Smooth transitions into whole grains

by Jeff Gelski
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Smoothies, pretzels and pizza may sound like delicious food fare for a night of Netflix movies, or they may satisfy everybody’s specific cravings on a trip to the mall.

The items also may allow consumers to boost their whole grain intake. Food and beverage manufacturers should be aware that opportunities for whole grain inclusion are increasing in number, even though certain foods and beverages may require the careful choosing of grains and grain size, along with the adjusting of processing techniques.

Getting whole grains into beverage applications, including smoothies, has become more of a focus.

“That is where the immense activity is right now,” said Rajen Mehta, senior director of specialty ingredients for Grain Millers, Inc.

This year the Jamba Juice Co., Emeryville, Calif., and the Quaker Oats Co., a subsidiary of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc., entered into a product development alliance, which led to an easy-to-blend version of whole grain Quaker Oats. In Jamba Juice stores nationwide, the Quaker-branded boost delivers at least 16 grams of whole grains.

Manufacturers should make certain the viscosity of the grain materials is matched with their target in beverage applications, Dr. Mehta said. They want the finished beverage product to have the texture the consumer wants.

“Particle size is extremely critical,” Dr. Mehta said.

Reducing the particle size of the whole grains may help in creating the desired texture, but reducing particle size also may bring added costs, he said. Oats, wheat and rice are possible whole grain additions to beverages. Ancient grains, because of supply issues, may bring more added costs.

When working with whole grains, formulators need to consider the forms and types of grains to use, said Robert C. Meyer Jr., director of technical services for Dakota Specialty Milling, Inc., Fargo, N.D.

“If you are looking to add whole grains to liquid drinks, such as smoothies, you should consider grains that have been stabilized or baked,” he said. “Stabilized whole or multigrain flours can be added to smoothies, ice creams and other liquid drinks. These flours will need to be milled into a very fine form to allow for better suspension in the drink.”

On trend with pretzel bread

Whole grains already are in pretzels. For example, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Lancaster, Pa., this year introduced a Honey Whole Grain Pretzel. The soft pretzel contains 67 grams or more of whole grains per serving. It is labeled with the Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council, Boston.

In the future might whole grains be a way to differentiate other pretzel products in the restaurant industry? Recent pretzel bread products include a pretzel bacon cheeseburger from Wendy’s, pretzel dogs from Sonic Drive-In, corned beef and Swiss sliders on pretzel rolls from TGI Fridays, and a turkey sub on pretzel bread from Blimpie.

ConAgra Mills, Inc., a business of Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, Inc., has done prototype work on pretzel bread in its bake shop. The company has achieved 8 grams of whole grain per serving by incorporating Ultragrain white whole wheat flour at a 30% level in the flour, said Don Trouba, director of marketing for ConAgra Mills, Inc.

Dr. Mehta said blends of whole grains work well in many bakery applications, even pretzel bread. Such blends achieve the targeted texture of the baked item while keeping production and ingredient costs reasonable. Formulators may wish to use precooked versions of some grain-based ingredients in the blends, he said.

Dr. Mehta said companies adding whole grains to products generally like to choose from four claim options: achieving a certain level of whole grains per serving, a heart-healthy claim, a total dietary fiber claim such as good source or excellent source, and a protein claim such as good source or excellent source.

Besides smoothies and pretzel bread, children’s menu items also present opportunities for whole grain inclusion. Whole grain items in children’s meals ranked No. 10 in the “What’s Hot 2013 Chef Survey” from the National Restaurant Association, Washington.

Mr. Meyer of Dakota Specialty Milling spoke about whole grain possibilities in school meal programs.

“Introducing some grains to kids, that they will consume, is a much better move forward to healthier foods than trying to force feed kids,” he said. “It has to be a slow cultural change that will happen if done right.”

ConAgra Mills has had success getting its Ultragrain white whole wheat flour into school meals. JM Swank, another ConAgra Foods business, uses Ultragrain in its Ultragrain Pasta. Sales of Ultragrain Pasta to school food service programs are up 100% for the 2013-14 school year when compared to the 2012-13 school year, Mr. Trouba said. Ultragrain Pasta contains 51 grams of whole grains per 100 grams of dray pasta.

Whole grain applications and claims have spread across product categories and geographical boundaries. As of June 2013, the Whole Grain Stamp was on more than 8,600 different products in 41 countries.

Menu items with whole grains may come in various day-parts. For breakfast, whole grains may be found in pancakes and french toast as well as breakfast sandwiches that come in a whole grain wrap, bagel or croissant, said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Whole Grains Council. Lunch menus may feature whole grain sandwich bread and buns, salads and rice bowls, she said, while dinner items may include whole grain pilaf, whole grain pasta and whole grain pizza crust.

Mr. Meyer said, “Whole grains continue to be a unique ingredient finding their way into many different foods, not just in baked goods, which we all have enjoyed, but also into salads, soups, desserts and many more foods.”
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