In mid-September, the Kroger Co. launched Active Lifestyle bread featuring plant sterols, and a day later, George Weston Bakeries announced that bread varieties containing plant sterols had joined the company’s Arnold and Brownberry platforms. A week or two after that, Bimbo Bakeries USA brought out Mrs Baird’s Acti-Fiber Wheat bread fortified with prebiotic fiber. Each new product represented a big step forward in bakery formulation and in the quest to satisfy consumers’ desires for health-and-wellness values in the foods they buy.

To go beyond basic nutrition, formulators must look outside conventional ingredient choices — as these new product introductions prove. The plant sterols and inulin used in these breads are not common bakery components; instead, they are fortification or, as they are usually described, functional ingredients.

With health-and-wellness foods now a well-established trend for product development throughout the food industry, a variety of fortification ingredients have become available that deserve attention from bakery formulators. Here are
seven ingredient categories worth considering.

FIBER IS KING. Foods that promote digestive health currently enjoy a high profile among health-and-wellnessminded consumers. When Fort Worth, TX-based Bimbo announced its high-fiber bread fortified with chicoryroot fiber, the Mrs Baird’s brand manager, Aaron Fisher, described it as the region’s first widely available prebiotic bread. "Research shows consumers are demanding more from their everyday foods, and there is a strong interest in pre- and probiotic products," he said.

Using inulin, a soluble dietary fiber derived from chicory roots, is one way to add prebiotic content to formulations. Among the benefits of working with inulin, according to Joe O’Neill, executive vice-president of sales and marketing for Orafti, Morris Plains, NJ, is that it does not absorb water like other fiber additives do, thus avoiding the common high-fiber bread problem of overly sticky doughs. And in extruded products, inulin helps control expansion at the die. Inulin, it turns out, is also found in raisins, according to the California Raisin Marketing Board.

Resistant starch, which occurs naturally in many grain-based foods, can be added to formulations to boost dietary fiber content as well. National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, NJ, cites calorie reduction and low glycemic impact as additional benefits.

Among the newest entries in the gut health category is an arabinoxylan oligosaccharide ingredient derived from natural wheat bran fiber, developed by Fugeia, a newly formed functional food technology business backed by Tate & Lyle Ventures, London, UK, and Agri Investment Fund, Leuven, Belgium. The new soluble, acid-stable ingredient has both prebiotic and antioxidant functionality.

WHOLE IS HERE. Beneficial dietary fiber has long been a defining characteristic of bran and whole-grain flours. This category of ingredients received a big boost from the 2005 US Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid that recommended half of all grains consumed daily be whole grains. But the matter of American taste preferences stood in the way. The bran of red wheats contains a bitterflavored pigment, well-advertised by the brown flecks of bran in whole-wheat flour and the crumb of whole-wheat bread. The advent of hard white wheat solved the flavor problem, while development of milling technologies that minimized the bran specs in flour and crumb addressed the other situation with appearance.

The category of whole grains involves many more cereal grains than just wheat. The list of whole grains released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2006 includes barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice. The Whole Grains Council (WGC) added amaranth, quinoa, teff and triticale, plus additional forms of wheat such as durum, einkorn, emmer, farro, Kamut and spelt.

Although these grains have been used in baked foods before, taking them mainstream meant solving sourcing questions for potential wholesale users. To address the need for uniform, consistent ingredients as well as reliable supply, Con-Agra Mills, Omaha, NE, introduced
Ancient Grains, a series of wholegrain blends and flours, some containing seeds as well.

To qualify to be labeled as "whole grain," the finished product must consist of 51% whole-grain content. While use of a single whole-grain flour puts it at the top of the ingredient list on food packages, making it easy for consumers to confirm the product’s whole-grain status, blends of grains present a different problem. Although together these grains and their flours can hit the 51% target, they must be listed separately in the ingredient legend. FDA has yet to clarify this situation.

PHYTONUTRIENTS ARE SET. As baking ingredients, plant sterols (also called phytosterols) made news with the Kroger and Weston introductions. Kroger, based at Cincinnati, OH, formulated its Active Lifestyle bread with CoroWise Naturally Sourced Cholesterol Reducer plant sterols from Cargill, Minneapolis, MN. Weston, based at Toronto, ON, selected Heart Choice plant sterols from Cognis Nutrition & Health, LaGrange, IL, and the packages feature the Heart Choice logo.

Phytonutrients are natural plant compounds that provide health benefits when consumed in foods. The increasing ability to isolate such materials from their plant sources has opened up many new applications as additives that create functional foods. These compounds find their way into foods as part of other ingredients. Flavanols, for example, can be found in cocoa, tea, wine, nuts and certain fruits and vegetables. A growing body of evidence links cocoa flavanols to circulatory health benefits. Mars, the large confectionery manufacturer, established Mars Botanical, Gaithersburg, MD, to commercialize these phytonutrients. Consumers have picked up on this concept by purchasing foods containing dark chocolate. A study at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, found sterol-fortified chocolate to significantly lower cholesterol levels.

Another example are the proanthocyanidins (PACs) naturally present in cranberries, according to Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, Lakeville-Middleboro, MA. These compounds disable certain bacteria such as E. coli by preventing them from adhering to cells in the body where they could cause harm. In other words, PACs fight infections. Blueberries, which are related to cranberries, offer similar phytonutrient benefits, the US Highbush Blueberry Council noted.

ANTIOXIDANTS ARE READY. While flavanols and PACs exhibit health benefits verified by clinical studies, a variety of other plant-source antioxidants also have captured the interest of consumers. Antioxidant theory claims that consumption of such ingredients frees the body of damaging free radicals, which many consider a factor in aging and disease. Although this idea lacks clinical proof, it has wide popular belief. (This situation may change as scientists improve their assay methods, which are migrating from lab-based methods to cellular activity techniques.)
Antioxidants, defined according to physiological effect, encompass a wide spectrum of phytochemicals such as quercetin, kaempferol, epigallocatchin gallate (EGCG), myricetin and luteolin, along with flavonoids, resveratrols, isoflavones, lignans,anthocyanins,proanthocyanidins, lycopenes and so forth. These materials are generally evaluated on the basis of oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) and the newer cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assays. For example, CAA rankings put blueberries at the top of the list, followed by cranberries, apples, red grapes and green grapes, among others.

BEAUTY IS WITHIN. Choline, lutein and zeaxanthin are functional ingredients now being linked to "beauty from within," an emerging trend. In other words, consumers want skincare products that deliver beauty benefits through nutrition. Lutein, according to ingredient supplier Cognis, is recognized for improving skin hydration and elasticity and helps protect against UV damage from sunlight. The company offers Xangold, a water-dispersible powder containing 8% natural lutein esters.

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin have a long-standing linkage with eye health, too, as noted by DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, NJ. They have recently been found to reduce the harmful effects of glaring lights.

Conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) is claimed to help reduce body fat while maintaining lean body mass. Tonalin CLA from Cognis can be used in extruded snacks, breakfast cereals and cereal and nutritional bars at 2 to 7%, formula weight basis.

Choline is also positively connected to cognitive improvement, according to Balchem Encapsulates, New Hampton, NY. Said to be particularly beneficial for infants, choline may help memory problems associated with aging, too. The company offers Memor-C choline, which readily solublizes in water and has excellent stability in high-temperature applications such as baking and extrusion.

OMEGA IS CHOSEN. Omega-3 fatty acids — alpha-linolenic (ALA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids — have also been found to improve listening comprehension and vocabulary skills in preschool children and have been linked with improving behavioral conditions, including decreasing the risks of late-onset Alzeheimer’s disease. And of course, these polyunsaturated fatty acids have long been associated with reduction of cardiovascular disease risks because they decrease triglyceride levels in blood and make blood platelets less "sticky."

EPA and DHA are commercially sourced from marine oils, primarily menhaden fish, while ALA is readily available from vegetable oils such as soy or from flaxseed. As polyunsaturated fats, they oxidize more rapidly than more saturated fats, which can present problems in longer shelf-life foods. Encapsulation protects these oils, and the coatings can be tailored to release at precise points during processing or consumption.

DHA has been found to have a positive effect on sleep in children. A recent technical white paper written by Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior executive vice-president and chief scientific officer of Fortitech, Schenectady, NY, reported that mothers consuming more DHA may have babies with more mature sleep patterns.

SODIUM IS OUT. The second wave of sodium reduction is now washing over the baking and food processing industries. Work done 20 years ago took sodium content down significantly, but renewed calls for "less salt" in prepared foods will require additional ingenuity. Where salt’s flavor-boosting properties are vital, taste potentiators such as DSM’ Maxarite enable salt reduction, flavor improvement and masking capabilities in bakery applications. This ingredient was developed based on yeast extract technology.

Salt isn’t the only ingredient source of sodium in baked foods: Chemical leavening presents its own challenges when replacing sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and the sodium-containing leaving acids. Calcium and potassium bicarbonates such as Levona and Benephos from ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis, MO, substantially cut or totally eliminate the sodium contributed by sodium bicarbonate, while tricalcium phosphate, for example, assays as 40% calcium by weigh, and calcium carbonate weighs in at one or two percentage points less.

Flow K potassium bicarbonate from Church & Dwight, Princeton, NJ, easily replaces other food ingredients or leavening sources for reduced or no-sodium formulations, yet it has a sweeter flavor with no bitter or metallic aftertaste as does potassium chloride. Budenheim USA, Plainview, NY, provides a range of monocalcium, magnesium and potassium phosphates for leaving applications. Cal-Rise from Innophos, Cranbury, NJ, blends monocalcium phosphate and calcium acid phosphate to yield a calcium-based leavening acid.