Making better tortillas
Each year, tortilla manufacturers from around the country gather at the Tortilla Industry Association’s (TIA) Annual Convention & Trade Exposition in spring and at the TIA Technical Conference in the fall (Click here for information about the 2014 Tech Conference). These events enable attendees to keep up with issues and trends impacting their businesses as well as learn about new and improved ingredients to help them create flavorful products that meet consumer demand.
For ingredient manufacturers that produce ingredients used in tortilla formulations, developing new products and keeping up with consumer trends are just two of the things they do year-round to help their customers be successful. Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery recently asked several leading ingredient manufacturers about current consumer and industry trends impacting tortilla manufacturers and about their newest ingredient offerings for these customers.
Gluten-free: Still going strong
“The tortilla and flatbread aisle is primed for innovation and recharging,” says Susan Kay, manager, product applications, Bay State Milling Co., Quincy, MA. “For so long, we have seen basic ‘white flour’ products on the shelf. [Now], consumers are demanding healthier products without sacrificing flavor. We can’t overlook the gluten-free consumer. These consumers are knowledgeable, and willing to pay a premium for gluten-free baked goods and snacks that are acceptable substitutions for gluten-containing products.”
Bay State Milling’s most recent ingredient introduction for tortilla manufacturers is GrainEssentials Gluten-Free Whole Grain All Purpose Flour. Introduced in late 2013 to satisfy demand for gluten-free products with higher nutrients and improved taste and texture, it is higher in whole grains, protein and fiber than conventional rice-based, gluten-free flour, says marketing specialist, Donna Reiser. “At 56% whole grain, with proven functionality, it not only serves those who remain gluten-free, but has mainstream appeal as well,” she explains, adding that it has been proven in various applications beyond tortillas.
“Bay State Milling offers a range of gluten-free flours that can be used to produce gluten-free tortillas and flatbreads in the manufacturing setting,” Kay adds. “Our company realized early on in the gluten-free phenomena that most gluten-free products were missing nutrition.”
Nicole Rees, business development manager-flax, chia and ancient grains, Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, WI, says she sees no end in sight to the gluten-free movement, adding that the company’s grain and seed ingredients offer tortilla manufacturers a great way to give consumers what they want. “Naturally gluten-free, our ingredients enhance the nutrition of gluten-free goods, as well as the texture and taste—a characteristic not typical in your average gluten-free ingredient,” she says.
Clabber Girl, Terre Haute, IN, says, too, that gluten-free trends showing no sign of slowing down. The leavening and preservation expert recently introduced a new encapsulated coating that is a gluten-free, nongenetically-modified, nonhydrogenated lipid.
Growing consumer demand for “gluten-free,” “all-natural” and “organic” is putting pressure on tortilla manufacturers for products that meet these needs, says Carrie Johnston, category manager, Corbion Caravan, Lenexa, KS. And so is consumer demand for products with fewer preservatives, artificial flavors or colors. “Health has become a recent factor, with ‘all-natural,’ ‘low-carb,’ ‘low-sodium,’ ‘low-fat,’ ‘organic’ and grain becoming more common,” she says.
Whole and ancient grains make gains
In addition to gluten-free tortillas, tortilla manufacturers are also receiving more requests for tortillas made with whole and ancient grains.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) lunch program requirements are one driver of the demand for more whole grains, says Reiser. “Tortillas are a popular lunch component with students,” she explains. “We all know the product must be palatable for the younger generation, or the food won’t be eaten. Products such as our GrainEssentials White Whole Wheat can help meet these whole-grain needs with its lighter color and milder flavor profile.”
BSM’s technologists at the Rothwell GrainEssentials Center in Quincy developed four different 100% whole-grain tortilla blends that, Reiser says answer the call for better-for-you ingredients. Each blend is a source of dietary fiber, proteins, vitamins and minerals for manufacturers interested in qualifying for the Whole Grains Council’s Whole Grain Stamp.
“Seeing ancient grains and cracked chia on a tortilla label is appealing [to consumers] because these ingredients are perceived as promoting overall good health,” says Rees. “Consumers want to eat healthily and reaching for a tortilla that already contains quinoa, chia, or flax makes it easy for people to feel like they’re getting the most from the foods they already eat. Today’s consumer is pretty savvy—they know grains and seeds offer protein, fiber and healthy fats, and they look to everyday products that can give them that health fix while tasting good.”
Glanbia Nutritionals’ Next Generation Grains ingredient range, which includes chia and specialty sorghum, amaranth and quinoa,is designed to help tortilla manufacturers address current consumer trends, such as adding ancient grains and chia to products to boost nutrition and enhance taste. “Quinoa and chia have been one of the two top ingredient trends over the past year,” Rees explains.
Glanbia’s SelectGrad Cracked Chia, for instance, is a coarsely milled, chia-based ingredient that, according to Rees, delivers strong visual impact and enhanced texture and is a good source of vegetarian alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) Omega-3, protein and natural minerals in a more bio available form than whole chia seed.
Consumers may want to eat healthier, but they also want to do so conveniently and on-the-go. Tortillas, also known as wraps, have given rise to such popular, portable foods as breakfast burritos, veggie wraps and ice cream-filled dessert wraps, which are easy to eat anytime, anywhere.
“Convenience is a major driver of tortilla consumption,” says Bay State Milling’s Colleen Zammer, director, new product development. “Designated as ‘wraps,’ they allow for just about any foods to be wrapped up and conveniently eaten on the go, a must for many busy consumers today.”
Product differentials such as different sizes (fajita, taco and large wrap) and thicknesses help make tortillas a convenient recipe component, notes Johnston.
While healthier ingredients, convenience and portability are top-of-mind for consumers when they’re buying tortillas, tortilla manufacturers have a host of additional factors to take into account.
“Affordability is key in delivering consumer-accepted products, and this requires developers to manage ingredient costs and supply-chain availability,” says Kay. “Clean(er) labels are also very important to the consumer, as is the need [for] a product that is similar in texture, rollability, foldability and flavor throughout its shelf life.”
Rees concurs: “Cost is always a primary concern for food and ingredient manufacturers alike, but consumer preferences are driving today’s developments more than ever before. The desire to understand what ingredients are in the products they consume is a good example. In such a fast-moving industry, a company may need to replace an ingredient perceived as undesirable by consumers and look for clean-label alternatives that give the same taste and texture as the original.”
Functional ingredients such as Glanbia Nutritionals’ OptiSol 5000, which, according to Rees can be labeled simply as milled flax, help food manufacturers achieve the desired quality parameters around shelf life and texture.
Streamwood, IL-based Brolite Products Inc. also offers several products that address tortilla shelf life, texture, rollability and stickiness. Anti-Stick, a blend of non-partially hydrogenated fats, emulsifiers and gums, allows tortillas to be stacked without sticking together, yet remain soft and pliable. Tortilla Fresh, a blend of wheat flour, monoglycerides and enzymes, keeps refrigerated and shelf-stable tortillas fresh and rollable, prevents them from drying and cracking and extends their shelf life. OCT Softener, a blend of organic corn flour and enzymes, keeps organic or traditional corn tortillas soft and pliable.
“To be more competitive and create points of difference in the marketplace, manufacturers are relying on ingredient providers for new performance technology and products that help them with ease of use and functionality,” says Johnston, adding that, for tortillas, issues like sticking, cracking, sogginess, and peeling can leave customers dissatisfied.
To address these problems, in January, Corbion Caravan introduced Southern Tortilla, a specially designed batch pack that makes high-quality tortillas with maximum flexibility, softness and very little translucency. According to Johnston, the advanced formula has a strong anti-stick formulation, making it ideal for tortillas with extreme sticking issues.
Clabber Girl is also working to address the issue of sticky tortillas. The company is in the R&D phase of developing a non-stick, micro-coating that forms a bond when exposed to a heated tortilla press. This micro surface enables tortillas to separate easily and results in less condensation and less water loss with no effect on taste or texture.
To read more tortilla ingredients and how they impact tortilla formulations, check out “Ingredient functionality for tortilla improvements” in the August 2014 issue of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery or click here.
Photos courtesy of (from left to right) Bay State Milling, Corbion Caravan, Glanbia Nutritionals, Glanbia Nutritionals