Silent But Deadly

Dan Malovany, editor

Just the other day, I was doing some spring cleaning, including the painstaking removal of moss from in between the stones that make up our patio. As I slaved away on my hands and knees, I heard my wife utter something I couldn’t believe.
“Don’t you think you could use a hoe for that?” she asked.
It took a nanosecond before we burst out laughing, and it took every ounce of my energy to keep from making some goofy wisecrack. As stupid as I am, I’ve learned that there are times when certain thoughts, however tempting, best go unsaid.
In the snack and baking industries, fortification is an issue that’s being quietly debated. Which ingredients are appropriate, and which aren’t? How much is too much, especially when it comes to adding vitamins and nutrients to bread? When does it get to the point when we’re selling supplements instead of food?
“Such simple questions for such a highly complicated topic,” notes Thom Kuk, president of the American Society of Baking. “The notion of functional foods clearly illustrates the difference between food manufacturing and our traditional heritage of baking. On one hand, bread, buns and even tortillas have long been considered a conveyance for something else, like meat, cheese and grilled vegetables. Does it really make a difference if vitamins or plant sterols are in the bread or served on it? I don’t think so. At the same time, we all know the benefits of folic acid.”
Yes, the federal government mandated adding folic acid in bread in 1998, and since then, the number of neural tube birth defects has fallen significantly. That’s a no brainer. But what about other nutrients? How far can bakers go? That’s a matter of debate.
“Taste is the most important factor in product development that pertains to turning food items into nutraceutical items,” says Todd Kluger, director of marketing for Roman Meal. “Just because bakers can now add fish oil to bread to supplement it with Omega-3 fatty acids doesn’t mean that they always should. Flax delivers Omega-3s and has a nice nutty flavor, and it keeps the bread vegan/vegetarian.”
Personally, I don’t mind fish oil in bread, but I get Kluger’s point.
“Beyond enrichment of refined flour, bakers can fortify their products with additional vitamins, nutrients and supplements, but if the color or flavor of the product changes too drastically, then the baker has gone too far,” he adds.
Maybe that’s the problem with some brands of nutritional, energy and breakfast bars, which have seen sales trail over the last few years. They’ve added so many proteins, minerals and vitamins that they almost could support the claim “build strong bodies 12 ways.” But because of all these nutrients, some bars tasted like powdered metal, prompting producers to add artificial or high-calorie ingredients that masked the taste, but obliterated any potential health claims.
Not surprising, the latest supermarket scanning data from Information Resources, Inc. shows that granola bar sales rose more than 17% over the last year. That’s because granola belongs in baked goods. Simply put, adding too much of a good thing can be counterproductive, especially if that ingredient doesn’t belong there in the first place.
Kluger explains that consumers are concerned about overly processed ingredients. As a result, he believes naturally occurring vitamins and minerals coming from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and oils provide the best alternatives.
When in doubt, Kuk advises, let Mother Nature be your guide.
“In the end, the consumer will determine the boundaries,” he explains. “It will not be based upon knowing the nutritional benefits of plant sterols or the value of lowering bad cholesterol. It will be on price and taste.”
By the way, back at home, the hoe ended up being the right tool for the job.