goods.

The same is true for color. “There is more focus by inclusion and topping suppliers to use colors derived from fruits, vegetables and plants,” said David Shen, R&D manager at Parker Products. “There’s increased use of natural flavors and avoidance of anything artificial.”

But it’s not a simple swap. Reformulation is often necessary, and applications can also be limited.

“Natural colors and flavors tend to degrade faster over time due to environmental conditions, such as exposure to light and temperature,” Mr. Shen said. The company focuses on making all-natural bake-stable inclusions that perform as well as those made with artificial ingredients.

Clean label in baking also often includes avoiding allergens, in particular nuts. “Nuts are a very popular and healthy way to add distinctive flavor, eye appeal, crunchy texture and good nutrition to baked goods,” said Dennis Reid, vice-president, sales and marketing, Inclusion Technologies LLC, Atchison, KS. “However, in the ‘age of allergenicity’ and with the growing focus on digestibility — along with the rising costs of nuts — many bakers are now trying to avoid, replace or extend nuts as ingredients wherever and whenever possible.”

Inclusion Technologies markets a line of 100% nut-free wheat-germ-based nut extenders and replacers as well as a range of customized bits and clusters that deliver the crunch and tastes of nuts to baked goods without introducing a nut allergen into the system. “Our 100% nut-free nut analogs look, taste and crunch like real tree nuts at less than half the cost and with no nut allergens,” Mr. Reid said. “Our clusters are very novel and affordable. We also have formulated a range of new products that are non-GMO and made from all-natural ingredients.” The initial interest came from Europe, but there is also demand here in the US.

“We offer grain-based inclusions that can serve as non-allergenic alternatives to nuts, delivering similar nutritional and flavor profiles,” said Ron Heddleson, senior director of R&D, QualiTech Co., Chaska, MN. “They are all-natural stabilized corn germ and come in a variety of toasts and grinds. They are designed to enhance appearance of multi-grain breads or tortillas, chips and taco shells, while adding a nutty, whole-grain flavor, stone-ground appearance and nutritional value.

“We also offer particulate alternatives to fruit or vegetable ingredients,” he continued. “There’s even a bacon-flavored option that can be used in kosher products.”

Depending on the baked application, using cheese alone as an inclusion can be technically challenging from both a performance and sensory perspective. “We offer inclusions that deliver cheese content and intense cheese flavor, solving many processing issues that may be experienced when 100% cheese toppings or inclusions are used,” Mr. Heddleson said. “For example, bagels, breads, batters and breadings benefit from topical addition of such inclusions. The inclusion format encapsulates cheese flavor and protects visual identity through abusive heat processing such as baking, which can degrade formats such as powders or shreds. We can provide customizable melt profiles to deliver ingredients that provide less sodium and fat than 100% cheese.”

Cereal Ingredients Inc., Leavenworth, KS, uses patented extrusion technology to produce particulates based on simple and complex carbohydrates. They can be formulated to be all-natural, gluten-free and GMO-free. The particulates are designed to add flavor, texture and color to baked goods and cereals. They also have application in pre-blended bread mixes where they can add flavor and colorful swirl effects.

“All of our particulates are specially formulated for specific client needs,” said Jim Thomasson, executive vice-president, sales. “They are offered in a variety of sizes, flavors and textures, and are produced using our patented product and process technology.”

The company’s manufacturing facilities are all nut-free, which helped with the most recent development: nut-like inclusions. “Bakers want to eliminate allergens from their recipes,” Mr. Thomasson said. “These particulates, which can be formulated in almost any nut flavor, are exactly that.”

The topping particulates are textured to simulate the look and mouthfeel of chopped nuts. The ones intended to be inclusions are designed to withstand moisture transfer and baking temperatures.

“We recently opened a new innovations lab that is equipped to fit our customers’ production and analytical needs as well as support new product development,” Mr. Thomasson said. “Together, we can solve problems before they even develop.”

Nutritional functionalities

Unlike whole fruits, nuts and seeds, inclusions and toppings are formulated ingredients that can be designed to meet a baker’s labeling requirements. “Since most inclusions are multi-component formulated ingredients, the components and the formulas can be adapted to meet all the recent trends in the marketplace, whether it is nut-free, gluten-free, low-carb, organic, all-natural or even non-GMO,” Mr. Reid said.

Such capability is important, according to Mr. Walker. “In a food culture where consumers are more perceptive to nutrition and ingredient transparency, bakers can differentiate their products through the use of inclusions and toppings,” he said.

“Protein and fiber are two of the most satiating ingredients, and many consumers are starting to be more educated on this,” Mr. Walker continued. “By adding inclusions and toppings that increase the protein and fiber content of a product, bakers are creating a way to reach these consumer segments.”

For example, ADM offers red bean and tomato crisps that provide crunch and red color to a finished baked good. They also contribute fiber and protein, which may assist with making a “good” or “excellent” source claim for either nutrient.

“Inclusions can be formulated to deliver significant amounts of fruit powder, providing fruit as the first item in the nutrition declaration,” Mr. Heddleson explained. “Inclusions can be designed to have nutritional contents equal to real superfruits or even to deliver desired nutrients in more concentrated form than their whole-fruit counterparts.”

Formulated inclusions come in all colors, flavors and shapes, including fanciful ones. “Some of our newest sweet offerings include acai, birthday cake, Clementine, pomegranate and vanilla icing,” Mr. Heddleson said.

Savory inclusions are emerging as a way to liven up otherwise boring baked goods. In early May at the Tortilla Industry Association technical conference in Las Vegas, SensoryEffects, St. Louis, rolled out savory inclusion concepts designed for tortillas. The lipid-based stabilized particulates come in flavors such as chipotle, garlic, jalapeño and tomato-oregano. They bring a controlled burst of not just flavor but also aroma and color to tortillas as well as flatbreads.

“We learned to balance the use of natural-based nucleotides or yeast extract fractions with natural flavors and plant extracts to offer inclusions in flavors such as sriracha, sweet chili Thai, pizza and wasabi,” Mr. Heddleson said. Some new sweet-and-savory offerings include caramel sea salt, honey chipotle and mango habanero.

Such bake-stable inclusions provide bakers with a convenient way to differentiate their items in the crowded marketplace, according to Martin Ruiz, R&D chef at Parker Products. “For example, we offer crunchy bake-stable inclusions that can be ground to a specific size to meet customer specifications,” he said. “In addition, this inclusion product line can be flavored and colored to the customer’s requirement.”

The indulgence factor

Bakers must never forget the indulgence factor that many consumers look for in baked goods. “We also have soft bake-stable inclusions and bake-stable toffee,” Ms. Cannaday noted. “The soft product, when used as an inclusion in a cookie, is designed to have excellent stability and visual appeal. The bake-stable toffee provides flavor and texture to the finished product without melting out.”

Trendy donut shops taught us that anything goes when it comes to inclusions. “They are moving beyond traditional toppings and embracing ingredients such as grape dust, bacon, granola and potato chips,” said Paula LaBine, strategic marketing director at Kerry. “Another key trend that will impact inclusions is the crossover concept recently made famous by the Cronut, a croissant-donut pastry. Inclusions can provide inspiration for new indulgent hybrids and fusions such as chocolate chip cookie dough-filled cupcake and Oreo-stuffed pastries.”   

So what’s on the horizon for inclusions and toppings? “The industry is changing at an all-time pace,” Mr. Ruiz said. “We believe flavor mixology and bold new flavors will be the next trend.”

And count on savory to continue to expand its beachhead, according to Mr. Shen. “We think the focus will start to lean toward savory inclusions, in particular sweet and savory pairings,” he said. “Flavor trends in Asian, Latin and Indian cuisines are being observed in the marketplace now.”

Although many flavors gaining popularity on menus across the country are currently foreign to baked goods, it is highly likely they will start jazzing up everything from bagels and scones to cookies and muffins sooner rather than later. Innovative inclusions function as stable delivery vehicles for these flavors, ensuring the baked good stays delicious from oven to consumer.