by Kathie Canning
An expanding array of fiber ingredients promises to lure health-conscious consumers back to the bread and snack food aisles.
Health professionals and nutrition experts long have sung the praises of dietary fiber, crediting this group of plant-derived, non-digestible carbohydrates with benefits ranging from LDL cholesterol reductions to colon and breast cancer prevention. In reality, however, most U.S. consumers still ingest far less than the 20 to 30 gm. of the fiber experts generally recommend.
Thanks to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets and an increasing national awareness of food’s role in health maintenance and disease prevention, that reality soon could change. In fact, more and more food manufacturers are moving far beyond the dreaded bran muffin — taking advantage of improvements in fiber-ingredient variety and technology to lure carb-counting and health-conscious consumers back to the bread and snack aisles.
When Carbs Don’t Count
Although fiber is classified as a carbohydrate, our bodies do not digest it. Unlike sugars and starches, it is not included in the all-important “net” carbohydrate count (total carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohols) of reduced-carbohydrate products. Fiber, therefore, quickly has become one of the key carbohydrate replacements in baked goods and snack foods.
“There are a limited number of ways to replace net carbs – proteins, fats and dietary fiber,” says Dan Best, marketing director for Pizzey’s Milling USA Inc., Specialty Flaxseed Ingredients, Northbrook, Ill. But too much fat can mean a surplus of calories, stresses Best, while too much protein can make a product dry, hard or tough – and, in some cases, even bitter.
“Dietary fiber adds considerable nutritional value to a product in and of its own,” says Best. “There are several FDA-approved health claims for dietary fiber, and fiber and whole grains already have a good consumer image.
“A number of recent research studies have determined that low-net carb consumers tend to have more health concerns that drive their purchasing decisions,” continues Best. “They are more likely to be concerned about diabetes, cancer, heart disease or digestive problems. These are all concerns for which fiber-rich ingredients can provide benefits. So adding nutritionally enhanced ingredients to products in exchange for net carbs should be the perfect ‘win-win’ for bakers and consumers.”
Although the low-carb movement can take credit for initially bulking up fiber usage in the bakery and snack food sectors, a separate push toward health and wellness also is emerging. When the low-carb movement loses steam, wholesome carbohydrates such as whole grains and various forms of fiber likely will continue to attract mainstream interest.
“Yes, the dust will settle, and it won’t be as frenetic a low-carb focus that we’re having right now,” says Greg Andon, business development manager for TIC Gums Inc., Belcamp, Md. “What’s more important than the focus on low-carb is the focus on health, and that will continue.”
The low-carb push has upped consumer awareness of the adverse effects certain carbohydrates have on blood sugar levels, adds Rhonda Witwer, business development manager for Bridgewater, N.J.-based National Starch and Chemical Co. “Consumers are carefully choosing what they’re going to eat,” she says.
Fiber can be classified into two general categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber such as that found in oat bran, flaxseed, carrots and apples forms a gel when combined with liquids. In contrast, insoluble fiber such as that found in whole-wheat products, corn bran and green beans does not. A number of foods are natural sources of both fiber types.
Each type of fiber brings with it specific health benefits. In addition, various types of fiber within the two categories affect product formulation in different ways.
“More soluble forms of fiber tend to work best in breads and bakery items because they do not have the tendency to produce a gritty mouthfeel,” says JennieAnn Reitemeyer, a food scientist with Princeton, N.J.-based AVEBE America Inc. “In crunchy snacks, a wider variety of fibers can be used. Some of the basic hurdles to overcome would be selecting a fiber that does not brown your product or increase the brittleness of the snack,” she adds.
Some soluble fibers such as gums bind water so well, says Best, that bakers must exercise caution when using them to avoid a gummy or stringy product. On the other hand, insoluble fibers can dry out products over time, causing them to become stale or to crack.
In the end, the appropriate fiber and usage level will depend on the manufacturer’s product goals, notes Andon. A fiber destined to replace some of the sugar solids in a lower-carb snack bar, for example, is likely to differ from that used to strictly boost the health quotient of a bread.
The granulation size of the fiber ingredients also makes a “very big difference” in how the fiber interacts with the water in food products, adds Best.
Tried and True
Ingredients such as whole-wheat and whole-grain flours, seeds, nuts and soy-based fibers long have been used to boost the fiber content and/or reduce calories in baked goods and other foods. The application of these traditional fiber ingredients, however, is on the rise as U.S. consumers become more concerned with health and wellness issues.
“A big advantage of using whole grains as fiber sources is that they often add good taste and other very valuable nutrients to bakery products in addition to dietary fiber, while also looking good in an ingredient statement,” says Best. “Flaxseed, for example, is a pleasant-tasting whole grain ingredient that also allows bakers to claim their products to be ‘rich in omega-3s.’ Flaxseed and rye also contribute lignans, [which] are antioxidant phytoestrogens.”
Pizzey’s Milling supplies whole-milled flaxseed and flaxseed fiber. Whole-milled flaxseed contains less than 3% net carbs and 27% soluble and insoluble fiber, says Best, and can help bakers slash the net-carb content of baked breads, rolls, cookies, muffins, tortillas, tortilla chips, extruded snacks and other baked goods and snack foods.
Flaxseed hull absorbs water “very quickly,” notes Best, and develops a “slippery” texture that makes it suitable for use as a partial or complete shortening replacer in some formulations. The ingredient has a “mild, pleasant cereal-like flavor,” he adds, that requires no bitterness-masking agents.
Although whole grains offer many advantages and are recommended by nutrition experts as ideal fiber sources, they tend to result in denser-type products that do not appeal to everyone.
“Most people, especially kids, go for the whiter, softer, spongier types of products,” contends Dennis Drake, manager of technical services for The Fibred Group, Cumberland, Md. The company offers a soy fiber that suits these types of applications.
“It’s used quite extensively in high-fiber, low-calorie baked products,” says Drake. “It has a very fine particle size, and that’s really the key for these types of products with added fiber – that the fiber have a good mouthfeel and eating quality.”
The ingredient has a fiber content of more than 92%, says Drake, so a manufacturer can dramatically increase a product’s dietary fiber level at just a 1 or 2% usage level. For high-fiber, reduced-calorie (light) bread applications, it can be used at levels as high as 22%, he adds.
Even at high usage levels, the fiber can result in a spongy, airy bread with an excellent eating quality, says Drake, as long as bakers adjust other ingredients accordingly.
“You have to have enough protein in the dough to support the weight of the fiber and the water – it’s like dead weight,” he says.
Cedar Falls, Iowa-based Nutriant, a Kerry company, offers the Toasted Soy Bran ingredient, an insoluble dietary fiber from the soybean hull. In addition, the company is launching the Soy ISOfiber product, which it describes as a “unique combination of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber from the cotyledon cell-wall of soybeans.”
According to Homer Showman, director of R&D at Nutriant, both products function well in baked goods, snacks, frozen desserts and other applications in which nutritional positions and/or water management are valued. They hold between three and 10 times their weight in water and are offered in all-natural, non-genetically engineered and organic forms.
“The new ISOfiber product is the result of a proprietary process,” notes Showman. “It is low in fat and retains a fraction of protein. This makes it particularly useful in many applications where the functional performance of both fiber and protein are complementary to overall structure.”
Many of today’s most versatile fiber ingredients now begin with less traditional fiber sources such as potatoes.
For example, AVEBE America now offers the Paselli FP potato fiber, which Reitemeyer says helps bind water, as well as some fat, in a variety of food applications.
“The addition of Paselli FP in a bread can help to drive down the net carb count while aiding in an even, well-distributed air cell structure,” she says. “In snacks, the [ingredient] helps to give a light, crisp texture.”
National Starch’s Hi-maize resistant starch is a high-amylose cornstarch, an insoluble fiber-packed ingredient with a water-holding capacity very similar to that of flour.
“In bakery products, you can [use it] at a higher level than you could ever dream of getting with an oat bran,” says Witwer. “It’s a white, bland-tasting powder that maintains the natural characteristics of the high-amylose corn it comes from.”
The ingredient line works well in bakery applications, says Witwer, as well as in some snack food and cereal applications. National Starch has more than 100 published studies related to the health benefits of the Hi-maize product line, she adds.
The Hi-Maize 260 product can give products a taste and texture similar to a high-quality carbohydrate while delivering 60% fiber, says Witwer. “We can do a lovely white bread that still delivers 20% resistant starch and about 6 gm. of fiber a serving.”
A new corn syrup replacer could also serve as a source of added fiber for the bakery and snack food sectors. The TIC Pretested Ticaloid IC ingredient is a natural gum syrup consisting of 85% natural soluble dietary fiber.
“It can be used as a binder for nut clusters and granola bars,” says Andon. “It’s got really a tremendous tack and adhesive.”
In powder form, the ingredient also can replace some of the sugar solids in muffins, cookies and other baked goods, notes Andon.
“Even using just a few percent in a baked product is really going to help hold the product together when you start taking out some of the more traditional ingredients such as sugar and fats,” he adds.