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Last fall, I attended the whole-grains presentation session at the American Association of Cereal Chemists International (AACCI). I took away a few highlights pertinent to the entire grain-processing industry that I’d like to share.
Since the whole-grains marketing campaign launched after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) whole-grain health claims were announced in 1999 and 2003, consumer interest in whole-wheat and whole-grain foods has grown.
The recent legislation stipulating that school lunches provide at least 8 g. of whole grains per serving by the 2014-2015 school year has spurred an industry-wide initiative to establish commercial avenues for generating whole-wheat—and increasingly novelty-grain—flours and products. To sustainably supply good-quality, whole-grain products, several challenges or opportunities must be considered.
While whole-wheat goods often carry an additional cost compared to their refined flour counterparts—a common consumer concern—the price difference cannot be attributed solely to a premium product image. Whole-wheat flour is inherently more expensive to produce than refined flour. More energy is required to grind the tough bran kernel fraction down to the same particle size as the endosperm kernel fraction constituting refined flour. The germ kernel fraction must be heated to 60 deg. C to inactivate lipase enzymes, which can initiate rancidity. Also, high-protein wheat classes are generally used, and they cost more than low-protein wheat classes.
Using longer leadtimes when purchasing small ingredient volumes often associated with manufacturing whole-grain products helps avoid costly last-minute ingredient procurement and instills stability in the processing chain. Potentially, some of the higher input costs for producing whole-wheat flour could be offset, once consumer demand for whole-wheat and whole-grain products reaches a sufficient critical mass to merit designating more mills for whole-wheat flour production. The increased production volume could potentially lower pricing, making whole-wheat and whole-grain goods more affordable. This streamlined path to market would allow processors to meet their production needs in a timely manner and prevent excessive, costly refrigerated storage conditioning.
A traditional roller flour mill can be converted for whole-wheat flour production by installing heat-treatment equipment, altering roll parameters, adjusting flow streams and modifying sieve screens to target a slightly larger final flour particle size (250 micrometer versus 132 micrometer). However, no industry standard method is currently followed. Chris Miller, a milling instructor at Kansas State University (KSU), is working on developing a standardized, whole-wheat flour method to offer the milling industry a procedure to reference.
Just as the original wheat-milling method for refined flour isn’t adequate for producing whole-wheat flour, the traditional analytical bread-test baking method designed for refined white flour doesn’t evaluate the functionality of whole-wheat flour samples adequately. As a result, Dr. Rebecca Miller, director of the KSU Hard Red Winter Wheat Quality lab, developed a whole-wheat bread-test baking method that will be reviewed by the AACCI bread-baking committee to become an industry standard method. The method would assist efforts to enhance whole-wheat bread research, development and, ultimately, quality.
Finally, it’s worth noting and considering the different ways for reporting whole-grain contents. While a product’s whole-grain content is calculated as a percentage of total ingredients in the U.S., Scandinavian countries use only the total dry ingredients weight as the basis. A dry-weight basis for the whole-grain content enables standardization and direct comparison within and across baked goods categories, such as muffins, crackers, bread and so on. For such a uniform, convenient product comparison capability and a more precise regulation, perhaps it’s time for the U.S. baking industry and the FDA to consider switching to reporting whole-grain content in products on a dry-weight basis—just food for thought.
Elyse Buckley recently graduated from Kansas State University and is now a cereal research and development technologist at Kerry, Inc., Beloit, Wis.