A Grain Revival

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A Grain Revival

For centuries, bread and baked products made from wheat were a staple in everyone’s diet. But in recent years, bread and baked products have become less favourable with consumers, being looked upon as a source of “empty” calories and excess carbohydrates. This led to the rise of “whole-grain” products, as these are perceived to be healthier as they offer added nutritional value. Now, consumers are demanding even more health benefits in every meal they eat, and this is placing a new demand on processors to seek new ingredients for baked products and adapting methods to make healthy taste good.

In Puratos’s recent Taste of Tomorrow study, 32 per cent of North American consumers said they expect healthier food options in the future. With that, companies are adding ingredients to increase health benefits, such as fibre and protein. This is particularly true for baked goods, perceived to be high in carbohydrates with few other nutritional benefits.

“When we’re looking at a breakfast item and people want a quality carbohydrate, but they want some protein in there,” said Jane Drummer, owner of Jane Drummer Food Consulting and a registered dietitian. “One way to do that is with the carbohydrate ingredient itself. If you can use a specialty grain that has more plant-based protein in it versus a regular flour, then that’s going to help with that.”

In the past, consumers have asked for less in their food products, like less fat. Now they are asking producers for more ingredients, such as protein and fibre.

Specialty grains are increasing in popularity, such as sorghum flour, which is high in both fibre and protein.

Many baked goods come in forms of convenience, such as muffins or breads, and are popular with consumers. Statistics Canada found that 40 per cent of Canadians eat out of their home for convenience. But, of those, 57 per cent said they would “always, often or sometimes” base their meal choice on nutritional information provided.

“There’s a cohort that will pay $5 a day for a coffee and they’ll grab a baked good on their way. Those are single-serve baked goods, some of them prepackaged already,” said Drummer.

The largest demographic within that cohort are millennials, who are willing to pay a premium to have higher quality, more nutritious items.

“Customers are looking for whole grains a lot more and are much more aware of the variety of grains and whole grains that are available to them,” said Danielle Aucoin, product manager at Puratos Canada. “Before it was standard whole wheat bread or multi-grain bread. Now you’re seeing specific grains called out, so you’re seeing a spelt bread or a rye bread coming up a lot more. These resonate with customers a lot more because they realize that not only is it providing nutritional benefit, but it’s also adding additional flavour and enhancing the textures of the breads.”

The demand for ancient and heirloom grains, such as spelt, barley or White Sonora, is growing due to the popularity with the keto and paleo diets. These grain varieties are prehistoric, leading to little or no change of grain itself and are thought to have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels in comparison to wheat or whole wheat.

“There’s been a lot of opportunities for food manufacturers to really look at the positive spin on what is happening in the grain space,” said Elaine O’Doherty, marketing manager at Ardent Mills Canada. “I just think there’s so much positivity with ancient grains and heirloom grains.”

With this added awareness, consumers are also turning away from unnecessary ingredients. Packaging now includes labels that list what isn’t in the products, which is what Drummer calls the “free-from” movement. One example of this is bleached white flour. Bleaching flour is not functional; the only purpose of bleached flour is to lighten the appearance of the food product.

“Consumers, bakers, and manufacturers are looking for a cleaner product. That’s a real easy fix, just eliminate the bleaching agent from the flour,” said O’Doherty.

Organic on the rise

With demand for clean labels, comes the shift towards organic. With bread being the most consumed bakery product globally, it counts for 16 per cent of total organic sales in Canada.

“Innovation wise, customers are asking for us asking for organic a lot more. That whole idea of a cleaner, transparent type of lifestyle that people are looking to live more and more and more,” said Aucoin.

With sourcing organic ingredients, there are a few challenges for processors. Every point in the supply chain must be organic according to regulations. If any ingredient or manufacturing step isn’t organic, the product can’t be certified as organic.

The process to convert a conventional grain farm to an organic certified one takes three years, said O’Doherty. Over those three years, the farmer has to abide by organic regulations. However, the grain produced is not considered organic until certification is granted. The result is the grain farmer can have increased costs with lower yields, and not benefit from being paid a premium.

That’s why Ardent Mills in the U.S. has a program where it will assist farmers to convert their conventional farms into organic. Through the three-year process, Ardent Mills will buy the farmer’s product at the price of organic even though it isn’t considered organic. The program is allowing Ardent Mills to increase its own supply of organic products to meet the demand of its food manufacturing customers.

Additional ingredients needed for the baking process must also be organic, including enzymes used to break down complex starches into simple sugars.

“These are complex items to source,” said O’Doherty. Ardent Mills offers an organic pizza dough mix to manufacturers that is all-inclusive. “We’ve done a lot of that rigor and that development where we can now sell a one batch solution that already has all the other organic ingredients in it.”

Making gluten-free more nutritious

Consumer demand for gluten-free products has added another demand for bakery manufacturers. Gluten-free products were not always high in nutrition, but this is changing with the use of specialty grains, which allow nutrients to be added to the product without sacrificing any health benefits. The industry is now seeing an increased demand for specialty grains like sorghum and quinoa, which don’t contain the gluten protein.

“What we love to say is gluten-free does not have to be grain-free,” said O’Doherty.

But new ingredients can be challenging for processors. Gluten-free products tend to take up more water and it changes the levity in the loaf compared to conventional flour, she said.

Processors have to try different grain mixes and experiment with different mixing methods to try and find the right mix for gluten-free products, said O’Doherty.

When it comes to grains drying out bread, another solution is to soak the grains in the water allowing easier digestion. However, soaking grains also has challenges.

“With soaking your grains is that every grain, when you’re soaking, it needs to soak for a certain length of time,” said Aucoin. “If you don’t soak it enough or you soak it too much, it impacts the tenderness of the grain. Sometimes you’ll have some that would either be not tender enough and then others that might go mushy.”

Another solution with dry grains is through the use of enzymes in the baking process.

“[By] enzymes being added to the baked goods, it increases the shelf life and the softness of the product without making it less dry,” said Aucoin.

At Puratos, grains are soaked in a sourdough, which is their solution to dry grains. Through this, the grains release the moisture into the bread instead of absorbing the moisture. It also allows a longer shelf life without any added ingredients.

Sourdough is made of flour and water. After sitting for a few days, the dough builds up its own bacterial culture where the yeast thrives. When sourdough is added to bread, it is a replacement for commercial yeast.

“That idea of going back to basics is what sourdough is all about,” said Aucoin.

At the end of the day, consumers want a loaf of bread that has minimal natural ingredients and plenty of health benefits.

“What it comes down to is customers want to know what’s in their product. I think that’s been continuing to evolve as customers are asking about what’s in their breads, in their all their foods, and how it impacts them as a person in their health,” said Aucoin.