Whole grain loaf of bread
Incorporating whole grains into bakery formulations can be a tricky process, affecting shelf life, color, flavor and texture of a finished product.

LAS VEGAS — Going whole grain? There are some important considerations to make, said Brian Strouts, vice-president of baking and food technical services at AIB International.

Brian Strouts, AIB International
Brian Strouts, vice-president of baking and food technical services at AIB International

“Whole grain is still very much a place where, if you’re not there already, you need to be thinking about getting there, and if you are there you may still be facing some challenges,” Mr. Strouts said during a presentation at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), held Oct. 8-11 in Las Vegas.

Whole grain consumption has been linked to significant reductions in the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, digestive cancers and stroke. Studies have shown that eating whole grains may aid in weight management and lowering blood pressure.

“There is a lot of consumer acceptance around it, and there are a lot of things that come with that whole grain — minerals, antioxidants, vitamins — that are very easy to promote as being more healthy,” Mr. Strouts said.

But incorporating whole grains into bakery formulations can be a tricky process, affecting shelf life, color, flavor and texture of a finished product.

“Other challenges you’re going to see with variety flours is inventory control,” Mr. Strouts said. “You’re going to go from just using white flour to using 7 or 10 or 12 different grains, and now you’ve got a lot of inventory to deal with. Production line speed is often more difficult with these doughs because they tend to be stickier when you pick up the handle, so line speeds that you may be used to producing X number of loaves of bread a minute is going to have to come down with the issues around dough texture.

“These whole grain flours are also going to be more susceptible to having mold or toxins, so you’re going to have to work closely with your suppliers to make sure that is being monitored.”

Whole grains absorb water differently than white flour, affecting the shelf stability of a finished product.

“One of the things you’re going to have to consider when you start to think about going whole grain is that you may have to face down a shorter shelf life for your existing products,” Mr. Strouts said. “I’ve known some customers, especially with something that’s a low-moisture product like a pretzel or some crackers, that have had to reduce shelf life in half when they went from a traditional white flour to a whole grain or even multigrain.”

Particle size plays an important role in whole grain formulations, impacting factors such as gluten development, hydration and appearance.

“The smaller the (particle) size, the faster the hydration rate,” Mr. Strouts said. “Larger particle size is going to take longer to hydrate. You may need to specially treat that, soak it ahead of time to really get it to take up the water, and it could ultimately give you a sticky dough right out of the mixer that’s going to be difficult for you to deal with as you start to go down the  line.”

Larger particles may interfere with gluten formation, resulting in lower volume and a coarser texture, he said. To minimize disruption, Mr. Strouts suggested delaying the addition of whole grains to the dough until after a gluten film is formed in mixing.

“Another challenge is the color and flavor you’re going to see with some of these whole grains,” he said. “That’s going to require you to not only select the right ones but perhaps adjust your formulation.

“What’s fairly common in whole grain or multigrain is that you have to balance out what becomes a bitter or tannic flavor that comes with many of those whole grains.”

Balancing out that bitterness may call for more sugar or a longer fermentation time. White wheat has a lesser impact on taste and color than red wheat, Mr. Strouts noted.

Bakers must decide how much whole grain to include in a formulation. Less than 25% will have minor impacts on fermentation time, loaf volume and cell structure, but these products will offer fewer nutritional benefits and may not be noticeable to consumers.

“You start to get to 50% replacement of your white flour with some of these whole grains, and you’re going to have to start adjusting process,” Mr. Strouts said. “You may need to adjust mixing time, you need to rehydrate, you need to move your absorption up significantly, but it’s going to be more noticeable to your consumers, so that becomes the tradeoff.

“If you go to 100%, obviously you’re going to see the most impact on process, but it may give the best presentation to your consumer.”

He added, “There’s a lot of room to start growing across that spectrum. Don’t think you have to go to one extreme or another. There is a happy medium that you can start to look at.”

Soaking grains prior to processing will help mitigate certain impacts; however, Mr. Strouts noted, “You’ll have to consider the logistics of how much material you’ll need to preprocess and how you are going to handle that in your bakery as you start to handle hundreds of pounds of presoaked grains and how you manage that through your particular system.

“There are also some precooked products that will help with the absorption issue and also a process called micronizing, where the grain kernels are subjected to high heat and slightly crushed, and that tends to open them up just a little bit, so that improves the hydration. There are some things that can be done to help the absorption and how that’s going to process through and ultimately gives you a softer texture and improves flavor.”

Sprouting grains is another option, which results in a sweeter, milder flavor and enhances the enzymatic activity of the wheat, improving shelf stability.

“There are both wet and dry products out there that have been sprouted and you can use those into your system,” he said.

Bakers may choose from a wide range of grains, including Kamut, farro, spelt, triticale, rye, oats. Gluten-free options include corn, rice, millet, sorghum, amaranth, quinoa, teff and buckwheat. Used as a topping, whole grains of larger particle size offer visual appeal and artisanal quality to bread.

“If you want to make something whole grain or multigrain, there are a number of ways to include these different products that don’t have to just be in the dough,” Mr. Strouts said. “Going with something larger as a topical helps to meet that demand, helps to add that product to it, and it really helps to give it the visual that your customers may be looking for.”