In today’s food formulating environment, clean label is almost always a consideration. Historically, many fabricated inclusions and toppings relied on modified fats and carbohydrates to achieve the stability that makes them user-friendly. Artificial colors and flavors were also prevalent, as they are economical and consistent, and that’s what bakers want in such inclusions.

“Food inclusions have made a lot of progress in eliminating artificial ingredients while maintaining functionality,” said Paula Simons, product developer, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co. “Sprinkles, for example, are embraced by bakers and consumers alike because of their bright, fun, eye-popping appearance made possible through the use of artificial colors.”

In recent years, natural-color suppliers have been able to produce clean label alternatives that come very close to artificial colors in sprinkles. Consumers who want natural also have become somewhat forgiving and are accepting of colors that might be slightly muted.

Along with the clean label movement, there’s the better-for-you trend. Inclusions can be not only designed to carry nutrients but also formulated with nutrient-dense base ingredients. Inclusions now deliver probiotics to baked foods or provide a fiber boost for an “excellent source” claim. They may be made with whole grains and plant proteins such as sorghum, quinoa, pea and other legumes, Ms. Simons explained.

Abbey Heikes, specialty sales, regional, The Annex by Ardent Mills, noted that flaked, pre-crisped and individually quick frozen (IQF) grains are an easy way to add more whole grain nutrition to baked products.

“These newer grain formats are especially useful to bakers looking to avoid nuts in baked products while adding textures like crunch and chew as well as subtle flavors to baked products,” Ms. Heikes said.

Bakers also must consider moisture levels and migration when adding these grain-based inclusions. Crisps, in ­general, are easy to add because they are lightweight and don’t tend to change dough structure.

“With something like barley flakes, we recommend soaking before using them in the baking process,” Ms. Heikes said. “They absorb a lot of moisture and may require as much as two times the moisture as flour. Hydrating the flakes will also create a softer bite.”

Bakers should test varying hydration levels to achieve the best texture. They can also experiment with the hydrating liquid. Using fruit juices or adding flavors to the water may result in some creative inclusions.

“Our new IQF products can be trickier to use in baking because they are bigger, denser pieces and can interrupt dough integrity and gluten structure,” Ms. Heikes said. “All of these ingredients are best added at the end of the mixing stage. Bakers also have to be careful of over-baking when adding flakes or crisps to the exterior of loaves.”

Agropur Ingredients introduced whey protein pods at IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual conference and expo. The crunchy balls contain 70% protein and feature a pure dairy flavor and clean label. They may be used either plain or enrobed with chocolate or flavored coatings.

“A bakery formula can target the nutritional claims of ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ source of protein by utilizing high-­protein inclusions,” said Anand Rao, vice-president of research and development, Agropur. “They are especially valuable in creating crunchy, airy, high-protein nutritional bars.”