September 2007 brought whole grains back to the spotlight once again when The Whole Grains Council (WGC), along with the Oldways Preservation Trust, organized the first-ever Whole Grains Month. The purpose was to encourage consumers to include whole grain in their diets and to show them ways to accomplish this without making drastic changes in their eating habits and lifestyles. During the month, some food manufacturers offered free samples of their whole-grain products in grocery stores and distributed coupons for whole-grain items to encourage people to purchase them. Also, new whole-grain products were introduced. This event supports recent trends that show that whole-grain products are not the latest diet fad but will have long-term staying power.
This is evidenced by the astounding growth of products in this category. According to information provided by the WGC using data from Mintel’s Global New Product database, 1,537 whole-grain products were launched during 2006, an astonishing 855% increase from the year 2000 and a 112% increase from 2005. Data through June 2007, with 975 new products launched, show that the segment continues its impressive growth.
“In the bakery area, the biggest trend that we see is the ‘beyond bread’ category — muffins, cookies, cakes, etc.,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, Oldways/WGC. For too long, whole grains were seen as something so virtuous that they ‘belonged’ only in rather straightforward breads and cereals. Now we’re seeing that consumers are insisting on foods that are both delicious and nutritious — and manufacturers are responding. The line between ‘tastes good’ and ‘good for you’ is becoming wonderfully blurred!”
Ms. Harriman noted that some wonderful things are happening with whole-grains snacks. “Snyder’s of Hanover has a whole line of great multigrain snacks, with anywhere from 8 to 20 g of whole grain per serving,” she said. “And Frito-Lay’s SunChips are one of the company’s most popular products, with 18 g of whole grain per serving. At a time when most consumers have been eating only about 16 to 20 g of whole grains per day, having consumers switch to snacks with wholesome ingredients can make a big contribution.”
To maintain growth in this area and, even more importantly, to sustain products in the market beyond their introductory phase, consumers must find them appealing and convenient. In the past, some whole-grain products turned off consumers who were deterred by the color, price, texture, taste and lack of shelf life. In addition, processing whole-grain formulations is far more complex than just substituting for white flour and may be expensive. So regardless of how much consumer organizations, dieticians and government agencies laud the healthful benefits of whole grains, if consumers do not crave the products and industry cannot figure out how to make them efficiently, the impressive growth may only be a mirage.
Whole-grain products no longer serve a niche market. As these products go mainstream, food manufacturers will need to overcome several challenges. First, it is important to understand the differences between white flour and whole-grain based formulations.
By definition of the WGC, whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (for example, cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed. Examples of generally accepted whole-grain foods and flours include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn (including whole corn meal and popcorn), millet, oats (including oatmeal), quinoa, rice (both brown and colored rice), sorghum (also called milo), teff, triticale, wheat (including varieties such as spelt, emmer, faro, einkorn and Kamut, durum and forms such as bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries) and wild rice. These products provide a whole range of opportunities to create new products.
Whole-grain flour generally has a lower proportion of gluten. It is important, therefore, to consider a formulation using a combination of whole-grain and white flours or adding vital gluten. However, adding gluten may also require more water, bringing out other issues. Thus, adding a wheat protein isolate may be more useful. Also, the use of dough improvers such as sodium or calcium stearoyl lactylates (SSL or CSL) or diacetyl tartrate ester of monoglyceride (DATEM) may help improve the gluten structure.
If there is a need for a more natural approach, the addition of malted flours such as malted wheat or barley flours that contain naturally occurring enzymes may help condition the dough, according to Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., Chilton, WI. In addition, these products are natural humectants, enhance flavor, improve fermentation and decrease proofing time. Also, wholegrain flours may have particles of bran that tend to slice through the gluten matrix creating challenges for developing a fully risen loaf or laminated products. The use of conditioners may improve machinability, extensibility and volume.
Due to the lack of gluten and/or gluten strength and denser doughs, it is important to adjust processing parameters such as mixing time and speed as well as baking parameters. Wholegrain dough will need slower mixing and may require a prehydration step to allow for the different moisture absorption rates of the grain components and to partially pregelatinize the starch for faster hydration and proper dough development. Germ may readily absorb water while bran is much slower at picking up water. Thus, initial mixing with enough water to obtain dough that looks “just right” may lead to a stiff, dry and crumbly product once bran has hydrated. During baking, lower temperatures and longer times may be needed to help get rid of the additional water.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to develop products that hit the mark in consumer preference. Consumers may follow health advice for a while, but if products do not strike their palates, they will quickly abandon the trend and return to their well-known refined products. While whole grains may have bitter, grainier flavor profiles, several approaches can be taken to neutralize these flavors. Concentrated butter flavors can be used to round out sharp, grainy notes and provide a richer flavor and bring out the attributes of fats. The addition of specialty proteins and fiber products (1 to 3% flour weight) such as wheat protein isolate or digestion-resistant maltodextrin can help improve the flavor. Substitution of sugar with honey is another approach that complements flavors nicely. The use of malted products and roasted grains may also enhance flavor, aroma, texture and eye appeal of finished products. For example, roasted corn can give a toasty corn flavor and aroma to tortillas, corn snacks, pizza crusts and other bakery products.
Texture appeal may be added by using whole grains as toppings to different products. Also, the use of partially pregelatinized grains that can be incorporated directly into the dough may be a good approach for multigrain applications. According to information provided by Horizon Milling, Minneapolis, MN, and ADM, Decatur, IL, new grinding technology is being used to obtain fine-ground, whole-grain flours that result in the preservation of wholegrain nutrients while optimizing granulation size. Better grinding technologies make dark specks from red wheat virtually invisible and may also be useful in formulating laminated products.
The use of other grains such as oats at levels as high as 20% based on flour weight may help increase soluble fiber and improve final product texture. Milled flaxseed not only provides the health benefits associated with their content of polyunsaturated fats but also offers improved loaf volume, increased oven spring and anti-staling properties. Using 8 to 10% flaxseed in a product formulation may give up to 260 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving, and milled flaxseed can substitute for regular oil in whole-grain formulations at a 3:1 ratio. However, the use of these ingredients may require some formula adjustments. Because of the higher soluble fiber content, it is important to increase water by 75% of the total weight of flaxseed. Also, yeast may have to be increased by 25% of the total flaxseed use, and oven temperature should be lowered because flaxseeds brown quickly.
Because of the composition of wholegrain products, staling may be a problem, thus decreasing the product’s shelf life. Suppliers such as J&K Ingredients, Paterson, NJ, have introduced proprietary blends of emulsifiers and gums that keep whole-grain bakery foods fresh and moist. These blends bind whole-grain dough and aid dispersion of inclusions. In addition, the germ in whole grain contains healthy unsaturated fats that may turn rancid with time and temperature. Thus, humectants, antioxidants and mold inhibitors may be needed to improve the shelf life of these products.
The introduction of white spring wholewheat flour is a milestone. This new variety has no major genes for bran color, the source of red wheat’s bitterness, so it is not only lighter in color but also milder in flavor making it more appealing to people accustomed to the taste of refined flour.
In 2004, ConAgra Food Ingredients, Inc., Omaha, NE, introduced Ultragrain 100% white whole-wheat flour that is milled to deliver clean taste, smooth texture and performance associated with white flour while providing the nutritional advantages of a whole-grain product. In addition, this product has been blended into different formulations that combine Ultragrain with white flour to help food manufacturers seamlessly increase the whole-grain content of their products without formulation and processing changes. For example, Healthy Choice all purpose T-1 flour is a 1:1 replacement for white flour in all bakery applications and provides approximately 9 g of whole grains per 1-oz serving. ADM, Decatur, IL, introduced Kansas Diamond, a finely granulated 100% white whole-wheat flour with a slightly sweet flavor that can be used for different applications with the same flavor and mouthfeel as their white refined-flour counterparts. Companies such as King Arthur Flour, Norwich, VT; Horizon Milling; and Farmer Direct Foods, Atchison, KS; offer organic and/or identity-preserved whole-white wheat flours that are good choices for specialty niche markets.
When developing a whole-grain product, it is important to consider that other ingredients such as vital wheat gluten, dough conditioners, water, emulsifiers, shortenings, flavors and mold inhibitors may be needed to achieve desirable attributes. The additional ingredients and handling may push up the final cost of the product. However, riding the wave of a successful trend while helping consumers achieve better nutrition is well worth the effort.