Healthy Baking Trends for 2013

While food trends and the popularity of various weight-loss diets fluctuate, consumers’ demand for healthier food products remains a constant. The baking industry responds to these demands by continually developing new products, ingredients and processing methods.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.

While food trends and the popularity of various weight-loss diets fluctuate, consumers’ demand for healthier food products remains a constant. The baking industry responds to these demands by continually developing new products, ingredients and processing methods to increase products’ health benefits while retaining good flavor.

Health topics currently of interest to consumers of baked goods include reducing sugars, salt and trans and saturated fats; including more whole grains and fortified vitamins and minerals; natural, organic and locally produced ingredients; and allergen concerns. The concept of healthy baking includes the reduction of trans fats, increased use of whole grains, sodium reduction and inclusion of ingredients that deliver added omega-3s, fiber or antioxidants. In addition to using reduced levels of trans and saturated fats, salts and sugars, fortification of ingredients has become common, with many baked goods containing heart-healthy nuts and dried fruits, and substituting cocoa for high-fat, processed chocolate additives.

While in recent years (due to the popularity of some low-carbohydrate diets) a great deal of attention was focused on reducing the carbohydrate content in bakery products, most recently attention has shifted to whole and alternative grains, and creating good-tasting, gluten-free products. The use of whole and multi-grain flour is a seemingly new trend to many consumers. However, they are actually ancient baking practices. Many bakeries now specialize in whole grain and multigrain products, including varieties of artisan breads. The impact of whole grains on bakery products is influenced by the inclusion level and type of whole-grain ingredients used. Some products made with a relatively low usage of 10 to 25 percent (flour basis) of a traditional whole-wheat flour generally require minor changes to the formula and processing conditions. Some specialty, fine particle-size whole wheat flours can be used at the same levels and deliver meaningful whole-grain nutrition without modification.

Whole grains absorb more liquid, require less mixing, and have lower tolerance to over-mixing. These formulations may also require an increase in other functional ingredients such as gluten and the oxidation agents, and adjustments to the baking time and temperature.

The taste, texture and appearance of the product are all very important factors for consumer acceptance and must be optimized.

For gluten-intolerant consumers, alternatives exist to wheat flours, and the variety of gluten-free products is expanding. Corn, rice and potato flours often have been used as wheat flour substitutes. A variety of additional gluten-free flours are gaining popularity with both bakers and consumers, including sorghum, quinoa, millet, amaranth, flax and buckwheat. The availability of different types of gluten-free flours allows bakers to create expanded lines of goods, offering unique flavors and textures, as well as to produce goods featuring traditional tastes and consistencies. An increased understanding of how starches and gums function in gluten-free applications on the part of suppliers has allowed additional technology to modify texture and extend shelf life. As a result of this collaborative learning, the overall quality of gluten-free products has experienced significant improvements in recent years.

Salt and salt substitutes are also critical issues in the creation of healthy baked goods. Worldwide, salt consumption tends to be well above recommended levels for maintaining proper blood pressure levels and general cardiovascular health. Various methods of salt reduction may be employed. Salt content in baked goods can also be reduced (depending on the product) through the use of sea salts and potassium chloride blends. Though commonly thought of as primarily a flavor component, salt also plays a major functional role. Salt contributes a strengthening effect on the gluten structure in traditional bread products, improving dough handling characteristics and increasing finished product volume. In addition, salt has direct influence on the fermentation rate of the dough, influencing flavor development, internal cell structure, finished product volume and rates of production. Recovering all of these attributes when reducing sodium can require significant adjustments to ingredient selection, formulation and processing procedures.

The sugar content of bakery products is another concern for health-conscious consumers. Baked goods are often high in sugar, and sugars are often used to compensate for flavor that may be lost when fat content is reduced. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to a number of health issues, including obesity and diabetes. Artificial and substitute sweeteners are often used to reduce the amount of sugar in baked goods. Depending on the product, substitutions of fruit purees, fruit and spices may also be employed in reducing sugar content without sacrificing taste.

Healthy baking does not focus only on reducing or removing trans fats, salts, sugars or gluten. In addition to reducing some ingredients, healthy baking also aims to introduce or increase the health-supporting ingredients of baked goods. In addition to whole grains, bakers are responding to consumers’ increasing demands for baked products fortified with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

Bakers can incorporate a number of antioxidant-rich ingredients into their products, including cocoa, nuts, whole grains, legumes and fruit. Another popular baked product fortification is omega-3s. Flax, fish oils and algae are rich in omega-3s and are easy to incorporate, increasing the nutritional value of the products.

As the baking industry continues to modify products to meet consumer demand for healthier baked goods, ingredient content and processing methods continue to change and evolve.