Food First Blog | Tip of the Week: Whole Grains For Healthy Bakin

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Tip of the Week: Whole Grains For Healthy Baking
Tip of the Week: Whole Grains For Healthy Baking

The increased use of whole grain is not purely a new, consumer-driven concept. In many ways, the increased use of whole grains in bakery products is a return to the past. Old-World style breads have long depended on the use of whole grain flours, combinations of different grains, and the inclusion of cracked or whole grain pieces. The shift to highly refined white flour from wheat deprived these breads of some of their inherently healthy aspects.

The use of whole grain benefits consumers by increasing the amount of fiber in their diets, improving the health of their digestive systems, lowering cholesterol, and protecting against cancer, among other things.

The use of multiple types of grains opens the possibilities to include not only the commonly used grains of wheat, oats, and corn, but lesser known types of amaranth, barley, triticale, buckwheat, rye, rice, sorghum, flax, spelt, and kamut. Bakers are even using lesser known grains like teff, quinoa, millet, and Indian ricegrass in specialty products (Busken, 2007). Whole grains offer many healthy benefits, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and many phytochemicals with influences that are just beginning to be understood. 

Quinoa flour used in a cookie can give a nutty flavor similar to peanuts, and darkly baked teff can contribute a chocolate or coffee note to the overall flavor profile. Use of these specialty flours is generally recommended in the range of 10 percent to 50 percent of the total flour weight, depending on the type of product, with the balance being made up of wheat flour. Although whole grains offer many nutritional or consumer-perception benefits, there can be challenges to incorporating them into a typical baked good formulation and process. The wheat kernel bran and germ — the non-structure forming components of wheat flour that are included in a whole wheat flour — have a weakening effect on the structure of the product, particularly with breads. Baking with this type of flour therefore requires using higher levels of vital wheat gluten, dough strengtheners, or oxidizing agents to give the dough sufficient strength. Without this type of modification, the resulting product might be low in volume, and have a dense and compact internal structure. Whole grains also tend to take on more water than refined white flour. In some instances, it may be necessary to presoak the grains before adding them to the other dough ingredients. This high absorption can also result in decreased product volume and lower overall quality in bread and chemically leavened baked products. Because many of these grains hold moisture well, they can extend the product shelf life by maintaining a softer texture.

However, this increase in total added water can also increase the water activity of the finished good, making it more susceptible to mold growth. It may also be necessary to make other formulation and processing adjustments to determine the optimal times and temperatures related to mixing, fermentation, final proof, baking, and packaging. Milling companies have developed specialty whole wheat flours by starting with wheat varieties that have been bred to reduce the quantity of polyphenolic compounds, which contribute both to the reddish color present in the wheat kernel, and also the bitter flavor. They then mill the wheat to produce a granulation similar to the particle size of traditional white flour. These flours can be used as a 1:1 replacement for refined white flour with less negative impact on quality attributes such as loaf volume, grain color, and flavor.

Studies indicate that bakers could increase the amount of added whole grain in certain food products without impacting consumer preference. In one such study, pizza crust with refined flour was served to school children in first through sixth grade on two separate occasions, two weeks apart. Then, pizza made with 50 percent white whole wheat flour (in place of refined flour) was served on four different days. Researchers found no difference in pizza consumption and no difference in overall liking. In another school study, during the course of the year, the whole wheat flour content of buns and rolls was increased from 0 percent to 91 percent. In the case of both bread products, consumption and liking were not statistically different until the percentage of whole grain approached 70 percent — the point at which consumption and liking levels began to fall (Rosen, et al., 2009).

Next step?
Enroll in Foundations: All About Baking. This course teaches operators the basics of producing grain-based baked goods.

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