Bakers Journal

Health halos and nostalgia

March 16, 2021
By Kamesh Ellajosyula

How the pandemic has shaped the plant-based food trends

Bakers are using nuts as base ingredients to create healthier baked goods, adding protein and flavour to their goods. Photo courtesy of OLAM.

The events of 2020 have made quite an impact on all areas across the food industry, with COVID-19 accelerating several trends that are likely to endure post-pandemic. Immunity and ‘conscious indulgence’ will continue to drive the demand for new and innovative flavours in baking, as well as foods that provide health benefits and emotional comfort. For this reason, ingredients such as spices, nuts and cocoa are in high demand to introduce a depth of flavour in baking applications. So, how can bakers make the most of these trends to create healthy, delicious products that consumers love?

Health halo ingredients

Following the pandemic, there has been increased focus on the role diet plays in health; consumers are searching for ‘health halo’ products that are both nutritional and tasty. Nuts, a popular category for food inclusions, are growing in demand due to the importance of health and wellbeing and the rise of plant-based eating. As a result, bakers are using nuts, such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts as base ingredients to create healthier baked goods.

A range of nut-based products are used in baked goods with the aim of replacing perceived ‘unhealthy’ ingredients. Foods made with refined wheat, such as plain white flour, are high in carbs but low in fat and fibre – which may leave consumers with undesirable spikes in blood sugar levels. As well as whole wheat flour and other grain options, nut flours also offer a nutritious alternative. High in fibre and protein, these flours are made from nuts such as almonds and cashews that have been blanched, ground to a powder and sifted so that they can be used as flour in baking and cooking recipes including banana breads, coffee and walnut cake and brownies. As well as containing essential healthy fats, these flours are also low in carbohydrates helping with blood sugar control.

Defatted nut flours are another option when it comes to adding additional protein and reducing fat content in bakery products. Furthermore, the high content of minerals within defatted nut flours, such as magnesium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, and zinc, enable them to act as a nutritious alternative to grain flour. Defatted nut flours are an ideal choice for many bakery applications, such as macarons, biscuits and sponge cakes. They can also be used as a replacement for skimmed milk powders when creating vegan chocolate spread for used in plant-based baked goods.


As another example, where hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) and sugar are commonly used to create cream fillings in baked goods such as cookies and wafer rolls, OFI has developed nut-based pastes which can be used as a healthier, tastier alternative. This formulation enables the nut paste to solidify after insertion, overcoming stability issues associated with unsaturated fats in nuts that – in other cases – would cause the paste to ooze out of baked products.

Finding comfort in flavours

Consumers lean into comfort foods during stressful times. A poll conducted by OnePoll found that two in three Americans were reverting to childhood food favourites and eating more comfort foods during the pandemic. This is another trend predicted to last in 2021, with 69 per cent saying they will continue to enjoy the same amount of comfort food that they are now, post-pandemic.

For this reason, bakers are reimagining traditional flavours in foods and creating new and unusual flavour recipes. These include combinations of cinnamon and guajillo pepper added to well-loved beverages such as hot chocolate. This ‘sweet heat’ has become a popular flavour combination in Mexican-inspired hot chocolate flavour baked goods, offering the comfort of chocolate with an adventurous kick. Olam Spices, part of OFI, has seen growing demand for warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric – all appealing to the sweet-toothed consumer looking for ‘heathier’ yet indulgent products. These warming flavours are all associated with childhood dishes which help to trigger an emotional connection to happier times – such as apple pie or gingerbread.

As consumers seek out bolder flavours, we can expect to see even more spice and botanical flavours move into the mainstream. This is a trend that has already been explored in Asia, where consumers are increasingly opting for baked goods made with matcha and miso, due to their mood or energy-boosting benefits, or wasabi-based desserts.

As the uncertainty around the pandemic continues, traditional bakery ingredients such as cocoa are also thriving as a classic comfort for consumers worldwide. Cocoa powder such as deZaan D11S, which adds intense flavour and rich colour to a broad range of applications, is ideal for manufacturers looking to create the classic chocolate flavours consumers are craving right now.

Clean label, clean conscience

Throughout 2020, we’ve seen clean label grow as a consumer trend – putting greater focus on products’ nutritional value, origin and sourcing. While new diets pop up all the time, clean-label eating has proven not to be a passing trend. The reduction of salt in the diet is crucial as research shows that an excess of salt in the diet leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Spices, herbs and seasonings can not only serve as salt substitutes, for example in baked goods, but can add an umami effect and greater depth of flavour. Spices can also add natural colours and flavourings to products. For example, turmeric may be used as a natural source of colour to replace additives such as yellow 5 or yellow 6. These naturally-sourced ingredients offer a way for formulators to tap into this clean label trend – allowing consumers to enjoy healthier products.

Consumers also define healthy products by the natural ingredients used and their traceability. To ensure bakers don’t fall behind the clean-label trend, ingredients that are sustainably sourced in a transparent way are key, allowing consumers to know exactly where their food comes from. This is why OFI developed its sustainability insights platform AtSource, which gives customers a single view across their supply chain sustainability parameters with multiple social and environmental metrics.

Olam Cocoa, part of OFI, is also looking at ways to ensure sustainability, achieving 100 per cent traceability of directly sourced cocoa across its global supply chain, through an end-to-end system which tracks the cocoa at every stage. Traceability within the cocoa industry has been a significant challenge due to the fragmented farming systems and lack of infrastructure in many cocoa-growing areas. By ensuring traceability, customers are offered transparency.

Cocoa can also be a great way of adding colour and flavour to bakery and snack applications, without the need for as many artificial flavourings or additives. What many consumers don’t realize is that most dark cocoa powders go through the process of alkalization, meaning bakers must list it on labels as “cocoa processed with alkali”, which can be confusing for consumers. As a result, Olam Cocoa has created deZaan TrueDark, the first ever natural, non-alkalized dark cocoa powder that offers a powerful cocoa taste and rich brown colour. A key benefit of this is that it can be listed simply as “cocoa” on product labels, allowing bakers to develop new recipes and formulate existing ones to create simpler ingredients lists that appeal to consumers.

The trends that have shaped 2020 are undoubtedly going to last post-pandemic. Nonetheless, balancing flavour with functionality will be crucial, as bakers will look to combine ingredients to create new, unusual, flavours that will meet a wide range of consumer trends as well as provide adventurous food choices. / BJ

Kamesh Ellajosyula is the Global Head of Innovation at Olam Food Ingredients. More information on Olam can be found at

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