Taste, performance and nutrition will always be the biggest drivers in flour innovation, says Bay State Milling’s director of product marketing.
And yet, these rather simple demands from manufacturing customers and end consumers are driving cutting-edge innovations for the Quincy, MA-based ingredient supplier in everything from legume-grain flour blends to sprouted grain flour to gluten-free grains.
“We’re definitely seeing customers and consumers continuing to look for something different than white flour,” Colleen Zammer told Milling & Grains. “There’s obviously still a lot of consumer confusion or boredom regarding conventional white flour.”
Even whole wheat has become “a little less special”, as interest turns to other whole grain flours such as whole rye, ancient wheat varietals like Spelt, Einkorn and Emmer, and other non-wheat types of ancient grain that can fill the gluten-free niche, like amaranth, quinoa, millet and buckwheat.
The promise of protein
In particular, growing consumer interest in protein has opened the door to blending grain and legume flours, as the latter contain certain amino acids that grains lack.
“Taste is a big driver in new products and creativity, but nutrition is a close second, and protein and fiber are the leaders there for our industry,” Zammer said. “Traditional grains in and of themselves don’t have a ton of protein content, so combining legumes and seeds with grains bumps up the protein content and contributes different amino acids which make the protein 'complete' in terms of quality. We can create custom blends for the customer, depending on they’re looking for in terms of flavor, functionality and nutrition.”
Mastering the art and science of sprouting
Perhaps the biggest launch for Bay State Milling in recent months was its fall 2013 rollout of sprouted wheat flour. Because the sprouting process generates enzymes like amylase that break down starch, it can be difficult for bread made with sprouted wheat flour to hold its structure.
“Sprouted wheat flour is unusual,” Zammer said. “Typically sprouted wheat is found in the marketplace as either a mash that bakers make themselves, or in particulate pieces sold as inclusions. We spent a lot of time and energy to achieve just the right amount of sprouting so we’re getting the nutritional benefits but not too much so it still functions well as baking flour. We balanced the level of sprouting activity with creating a flour that baker can make bread out of.”
In addition to the nutritional benefits of sprouted wheat, customers like the sweet, caramelized notes that are achieved through the breakdown of starch during the sprouting process. It may also help reduce the amount of sugar added to breads while achieving the same flavor profile, notable for those manufacturers grappling with the proposed “added sugar” line under new FDA labeling guidelines.
Bay State soft launched with the organic sprouted wheat flour in the fall, but has added a conventional line as momentum has increased. Because it’s a premium ingredient, Bay State recommends inclusion rates of between 25 and 50%.
“There’s a lot you need to do from a logistics and processing standpoint to sprout grains the right way,” Zammer said. “We have plans to go beyond sprouted wheat into other grains, but as wheat is the foundation of most breads it is the trickiest, so we wanted to master that first.”
Gluten-free here to stay, but formulation goals have changed
“We hear all these conflicting stories when it comes to the gluten-free market—it’s growing, it’s shrinking. But we still see it growing,” Zammer said. What has changed though, she noted, is the company’s approach to formulation. Indeed, as many of the starches in traditional gluten-free blends are refined, they’re lacking in nutrients such as protein and fiber.
“When we first got into the business, we were creating a lot of blends that used white rice flour and tapioca starch as a base to which people would add their own ingredients. Over last few years, customers and consumers realized that the products could use improvement in the flavor department. Then, what started striking people, particularly with celiac disease, was that they were really lacking in nutrition.”
Bay State began formulating gluten-free blends usingwhole grains, such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, whole corn flour, and brown rice—which bump up the fiber and protein. “We also supplement with seeds like flax and chia to get added protein and omega-3 fatty acids,” Zammer added.
Bay State has two gluten-free mills—one in Bolingbrook, IL, and one in Woodland, CA. Woodland has a dedicated milling line, while Bolingbrook is used for spices in addition to gluten-free grains. The lines undergo intensive cleaning to remove residual flavors, and both facilities are regularly tested for traces of gluten. “We test internally and externally for gluten content, and use 10 ppm as a threshold limit.”
And yet, when it comes to premium grains, securing reliable supply chains is an evergreen source of anxiety to manufacturers.
“The majority of questions we get with gluten-free grains and ancient grains are about availability,” Zammer said. “We respond to those with information about our strong supply chain of materials. We go to the country of origin where we’re bringing the amaranth or quinoa from. We have direct relationships with the growers, and we know what’s coming out of fields and when. We know what’s in transit and what’s in house. We keep a close eye on that so that our customers are not caught short.”