What to keep out of flour has become trendy in recent years. Those wanting examples may just Google “gluten-free.” Yet bakers should remember how flours at times may need a boost. Vital wheat gluten, which may act as a functional protein, offers one example. Also, fortifying flour may give finished products health and wellness attributes, and protein levels may provide satiety benefits.

“There are a number of reasons a baker may want to fortify flour, but two current trends are whole grain-rich competitive foods for schools and growing interest in health and wellness,” said Harold Ward, manager of technical services for ConAgra Mills, Inc., Omaha. “Competitive foods in schools — those that are sold at school but ‘compete’ with primary lunch menus — will be required to address nutrients of concern: calcium, potassium, vitamin D or dietary fiber in the 2014-15 school year. (ConAgra Mills brand) Sustagrain, as an example, is a natural whole grain way to increase the amount of fiber in a food or snack.

“Another reason is that consumers continue to show interest in health and wellness items. To that end, fortifying, or improving the nutritional profile, allows bakers and food companies to attract new consumers.”

In defense of gluten

With so many people avoiding gluten in their diets, the uneducated may wonder why it’s in food in the first place. According to The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., 30% of Americans are cutting down or eliminating gluten from their diets. According to Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., the gluten-free U.S. market reached $4.2 billion in 2012 and had a 28% compound annual growth rate from 2008-12.

Yet the baking industry knows the importance of gluten.

“There are many applications that require moderate to high levels of gluten forming proteins in the flour in order to make the conventional product perform,” said Jay Freedman, product applications scientist for Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, Mass. “This list includes pan bread, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, sandwich thins, soft pretzels, Cuban bread, pizza crusts and bagels.

“Additionally, products that are carrying high fiber (such as whole grain) and high protein also require higher gluten forming proteins in the dough.”

At the International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas Oct. 6-9, Bay State Milling plans to sample a whole grain rye, asiago and onion pretzel, Mr. Freedman said.

“This product will demonstrate the need for excellent gluten forming protein quantity and quality to be able to carry the large quantity of whole grain flours that are present in the formulation,” Mr. Freedman said.

Gluten creates the necessary network for gas retention in products where dough must be developed, said Brook Carson, director of R.&D. at ADM Milling in Overland Park, Kas.

“While it still contributes, gluten is less critical in cake and cookie applications,” she said. “These products are not as reliant on the gluten matrix, or a developed dough.”

Mr. Ward said, “Functionality of gluten is more important than having more gluten. Applications that are good candidates are formulas containing ingredients that tend to weigh down or dilute the dough’s gluten structure.

“Examples would be whole wheat products or products that contain high levels of whole wheat, particulates and flour from grains other than wheat. Other applications would be products that are baked without a pan: bagels or hearth bread, for example.”

Vital wheat gluten, a functional protein, keeps bakers from having to stock an inventory of multiple flours for multiple applications, said Brian Walker, technical service manager, Horizon Milling, L.L.C., Minneapolis, a joint venture of Cargill and CHS.

“The benefit of additives such as vital wheat gluten is, (bakers) could buy a wheat flour to produce their white bread,” he said. “Then they could enhance their dough if making whole wheat, or other varieties of bread with multi-grain.”

Vital wheat gluten will strengthen the dough and allow the dough to make it through processing, he said. The amount of fiber or the amount of water to hydrate the dough properly may put more of a load on the dough and bring about a reason for adding vital wheat gluten, Mr. Walker said.

“Vital wheat gluten is not an inexpensive ingredient,” he said. “It’s a lot like flour. It’s priced by supply and demand, and in recent years it’s been expensive.”

Protein may be a plus

Besides gluten, the protein levels of grains may improve the nutritional profile of flour and the finished product.

“Manufacturers are looking for various ways to offer consumers better-for-you baked goods and snack foods without sacrificing taste or texture,” Ms. Carson said. “One approach is to increase the protein content of the finished product. Protein has been recognized to be an important nutrient in providing satiety, maybe even the most important. Creating baked foods and snacks that deliver more fullness and satiety can be a useful tool to help consumers maintain a healthy weight.”

The United States ranks as the largest market for protein claims, according to research released by Mintel in January. The United States accounted for 19% of the global new product launches with protein claims in 2012. India was second at 9%, and the United Kingdom was third at 7%. Americans seek protein to aid in satiety and weight management and to boost muscle recovery and build muscle after a workout, said Nirvana Chapman, global food science trend analyst at Mintel.

When considering protein levels for flour, bakers may want to know ancient grains such as quinoa may have higher protein levels than other grains. Bean flour and pea flour also may offer benefits in the form of higher protein content.

According to the Whole Grains Council, Boston, quinoa is a complete protein in that it has all the essential amino acids and amaranth, another ancient grain, has protein levels of 13% to 14%.

Yet quinoa and amaranth are lacking a functional protein — gluten.

DeutscheBack GmbH & Co. KG, Ahrensburg, Germany, recently introduced TopBake gluten enhancer, which boosts the effect of wheat gluten already present in the flour. DeutscheBack points out when companies make baked foods using gluten-free flours such as soy, maize, beans, ancient grains or cassava, it reduces the proportion of wheat gluten in the recipe. TopBake has complexes of active substances that are based on enzymes, vegetable fibers, hydrocolloids and ascorbic acid and that compensate for the loss of gluten.

Adding protein to flour may bring processing adjustments.

“The increased protein usually requires increasing the liquid used in the formulation,” Ms. Carson said. “It may be necessary to change the order of addition of the ingredients to reduce the amount of added liquids to the formula to avoid a negative effect on texture.

“It’s smart to consult with your ingredient supplier to get formulation recommendations. ADM’s application specialists are available to provide technical support, nutritional information and sensory evaluation. Technical support can be provided at the customer’s facility or at ADM’s research center.”

Mr. Freedman added, “Typically, when higher levels of gluten forming proteins are present in the flour and dough, longer mix time and increased absorption is required. Adjustments may be necessary during make-up, proofing and baking also. Dough conditioners may be required to obtain the proper texture, eating characteristics and shelf life requirements.”

Flour fortification

Fortification provides another opportunity to boost the value of flour. Refined white flour has been enriched for years, Mr. Freedman said.

“Many consumers are expecting added macro- and micronutrients to their food that they consume,” he said. “Fiber, protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids are a few that are on the radar screen today.”

Ancient grains again may be an option for such flour fortification. According to the Whole Grains Council, amaranth contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamin C while millet has high levels of magnesium.

Millers may face regulatory constraints when fortifying flour, Mr. Ward said. He cited the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Sec. 137.165.

“As millers, we are constrained by the Standard of Identity for flour and can only fortify flour with specific vitamins and minerals (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folic acid, iron and calcium),” he said. “However, with our leading whole grain portfolio and ability to customize multigrain blends (at ConAgra Mills), we work with clients to improve the nutritional profile of their foods in ways other than fortifying.

“So whether it’s the whole grain nutrition of Ultragrain, fiber from Sustagrain or an ancient grains blend, we provide bakers with a tremendous number of ingredients so they can tailor their foods to their customers’ tastes.”

Mr. Walker added choosing the right flour, and flour boosters, might depend on several factors. Some bakers have standard specifications they want to meet, he said. Others want to know cost variables. Not all bakeries from the same company produce the same product at each location, he said.

“Every crop year is different,” Mr. Walker added. “The weather changes. The varieties change over time. You’re looking at the functional qualities of the crop as it is coming in.”

Such changes also factor in to decisions about boosting flour.