Bakers Journal

Embracing the Whole Grain: A look at U.K. bakery trends for 2008.

February 6, 2008
By Dr. Charles Speirs

My prediction for 2008 is that people will become even more health
conscious and will continue to scrutinise their diet. Convenience will
continue to be important but health will add another dimension. So how
might this impact on the universal staple food, bread?

Dr. Speirs predicts 2008 will bring even more consumer interest in whole grain

My prediction for 2008 is that people will become even more health conscious and will continue to scrutinise their diet. Convenience will continue to be important but health will add another dimension. So how might this impact on the universal staple food, bread?

Increasing the level of fibre in our diet is seen to be a good thing for a variety of reasons, (as discussed later). Whole grain (or wholemeal) is recognised as an excellent and readily available source of fibre. However, for a variety of reasons wholemeal products are currently in the minority.

Historically, wholemeal bread was seen as a poor man’s food and people aspired to eating bread made with refined flour. As a child in Scotland, I remember fetching bones and meat scraps from the local butcher who also sold wholemeal bread as a food for dogs, such was its status. White flour is still used in the majority of the bread sold, but as the nutritional and potential health benefits of wholegrain or wholemeal products become more widely known, such bread is no longer seen as a poor relation to the white equivalent.

Consumer attitude surveys in the U.K. show that more than 80 per cent of those surveyed agree that healthy eating is important, but close to 50 per cent found it difficult to know if a product is healthy from the label. Close to 30 per cent thought it was difficult to find healthy alternatives that taste nice. This survey was not restricted to cereal products but since this food group plays such a big role in our daily diet, there are clearly some very large product development opportunities. Currently, maybe up to half of the population in the U.K. have no wholegrain intake in their diet. What kind of products do we need to develop to address their needs?

Firstly, some definitions. National legislations differ in the detail but it is generally accepted that wholegrain products must contain at least 51 per cent wholegrain ingredients. Wholegrain is defined as the endosperm, germ and bran of the principal food grains including wheat, rye, maize, oats, etc. Wholemeal products are a subset of wholegrain and must be made exclusively from wholemeal wheat flour. The bran, endosperm and germ should be present in the same relative amounts as found in nature.

We should distinguish between the nutritional advantages of wholegrain products and health claims. Nutritional advantages can be clearly measured but health claims can have many interdependencies on other factors.

Nutritionally, wholemeal flour contains more protein, more fibre and less carbohydrate than white flour. The micronutrient profile of wholemeal over white flour is improved with higher levels of magnesium, phosphorus, selenium,
thiamine, niacin, folate and vitamin C.

So how does all this stack up in terms of health? Soluble fibre is believed to reduce blood cholesterol. Fibre also contributes bulk to the diet, which can produce satiety earlier in a meal and also reduces residence time in the gut. These are seen as good things. Non-starch polysaccharides associated with fibre are also fermented by gut flora to improve lower gut health. Wholemeal bread has a reduced glycaemic response compared to white bread, which means a more controlled insulin response. All of these things are recognised as being directionally positive for health by reducing the risks of obesity, heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.

However, while there is directional evidence, the absolute picture is not clear-cut. In the U.K., the Joint Health Claims Initiative allows the claim that “people with a healthy heart tend to eat more wholegrain foods as part of a healthy lifestyle.” That is to say, there is an association between a healthy heart and wholegrain consumption but insufficient evidence to demonstrate cause and effect. Other lifestyle factors such as increased fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity are associated with people who eat wholegrain products.

Nevertheless there is a clear message from health professionals in all developed countries that we should be increasing our wholegrain intake and bread is a major source of wholegrain in the diet. But wholegrain products are not universally popular. What technical issues do we need to address to reach those consumers who do not routinely buy wholegrain products?

There is a popular misconception that wholemeal products are tough, but eating wholemeal bread does not have to be hard work. Wholemeal sandwich bread may develop less volume than a comparable white loaf and consequently may have a firmer texture. This can be due to the fibre components. Insoluble fibre interferes with the development of the gluten matrix, disrupting the development of the gas bubble network. This can be addressed in several ways. Adding extra gluten to the flour will help to reinforce the gluten matrix, while the addition of emulsifiers such as DATA esters will produce a finer cell wall structure with improved gas retention properties. The resulting bread not only has increased volume, but also a finer crumb structure and consequently a softer eating texture.

Enzymes also provide a route to making soft wholemeal bread with increased volume. This is an area which CCFRA is actively researching. Xylanases work on the arabinoxylans which are non-starch polysaccharide fibre components of flour. Wholemeal flour contains about five per cent of these components, about double the level found in white flour. Even though present in minor amounts, it is an extremely important functional material, accounting for about 30 per cent of the water-binding capacity of wheat flour, which in turn affects dough and bread quality. In wholemeal flours arabinoxylans are present in both the soluble and insoluble forms. It is currently accepted that the best way to improve the eating quality of wholemeal bread is to use xylanases which target the insoluble
arabinoxylans. This results in increased levels of solubilised arabinoxylans which yield a more stable and flexible dough which is easier to handle, and gives improved oven spring, larger loaf volume and improved crumb structure.  In addition, the higher levels of soluble fibre may have positive health implications as described earlier.

While the technical solutions to making softer-eating wholemeal sandwich bread are out there, the challenge is to convince the consumers to change their eating habits. However, how to address that challenge lies outside the brief of this article.v

Dr. Charles Speirs is baking science and technology manager for Campden and Chorleywood Food R.A. Contact him at .

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