Monday, July 28, 2008

Rotten tomato affair' should give bakers pause

With each passing week, it becomes increasingly difficult for grain-based foods to ignore the painful debacle associated with the inability of federal authorities to pinpoint the fresh produce source of a Salmonella outbreak.

Since April, 1,220 people in 42 states and Canada have fallen sick in an outbreak that first was attributed to tomatoes and later implicated certain hot peppers. Cilantro still lurks in the background as a possible suspect. Following pleadings by the tomato industry, the Food and Drug Administration offered the public tepid assurances. "This is not saying anyone is absolved," an F.D.A. official said July 17, adding that consumers should know "tomatoes currently in stores and coming on the market are okay."

Since the illness developed, some tomato varieties have suffered sales declines in excess of 50%. The episode is costing the industry in Florida losses of as much as $100 million. Industry representatives have begun calling for government compensation. Clearly, the fresh produce industry faces traceability issues that are many degrees more complicated than is the case for grain-based foods. Still, the depth and duration of this "rotten tomato affair" should give bakers pause.

For longer than a year, baking and other processed foods groups have complained to Congress that the F.D.A. is not adequately funded. Any baking disaster resulting from F.D.A. weakness likely would be far different from the one afflicting tomatoes.

At the same time, tomato growers probably stand a better chance of successfully gaining compensation from F.D.A. missteps than baking or the processed food industry ever would. The bolstered funding for the F.D.A. winding through Congress is urgently needed. If the funding is secured, the industry then must watch carefully to protect its interests at an agency whose resources are severely stretched.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Interest in Organics Waning, but Opportunities Still Exist Especially Among Core Consumers

According to a new report, The Many Faces of Organic 2008, by leading consumer insights specialists The Hartman Group, Inc., rumblings of slowdowns in certain categories within the organic market and a plateauing of overall organic sales are beginning to surface. As consumers and companies navigate the turbulent waters of a difficult economy, the findings contained within The Many Faces of Organic bears new economic and cultural significance that cannot be ignored by manufacturers, marketers, retailers and other stakeholders.

"Many factors are currently at play to influence the current and future picture of organic consumption," said Laurie Demeritt, president and COO of The Hartman Group. "Our research clearly reveals that while organics are still an important cue to millions of consumers for products that contribute to healthy lifestyles, conventional culture is now including organic as but one of many symbolic distinctions of equal importance beneath the overall moniker of 'quality.' Specifically, this report shows where organic now resides in terms of importance in consumers' minds."

While self-reported consumer purchase activity is leveling off, Hartman Group research shows that the organic market is far from reaching an expiration date or even a saturation point. Related to cultural concerns for quality and health (especially for children, personal and family welfare), consumers resonate more strongly today than ever before to fresh organic categories.

"In 2006, for example," explained Demeritt, "for every one category of organic products every purchased by Mid-level organic consumers, Core consumers purchased 1.65 categories. In 2008, this ratio has shifted dramatically: Core consumers now purchase 2.26 organic product categories for every one category purchased by the Mid-level."

The Many Faces of Organic 2008 is the authoritative marketplace report that explores and explains the consumer lifestyle and cultural shifts occurring in organic shopping and usage. The report examines strategic implications in the evolving arena and provides an in-depth look at the key trends reshaping the organic products industry.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Push for Calories on Menus Gains

The California and New York state legislatures are moving toward requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on their menu items, joining a movement that until now has gained traction mostly in cities and counties.

The California and New York state bills, if passed, would be the country's first statewide menu-labeling legislation and could have widespread national impact because of the states' roles as national trendsetters.

But menu-labeling laws face resistance from some political leaders. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year, and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill May 12 that will ban counties from enacting the laws.

The menu laws typically require sit-down restaurants to list nutritional facts, such as calories, fat content, carbohydrates and sodium, for each menu item, while fast-food outlets with menu boards have to post calorie counts on the boards. The legislation usually targets restaurant chains with 10 or more national locations.

New York City began implementing a menu law in May. San Francisco and Seattle's King County will begin implementing menu laws later this year. Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, passed a law June 3 requiring that chain restaurants in unincorporated areas include nutritional information on menus. Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are among cities considering following suit.

An official for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health-advocacy group that supports menu labeling, says that by the group's latest tally, 15 other state legislatures have introduced similar bills in the past two years, but none have been enacted. Advocates say that laws enacted by the two influential states should spur other states to move more quickly.

A California bill written by Democratic State Sen. Alex Padillia to mandate calorie disclosures was passed by the state's Senate in May and is expected to pass in the Assembly later this summer. If the Assembly passes the legislation, the bill will head to the governor's desk by August 31.

In October, Mr. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill by Mr. Padilla, because, the governor said, it placed a burden on some restaurants but not others. He also noted that the bill provided little flexibility as to how restaurants could display nutritional facts and that an increasing number of restaurants were providing such information online. A spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger declined to comment on the new bill.

The legislation also faces competition from a similar but more lenient nutrition-disclosure bill that is supported by the California Restaurant Association.

Mr. Padilla says his latest bill, which affects restaurants with 15 or more locations in the state, was designed to avoid burdening mom-and-pop eateries. He also says that displaying nutrition information online is too ineffective. "We're walking the fine line of [avoiding] telling people what they can or cannot eat, or telling the restaurants what they can or cannot serve," he says. "But we're providing the information that most consumers said they would love to have in these decisions."

A similar bill is wending through the New York state Legislature. Its sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, says he is trying to push it through the Legislature before its June 23 recess. The bill would affect restaurants with 15 or more national locations and five or more state locations.

While Mr. Ortiz believes the legislation might pass before lawmakers go into recess, his office acknowledges that there is still work to be done. An official at the state's restaurant association said it doubts the bill will be passed in this legislative session. If it doesn't pass, it would have to be reintroduced in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The menu measures are coming amid a general greater focus by cities, states, school districts and other public entities on the country's obesity problem. According to a May report by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, menu labeling could have "a sizable salutary impact on the obesity epidemic," based on "conservative assumptions" that the postings would result in 10% of chain-restaurant patrons' ordering reduced-calorie meals.

Supporters of menu labeling, which include the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association, say it encourages healthier eating and reduces the risk of diabetes and other diseases.

Many in the restaurant industry voice problems with the labeling, including the cost to reconfigure menus and have food tested for nutritional values. Critics also say labeling isn't feasible in certain instances. Officials at Wendy's International Inc., of Dublin, Ohio, say it would be hard for them to post an accurate calorie count because some customers ask for condiments on their sandwiches and some don't. There also isn't solid evidence, industry officials say, that menu labeling reduces obesity.

Lara Dunbar, senior vice president of government affairs for the California Restaurant Association, says calorie information isn't a good measure for healthfulness. "Diet Pepsi has no calories," she says. "Low-fat milk has 130 calories. What's healthier?"

A judge ruled against the New York State Restaurant Association in a lawsuit against the New York City law in federal district court in April. An appeals hearing is set for Thursday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spike in family flour demand raises eyebrows

For longer than two generations, no trend in grain-based foods has been more consistent than the steady fall in demand for family flour. Like clockwork week after week, month after month and year after year, marketers of family flour have related the continuing movement away from home baking and the resultant negative effects on sales of this principal ingredient. Except for rare seasonal aberrations, monthly sales data have shown declines of 1% to 5% from a year earlier with incredible consistency.
Once the main product of the U.S. flour milling industry, family flour is believed to account now for much less than 5% of U.S. production. Such is the consistency of the decline that eyebrows were raised in May, when overall demand recorded an 11% increase in sales volume over May 2007.

A month does not a trend make, but interest heightened further when June sales rose 4%.

It is still too early to say exactly what is going on in family flour and what it may mean for grain-based foods. For instance, the "trading down" suggested by the surge in what could be dubbed the industry’s least value-added product has not yet been mirrored by a decline in branded bread sales versus private label. At the same time, there have been indications amid rising food prices and a soft economy that eating at home is on the rise.

Whether or not its strength is sustained, the highly unusual family flour surge certainly suggests the possibility of significant underlying consumption shifts that merit a close watch by the industry.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Coffee Market Rejuvenates by Putting Packaged Versions of Specialty Brands on Retail Shelves

Java-junkies aren't ready to put down their coffee cups just yet. Taking the lead over the soft drink industry for the first time, the coffee market (inclusive of both retail and foodservice sales) was valued at $44 billion in 2007. According to an updated study from Packaged Facts, "Coffee in the U.S.: Retail, Foodservice and Consumer Trends," the coffee market will brew to an estimated $59 billion by 2012.

Foodservice venues are currently the largest channel for coffee sales, accounting for 87% of the market in 2007, while ground coffee dominates the retail category. Due to new economic constraints Packaged Facts believes that sales of coffee through retail channels will grow at a faster pace than foodservice as more consumers exchange their favorite coffeehouse for packaged premium coffees they can brew at home.

Marketers and retailers competing against the foodservice segment have successfully introduced premium packaged versions of recognizable foodservice brands, such as Seattle's Best, Starbucks, and Peet's. 2008 figures, thus far, indicate that specialty coffee products represent 30% of retail market sales. Between consumers dusting off their home coffee makers and marketers expanding packaged offerings, the segment could eventually command 45%.

"The specialty coffee industry is at the forefront of offering ethical, eco-friendly products. Although this is a niche market, it is rapidly touching mainstream," notes Tatjana Meerman, Publisher of Packaged Facts. "For example, in April 2008, Wal-Mart launched a line of six premium packaged ground coffees that are either Fair Trade Certified, USDA Certified Organic, or Rainforest Alliance Certified."

Packaged Facts' updated report, "Coffee in the U.S.: Retail, Foodservice and Consumer Trends," 5th Edition, analyzes in depth the broad and complex trends affecting the coffee market, including the effects of the economy, worldwide green coffee prices, changing coffee consumption trends, competition from other beverages like sodas and energy drinks, corporate social responsibility and health and wellness benefits. In addition to examining foodservice sales, it also thoroughly examines the myriad retail channels for purchasing packaged ground, whole bean and ready-to-drink (RTD), including supermarkets, mass merchandisers, supercenters, warehouse clubs and convenience stores.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Consumers want more information on the label

Consumers want foods to display information such as the country of origin in order to make more informed buying decisions, according to a survey by Deloitte.

In fact, more than two of five consumers said they don’t feel they have enough information about the food they eat.

"Today consumers have more access to food information than ever before," said Pat Conroy, Deloitte vice-chairman and U.S. Consumer Products group leader. "Still, it’s clear that what they are getting is not enough. Consumers are spending more time checking labels and are often overwhelmed by a flood of contradictory nutrition ‘facts.’ They seek clear, straightforward information they can understand so they can make more informed choices and better protect themselves and their families."

Deloitte found consumers also are aware increased information on labeling might cost them more for a product, and 73% said they would still want country-of-origin labeling even if it increased food prices slightly.

The top three concerns consumers have about their foods are healthiness of ingredients, possible use of chemical ingredients and safety of ingredients. In addition, 79% of consumers said they believe meat from cloned animals should be labeled in stores, and 50% of consumers said meat from cloned animals should not be sold in the United States.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Coffee rebounds after dollar gains against euro

Coffee prices rose for the first time in five days Thursday after the dollar weakened against the euro, attracting new buyers seeking commodities as an inflation hedge.

Coffee futures for September delivery added 1.5 cents to settle at $1.415 a pound on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange, after earlier trading as high as $1.4215.

Coffee edged higher after the greenback fell against the euro, which bought $1.5786 late Thursday. A weak dollar encourages buying of hard assets like commodities, which are viewed as a safe-haven investment. A falling greenback also makes commodities less expensive to overseas buyers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chocolate makers focus on the technology of making better chocolate

Manufacturers are taking control of the entire process in hopes of producing a better product.

MEET THE new Willy Wonka: Timothy Childs is a former space shuttle technologist who's building a 29,000-square-foot chocolate factory on prime waterfront property in the Embarcadero. He stands in the factory's laboratory inspecting a sample of split-open cocoa beans, pointing out the ones that have been properly fermented and talking intensely about the hedonics of chocolate -- as in the hedonistic sensation of eating it, how it melts in the mouth, when it starts to break apart and the way in which flavors and sugars are released. "We're freaks about it," says Childs, chief chocolate officer (his official title) of Tcho.

He's not the only sweet tooth/techno-tinkerer with chocolate on the mind. In fact, Childs is one of a generation of new Willy Wonkas, a recent crop of American bean-to-bar chocolate makers who are building their own factories -- sometimes their own machinery -- and tracking down cocoa beans to transform them into bars of chocolate (also known as couverture), for eating and for making confections.

There's no mistaking these chocolate makers for traditional chocolatiers, who create confections such as bonbons and truffles. Instead of enthusing about ganache, they're wont to talk about cacao genetics, or the advantages of a roller mill versus a ball mill during chocolate refining, or the stability of certain types of crystalline structures in chocolate.

These entrepreneurs tend to be excited about a just-found piece of vintage machinery (say, a 1930s mahogany winnower) or the next shipment of beans from Bolivia. They're continuously experimenting with roasting times, for example, or with stone-grinding techniques. Or they're taking the extra steps (or leaps) to oversee the drying of their own beans or to press their own cocoa butter.

Setting new standards

THE RESULT is an envelope-pushing variety of chocolate, some of which is on par with the chocolate from European producers that connoisseurs have long considered the standard.

"We haven't even seen how great chocolate can be yet," says Colin Gasko, owner of Rogue Chocolatier (a chocolate maker despite the word "chocolatier" in the name), who launched his Minneapolis company in November. "I don't think that anybody in the world making chocolate right now is making the best chocolate that can be. There's such tremendous potential."

Bean-to-bar is industry parlance for the complicated process by which cacao is turned into chocolate. The bean-to-bar process involves: roasting the beans; breaking them into small pieces called nibs and removing the shells (referred to as winnowing); grinding the nibs, usually with sugar, to form a chocolate paste; then refining and conching (very forceful kneading) to produce the desired smoothness and to develop flavors.

Depending on the chocolate maker's stylistic approach, the following ingredients might be added: vanilla, additional cocoa butter and/or soy lecithin. After it's tempered (heated then cooled to a certain temperature, so that it has sheen and snap), the chocolate is poured into molds.

Until recently the process was the domain of mass producers, even in the 12 years since groundbreaking Scharffen Berger started making chocolate in Berkeley. (And even the big companies are increasingly contracting out a significant part of the process.)

In the last couple of years, inventive chocolate makers have popped up across the U.S. In Brooklyn, a couple of cocoa-loving brothers are building a "chocolaterie and laboratory" in the south Williamsburg neighborhood. Childs teamed with Wired magazine co-founder Louis Rossetto to form Tcho, refurbishing equipment shipped in its entirety from an old chocolate factory in Wernigerode, Germany. Tcho is a 21st-century chocolate factory: Childs plans to install video monitors and display screens that show what's happening inside the machines.

Tcho, which currently has sample chocolate "in beta" and is set to open in the first quarter of next year, is among the biggest of the new wave of chocolate makers, with 18 employees and with the capacity to make 3 tons at a time. "That's still less than what the big guys spill during a shift change," Childs says.

Artisanal "micro-batch" producers are coming out with 50 to 1,000 pounds at a time, with just one or two people making the chocolate, such as Art Pollard of Amano Artisan Chocolate in Orem, Utah; Steve DeVries of DeVries Chocolate in Denver; Alan McClure of Columbia, Mo.-based Patric Chocolate; and Gasko's Rogue Chocolatier.

Small makers multiply

NOW "THERE'S more interest in chocolate and there's high enough prices for chocolate to make it feasible to have a small company," says DeVries, a former glass manufacturer who pursued chocolate making after a trip to Costa Rica several years ago and his first encounter with a cocoa pod. On subsequent trips, he started bringing back as much as 70 pounds of cocoa beans in his suitcases. (He might be the Charlie Papazian of chocolate makers, Papazian being the patron saint of microbrewing.)

Other bean-to-bar chocolate makers include Theo in Seattle; Mast Bros. Chocolate in New York; Taza in Somerville, Mass.; and Askinosie of Springfield, Mo.

"It's a very courageous choice [to make chocolate], especially for the small processors," says international chocolate consultant Chloé Doutre-Roussel, who wrote "The Chocolate Connoisseur" and recently has been helping a cacao cooperative in Bolivia launch a chocolate bar for the export market. "It takes quite a lot of investment in machinery. Even those with small machines end up buying bigger ones. Plus you need to pay for trips to buy the beans and to ship them."

What formerly might have been seen as the unglamorous side of the chocolate world now has cachet, Doutre-Roussel says. Famed chocolatiers such as Pierre Marcolini or Patrick Roger in Belgium and France didn't make their names by roasting and grinding beans. But it has become trendy for high-end European chocolatiers to make at least a limited amount of their own chocolate, maybe even from their own small, vanity-project cacao plantations. Still, Europe hasn't seen the rapid rise of chocolate makers that has taken place in the U.S.

"Three years from now, we'll probably see double the number of chocolate makers [in the U.S.]," Childs says. "It sounds banal, but it reflects back to the Internet and technology. Before it was so hard just to have communication with growing areas. Now practices get communicated, contacts established, samples and feedback are sent. Sourcing the cocoa is the hardest thing to do, making it is second-hardest."

Childs notes that there's enough information on chocolate-making websites to "let people make it on their own and find people who can help them. We couldn't do this 10 years ago; we couldn't do this five years ago."

Meanwhile, by the time Hershey Co. bought Scharffen Berger in 2005 and then Portland, Ore.-based Dagoba the following year, the gap left by industry consolidation was ready to be filled. In 2006, Joseph Whinney founded Seattle-based Theo, the first roaster of organic and fair-trade cocoa beans in the U.S., according to its website.

Many bean-to-bar producers say they're motivated by the possibilities for tremendous change in chocolate making -- in the possible increase in quality to be gained if producers control the way that the bean is handled at the source as well as by paying obsessive attention to how their machinery affects the development of flavors.

"I was curious," DeVries says. "How could it be that I could grind this stuff in my kitchen and have more complex chocolate than any I'd ever had before?

"We have so much upside now. If the French bought all their grapes in shiploads from Africa, how good would the wine be? That's about where we are with chocolate."

Back in the factory lab, Childs points to photos of neatly boxed fermenting cocoa beans (as opposed to beans fermenting in large piles). Tcho plans to implement "infield improvements and models for fermentation and drying," Childs says. "That's the first order to improving quality and flavor. I'm looking at this not just from bean to bar but from pod to palate. Pod to bean is the most crucial step in the process."

Caring for the beans

DEVRIES oversees his own drying method. "For me to make chocolate, I need to go there, be involved in the harvest and be involved in the drying," he says. "I'd heard about the drying of beans in Chuao [Venezuela, where prized beans are from], went down and learned how they made the stuff. A lot of it was the way it was dried. I started doing experiments in Costa Rica and dried them very slowly. I got fantastic chocolate -- dried fruit tones that just knocked people out."

Transforming the beans to bars takes machinery, lots of it. It's the myriad fascinating, sometimes-obscure and hard-to-find, oft-modified machines that charm the Wonkas -- small grinders originally used for making Indian batters such as for dosas (rice-flour pancakes), melangeurs (grinders) tracked down in Spain, a conch from the Suchard factory in Switzerland, or a winnower salvaged from Scharffen Berger's parking lot.

"It's not all easy to find. Machine shop skills come in handy," says Amano's Pollard, a search engine developer who had his first chocolate epiphany 11 years ago during his honeymoon after eating a Belgian chocolate truffle. "I decided to design and build my own refiner and conch from scratch. I think one of the great things about doing it the hard way instead of buying machinery is that you really learn why things are the way they are."

The level of attention that the bean-to-bar guys pay to each part of the process is sort of captivating. During winnowing, much of which Patric's McClure does by hand, he removes a large proportion of the germ because, he says, it's hard and bitter. Rogue's Gasko, who "started fooling around with machines in the basement," says he's working on equipment that he hopes will get the remaining hulls down to one-tenth of a percent with only 2% loss of the nib and at the same time remove all of the germ. "It requires a bit of engineering," he says.

As for ingredients, some of the new chocolate makers have little interest in anything but the cocoa beans and sugar.

"My philosophy is if you have to add any flavor to the chocolate in order to make it taste good," McClure says, "then the cacao that you're using is not good enough to be used."

The only two ingredients you'll see listed on the packaging of DeVries' chocolate is cocoa beans and cane sugar, but he doesn't describe himself as a purist. For now, "I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with the cocoa bean."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bread Fortification on the Rise

Bread in its many forms and flavors has become a staple in countless cultures. It is believed that as far back as 15,000 B.C., nomadic hunter-gatherers discovered wheat was edible. Moistened grain meal formed pastes that, when “cooked” on heated rocks, yielded the first flatbreads. It was the Egyptians who first isolated yeast cultures to make breads rise. From Egypt to Greece to Rome, bread became more than a staple. The type of bread a person consumed was an indication of social status: the darker the bread, the lower the social station.

Enriching experiences

Through the years, grain millers found removing bran led to a more-desirable flour. Taste became milder and less susceptible to oxidation as rancidity-prone oils were no longer present. Removal of the grain’s bran and germ, however, left the flour short on naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Bread’s relatively low cost and commonality to countless diet plans made it an excellent vehicle for nutrients missing from many consumers’ diets. Shortly after issuing its Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) in 1941, FDA was joined by bread manufacturer Continental Baking Co. in developing a bread-enrichment program, adding niacin, riboflavin (B2), thiamin (B1) and iron to bread to help stop the spread of nutritional-deficiency-related diseases, including beriberi, pellagra and severe nutritional anemia, in the United States. More recently, folic acid has become a common enrichment ingredient, helping prevent neural tube birth defects like spina bifida.

Because enriched bread is typically consumed as part of a greater meal item, its added vitamins and minerals are better absorbed. Calcium, for example, is more effectively absorbed in the presence of protein. Consuming calcium-fortified bread as a peanut butter or meat-and-cheese sandwich, therefore, improves the absorption of the added calcium.

Health-conscious consumers have discovered that bread provides nutrients their fast-paced diets fall short on. Unlike “enrichments,” where vitamins and minerals are added to enhance or replace naturally occurring elements, “fortification” programs add nutritive elements normally not present. It is these fortified products to which consumers are turning for help in their quest for better health.

Loaf legalese

Bread’s standard of identity (Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 136, Part 116), while established to protect consumers and manufacturers, can place constraints on developers seeking to improve or enhance bread products. Calcium salts, for example, are limited to a combined level of 0.25 parts per 100 parts of flour. Monocalcium phosphate (MCP) is one exception to the limit, and may be used up to 0.75 parts per 100 parts of flour (including any MCP present in the flour used). “Calcium phosphates provide multiple functional benefits in a single product,” says Barbara Heidolph, principal, ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis. MCP added for dough conditioning also provides calcium fortification. “In standard bread products that use MCP, health claims cannot be made, because at a two-slice serving, you would get only 75 mg calcium per slice,” she says. “To make a ‘good source’ claim, you must have 100 mg per serving.” There are options, though, for the creatively named products. “In nonstandard bread, especially those formulated with healthful ingredients like fiber and whole grains, calcium phosphate can be used for fortification at levels to allow ‘good source of calcium’ or ‘excellent source of calcium’ claims,” she notes.

Fiber-rific flours

Americans’ underconsumption of fiber follows a general trend—replacing more whole foods with processed ones. But adding fiber to a formulation can affect several finished-product characteristics. Whole grains tend to create a denser finished product, a concern that can be addressed through leavening agents. Wheat supplies the gluten critical to dough development and structure, so fibers and grains other than wheat “dilute” the gluten content. Addition of vital wheat gluten can compensate somewhat for this. Adding these ingredients can also affect water absorption and mixing time, so product designers must be prepared to modify formulations and processes to achieve the desired loaf.

Whole grains can also affect color. Wheat and soy fibers can yield a yellow tone. Cellulose is one of the most white.

Flavor is yet another potential hurdle to clear. Wheat, barley and oat flours can impart strong flavors that could be undesirable in a bland-tasting product, but complementary in a multigrain formulation.

Fiber is a nondigestible complex carbohydrate, further defined by water solubility. Insoluble fibers, such as those mentioned above, pass through our bodies quickly, taking with it waste materials, helping reduce the risk of colon cancer. Bread applications typically utilize insoluble fibers, as they do not adversely affect mouthfeel, or fermentation and proofing processes.

Soluble fibers help lower glucose levels and cholesterol. They are obtained from fruits, vegetables and certain grains. Barley and oats, for example, contain beta glucans, nonstarch polysaccharides found to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. Since 1995, FDA has allowed foods containing 0.75 grams of soluble fiber from barley or oats to carry a health claim relating the consumption of beta glucan with reduced risk of coronary heart disease when the food is consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Unlike insoluble fibers, though, soluble fiber can affect the viscosity, the amount of water required for proper processing, fermentation and proofing processes, and finished product texture.

It is important to note that while both oats and barley increase fiber in a formulation, neither can create yeast-risen breads on their own. Oats contain no gluten; barley has some gluten, but not enough to provide adequate rising.

Inulin is a soluble fiber composed of 2 to 60 fructose units. Shorter chains, 10 units and fewer, are referred to as fructooligosaccharides (FOS). In addition to boosting fiber content, inulin and FOS function as prebiotics (helping improve and sustain healthy intestinal microflora), improve calcium absorption and bone health, and help with weight control in adolescents.

“Typically, we recommend inulin for yeast-leavened systems,” says Joe O’Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Beneo-Orafti, Morris Plains, NJ. “It has functional and cost benefits over oligofructose in yeast- raised and in leavened dough applications.” Another benefit of inulin is that it can be a used for additional fiber enrichment in high-fiber doughs with minimal water addition. Too much water addition in traditional high-fiber doughs can lead to microbial spoilage.

“Inulin has been successfully used in high-fiber dough systems without issues with dough handling or sticky doughs,” O’Neill notes. “Within the guidelines of ‘good source’ and ‘excellent source’ of fiber, inulin will have no effect on flavor or texture and can be used to make great-tasting, nutritious foods.”

Further, O’Neill says, growing recognition of inulin as one of the best and most-researched natural prebiotic fibers available is drawing developers to the claims they can make with inulin added to their products. “In addition to ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ fiber source, developers can also make structure/function claims based on inulin and oligofructose prebiotic function,” he notes. “Prebiotics are now taking fiber to a new level, allowing for claims on improved digestive health and function.”

Unseen heroes

Changing fiber content does not necessarily mean changing finished product characteristics. “Using certain ingredients, developers can boost fiber level invisibly, without negatively impacting the product,” says Doris Dougherty, senior food scientist, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL.

Resistant starch is one such group of ingredients. The term “resistant” refers to the starch’s ability to withstand human digestion. “While most starches are fully digestible, yielding 4 calories per gram,” notes Dougherty, “these are designed to be resistant to human enzymes, yielding 1.7 calories per gram (dry solids basis).” Tate & Lyle’s proprietary re-crystallization processing provides a physically modified (RS3) product that is more stable to heat and shear. But resistant starches are more than simple roughage. “These products have also been shown to act as a prebiotic fiber fermented in the colon, resulting in an increased amount of beneficial bacteria and short-chain fatty acids such as butyric,” she says.

Low water-holding capacity avoids stickiness, poor expansion and competition for moisture that could necessitate changes to formulation, processing time or temperature. As with any flour replacement, however, addition of vital wheat gluten may be necessary to ensure proper protein structure.

Invisible assistance can also be gained from soluble corn fiber. “It’s a fiber with sugar-like functionality,” says Dougherty. Unlike sugar, though, soluble corn fiber will not affect flavor or mouthfeel, she says.

The RS3 product is available in dry and liquid (70% fiber) forms, both of which exhibit solubility and stability unaffected by processing.

One if by land

Cultivated as far back as 3,000 B.C., flax is gaining attention as a healthful addition to modern bread formulations. Flaxseed is a powerful fiber-enriching material with approximately 28% dietary fiber composed of both soluble (one-third) and insoluble (two-thirds) fiber.

Flaxseed also has approximately 34% lipids, more than half of which is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Associated with a host of health benefits, omega-3s qualify for structure/function claims such as “omega-3 fatty acids support healthy brain function,” “omega-3s support cardiovascular health” or “omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy immune system.” Products that contain 260 mg of ALA per reference amount can be labeled as “high in ALA,” “rich in ALA” or “excellent source of ALA.”

Flaxseed is commonly used as intact whole seeds or ground seeds. Whole flaxseed can be utilized as a topping to improve appearance or texture. Poor adhesion can, however, leave many seeds in the bottom of a package. Direct addition of whole seeds, as in certain specialty artisan breads, requires a presoaking step to facilitate blending.

Shelled flaxseed can serve as an alternative to traditional whole flaxseed, notes Doreen VandenTillaart, vice president, sales and administration, Natunola Health Inc., Winchester, Ontario. “Whole flaxseed is not digestible in the human body due to the hard outer shell,” she says. “By removing this shell, the body can now break down the nutritional components in both the shell (fiber, lignans) and the inner kernel (omega-3).” Using a product with almost 31% ALA, developers can achieve a “rich source” claim adding less than 1% to their formulation. “With the shell removed, the seed is not as slick, having been opened up, and therefore has better sticking properties to dough, resulting in less waste,” she says.

Ground flaxseed is commonly used in American bread products. Milled flaxseed offers improved nutritional value and ease of addition over whole seeds. VandenTillaart notes that traditional milling processes can leave the ground material susceptible to oxidation. “When grinding flaxseed, the flax oil, which tends to be unstable, is pressed from the inner (yellow) flax kernel, resulting in rapid oxidation,” she says. “Shelling flax allows for the separation of the two flax components (the outer shell and the inner kernel), leaving the oil intact in the kernel and improving overall stability.” She suggests that oxidation often is to blame for the bitter notes imparted by ground-flax products. “Shelled flax,” she notes, “adds a pleasant, nutty flavor to foods.”

While flaxseed will act like many other whole grains, developers should consult with their suppliers for advice on formulation changes that might come from addition of a particular form and/or level of flaxseed. Additional fiber can necessitate additional water—as much as 75% of the flaxseed level. Maintaining existing proofing times and textures might require additional yeast. Gluten addition can also improve dough strength.

Two if by sea

Omega-3s are rising in popularly across the food spectrum, and breads are ripe for fortification with them. While flaxseed provides a rich source of one omega-3, certain oily fish deliver two others: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are synthesized in the body from ALA, although the conversion rate is as low as 3%. FDA has approved EPA and DHA for qualified heart-health claims not allowed for ALA: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [name of food] provides [x] grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. (See nutrition information for total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol content.)”

Fish-derived sources of EPA and DHA have one potential disadvantage: fishy taste or odor. However, microencapsulation technology has yielded EPA and DHA products that do not affect finished-product flavor or aroma.

Menhaden oil, lacking a strong fishy taste or odor, presents an opportunity for adding EPA and DHA to breads, according to the Menhaden Resource Council, Arlington, VA. Menhaden oil is FDA GRAS and certified for use in 32 food categories, including baked goods. However, sensitivity to heat can limit use of menhaden oil. Incorporation of menhaden oil into baked products should be done as late in the process as possible. Alone, menhaden oil is stable for up to 20 minutes at 350°F. Blending with a melted fat increases tolerance slightly, up to 40 minutes at 375°F, so it is suitable for bread.

Protein power

In 1999, FDA told consumers that daily consumption of 25 grams of soy protein would lower LDL cholesterol. Products containing 6.25 grams per serving could bear a heart-health claim. More recent studies have shown that isoflavones, phytochemicals in soy, might have positive effects on asthma, low bone mineral density, heart disease and cancer.

Beyond health benefits, soy offers functional benefits to bread formulations. Research performed at Texas A&M University indicates that water-binding, as much as 1.5 parts water to 1 part soy flour, can provide increased production volumes and improved shelf life. Soy can replace other allergens such as egg or nonfat dry milk and provide effective cost reduction. Soy flour’s enzymatic activity whitens a product with addition rates at or below 0.5%.

Part of what makes whole wheat nutritionally beneficial is the protein in the endosperm layer. “Using a proprietary method, one can isolate the precious aleurone layer where most of the desirable whole-wheat nutrients are concentrated,” says Kyle Marinkovich, marketing manager, Horizon Milling, Wayzata, MN. “Wheat aleurone brings consumers value by incorporating the nutritional benefits of whole grains while preserving the pleasing sensory qualities people enjoy in foods made from white flour: soft texture, high volume, mild taste and light color.”

According to Marinkovich, nutrition scientists have confirmed that isolated aleurone is preferable to full bran because it contains higher levels of almost all the whole-wheat nutrients believed to help promote better health: 45% dietary fiber; essential vitamins, including B6, niacin, and E; minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc; most major antioxidants; and many phytochemicals, including tocopherols and tocotrienols.

The fiber, vitamins and minerals contributed by wheat aleurone will give rise to formulation or processing changes, as seen with any whole-grain or high-fiber ingredient, notes Rob Ostrander, technical services representative, Horizon Milling. “It may require additions of vital wheat gluten and dough conditioners to overcome the lower volumes and weaker tolerance to overmixing,” he says. “Most bakers will reduce mix and fermentation times to produce acceptable-volume breads.”

Wheat proteins provide additional solutions to challenges in yield and texture. “Loaf volume is dependent upon a strong gluten network,” notes Brook Carson, technical product manager, ADM Milling, Overland Park, KS. “As the gluten usage increases, the dough increases in elasticity and becomes difficult to process. Adding wheat protein isolate relaxes the dough, improving the process performance without negatively affecting the final-product quality. The final product has healthy whole grains, optimized texture and an increase in protein.

“Oftentimes,” Carson continues, “whole grains produce a more-dense texture and nutty flavor when compared to white pan breads. Wheat protein isolates not only improve the texture of the bread, but also mask the bitterness associated with whole grains.”

This just scratches the surface of the fortification options for your daily bread. No matter what the target loaf, dense and hearty or springy and soft, product designers can work with an array of ingredients to make bread healthier.

R. J. Foster is a wordsmith with a B.S. in food science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and over 15 years of experience in the food industry. He can be reached through his website,

More Grist for the Bread Mill

Despite the USDA’s recognition that diets rich in dietary fiber promote healthy laxation and reduce the risks of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes, on average, consumers take in half of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of 25 grams per day (based on a target daily intake of 2,000 calories). To be labeled a “good source” of fiber, a product must contain at least 10% of the RDI (2.5 grams) per reference amount. An “excellent source” must contain 20% (5.0 grams) per reference amount.

A 100-gram portion of refined wheat flour contains 2.7 grams of fiber. Whole-grain wheat flour delivers 12.2 grams of fiber in the same 100-gram portion. Substituting one-third whole-grain white-wheat flour in a formulation can provide a means of increasing fiber. This substitution can, however, be made with a variety of flours. Buckwheat and corn flours have 10 grams of fiber per 100 grams, while barley flour yields 10.1 grams, oat flour 11.5 grams and rye 14.6 grams.

Best Bets for Bread Fortification

Results from the “2008 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Nutrition & Health” from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, D.C., indicate that two-thirds (67%) of Americans are making changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet. One of IFIC’s findings was that more than 80% of all Americans say they are currently consuming, or would be interested in consuming, specific foods or beverages for health benefits.

As the survey results demonstrate, some of the food components consumers are interested in are perfect fits for fortified breads. For example, when aware of the food component, 78% of consumers are trying to increase their consumption of whole grains. Similarly, 77% of consumers are trying to increase their consumption of fiber.

For complete survey results and analysis, see

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spice-Rack Favorites Battle E. coli and Other Foodborne Pathogens

Herbs and spices like oregano, thyme, cinnamon and clove do more than add pleasing flavors and aromas to familiar foods. The oils from these plants, or compounds extracted from those oils, pack a powerful, antimicrobial punch—strong enough to help quell such foodborne pathogens as Escherichia coli O157:H7.

That's according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Mendel Friedman, who several years ago evaluated the bacteria-bashing power of these and dozens of other plant compounds.

Now, some of the compounds that Friedman and co-investigators determined were the strongest combatants of E. coli, Salmonella enterica, Campylobacter jejuni, or Listeria monocytogenes in the 2002 study are being tapped for new research focused on food safety.

For example, Friedman, research leader Tara H. McHugh, and other scientists at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., are evaluating the highest-ranking botanical bactericides as potential ingredients in what are known as edible films.

A thin, pliable, edible film for the future might be made of puréed spinach spiked with carvacrol, the compound responsible for oregano's ranking as a top fighter of E. coli in the Friedman study.

The scientists want to find out whether adding small squares of carvacrol-enhanced spinach purée film to bags of chilled, ready-to-eat spinach leaves would help protect this salad green against E. coli.

Friedman is also exploring other new uses of the top-rated botanicals from the earlier study. That investigation, which he conducted with technician Philip R. Henika and research leader Robert E. Mandrell at Albany, was the most extensive of its kind at the time it was published. Also notable was the common basis of comparison, which the team established by inventing new methods to prepare and test all of the samples. For even more consistency, the scientists used the same bacterial strains—from the same suppliers—throughout the investigation.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

No higher death risk in long-term coffee drinking

Long-term coffee drinking does not appear to increase a person's risk of early death and may cut a person's chances of dying from heart disease, according to a study published on Monday.

Previous studies have given a mixed picture of health effects from coffee, finding a variety of benefits and some drawbacks from the popular drink. The new study looked at people who drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.

Researchers led by Esther Lopez-Garcia of Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain followed 84,214 U.S. women from 1980 to 2004 and 41,736 U.S. men from 1986 to 2004.

They found that regular coffee drinking -- up to six cups a day -- was not associated with increased deaths among the study's middle-aged participants. In fact, the coffee drinkers, particularly the women, experienced a small decline in death rates from heart disease.

The study found no association between coffee consumption and cancer deaths.

"Our study indicates that coffee consumption does not have a detrimental effect," Lopez-Garcia, whose research appears in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, said in a telephone interview. "It seems like long-term coffee consumption may have some beneficial effects."

There has been a debate among scientists about the health effects of drinking coffee, which typically contains the stimulant caffeine and a number of other important compounds.

The people who took part in the research completed questionnaires on how frequently they drank coffee, other diet habits, smoking and medical conditions. The researchers then studied the mortality risk over the period of the study among people with different coffee-drinking habits.

The study found that women who reported drinking two to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 25 percent lower risk of death from heart disease than women who did not drink coffee. The researchers saw a smaller decreased risk for men but it was not statistically significant.

Drinking decaffeinated coffee was associated with a small reduction in overall mortality risk, the researchers said.

The people in the study had no history of cardiovascular disease or cancer when they entered it. The women were nurses and the men doctors, dentists and other health professionals.

Some studies have indicated coffee is a great source of antioxidants, substances that may protect against the effects of molecules called free radicals that can damage cells and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other ailments.

Recent studies have offered a mixed picture on the health effects of coffee.

A study that came out in January found that pregnant women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day had twice the risk of miscarriage as those who avoid caffeine. Another study appearing in January found that drinking caffeinated coffee lowered a woman's risk of ovarian cancer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ice Cream Sales Still "Hot,"

Long-time favorite dessert continues to excite shoppers

Americans really do scream for real ice cream. According to new consumer research nine in ten people (89%) enjoyed a cool, creamy scoop in the past year. In comparison, only three in five (59%) ate novelties such as ice cream sandwiches or bars. Less than two in five ate sherbet or frozen yogurt (37% and 34%, respectively).

"Ice cream remains one of America's favorite treats,". "Slow churn and super-premium innovations have brought exciting new variety to the taste and texture people know and love."

Ice cream's familiarity is what drives sales. In 2007, ice cream accounted for nearly 60% of total sales(1) from ice cream, frozen novelties, sherbet and frozen yogurt combined. Frozen novelties made up over a third of sales (36%), while sherbet and frozen yogurt accounted for just 5%.

Behind those figures, however, it seems people may be cooling towards old-fashioned ice cream. Though ice cream sales dominated the market in 2007, they were also 3.9% behind sales levels from 2002. The culprit? Frozen novelties, sales of which grew 7.2% from 2002 to 2007.

"Convenience and healthy eating trends drive more people to frozen novelties to satisfy cravings,""These products are portable and portion-controlled. Plus, rapid new product development is giving consumers many new frozen novelty dessert choices."

Frozen novelties may be the key to continued success. With today's health-conscious consumer looking for a balance between nutrition and indulgence, "options such as light, portion-controlled ice cream bars or lower calorie frozen yogurt are sure to resonate."

Forecasts for the market for ice cream, frozen novelties, sherbet and frozen yogurt through all retail channels to grow 15% from 2008 to 2012.

(1) Includes food, drug and mass merchandiser channels; excludes Wal-Mart