Low-carb baked goods will soon hit mainstream as companies work to overcome formulation and processing challenges to industrialize products, says the founder of consultancy firm the Bakery Academy.
Jos Vast, bakery R&D consultant and founder of Bakery Academy, said reducing the carbohydrate content in bakery products was starting to gain interest among major, mainstream manufacturers.
“The companies interested in this are the innovators; the early adapters trying to make an industrialized product in this area,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
“Low-carb bakery hasn’t proven itself yet, but it’s one of the biggest outstanding areas developing over the last couple of months."
Beyond Atkins and specialized diets
There were low-carb bakery products on the market, Vast said, but they remained niche and specialized. For example, there were a number of ‘Atkins Diet’ products available, he said. The Atkins diet and the first wave of low-carb interest peaked in the mid-2000s.
“Companies are now thinking about making these types of products more mainstream."
In Germany and Holland, for example, the low-carb bread category was fairly well developed, he said, but manufacturers had plans to develop cake and biscuit variants.
Mainstream low-carb baked goods would tap into obesity and weight concerns among many consumers, he said, particularly as many popular diets advocated lower carbohydrate intake.
Taking out carbs isn’t easy
However, Vast said carbohydrate-reduced bakery products were not easy to develop, from both a formulation and processing perspective.
For formulation, a host of alternative flours could be used to replace wheat including teff, buckwheat, quinoa, lupin and soy, he said. Typically, manufacturers could reduce carbohydrates to 20-25 g in any 100 g product when producing on a large scale.
But, he said these alternative flours mixed, proofed and baked differently to wheat.
“The biggest challenge is the gelation, because you have a certain temperature where the structure starts to set when you’re baking and by applying things like buckwheat or quinoa, they have different temperatures – some gel earlier; some gel later in comparison to standard wheat.”
In addition, the lack of starch in the carb-reduced products created issues around starch retrogradation and thus bread staling, as well as moisture content.
“The biggest challenge you have is not reformulating, but making the product tasty in such a way that people want to buy it again. If the product doesn’t taste good, then the product is gone and your market is gone,” Vast said.
Upscaling low-carb bakery production
He said upscaling low-carbohydrate bakery production was a complex task because a lot of paradigms had to be altered.
“Where companies who never made gluten-free products struggle – with different dough structure, different handling – companies will face the same when looking at certain carbohydrate-reduced products,” he said.
Proofing times would be different as well as mixing and dough development, he explained.
In a way, it would be an easier task for gluten-free manufacturers, he said, because they were already used to adapting processing methods and working with shifted paradigms. However, in terms of processing capacity and abilities, he said low-carb production would be better suited to mainstream bakery manufacturers.
“It would be an easier fit with wheat-using producers because you don’t have to do all the gluten-free testing; all the cleaning and different lab work to make sure there’s no cross-contamination.”
Low-carb versus gluten-free: ‘It’s a tougher crowd’
Asked if the low-carb trend could overtake the gluten-free boom, Vast said: “I wouldn’t say that, no. But part of the success of the gluten-free diet, which is now at a height, is that it’s also carbohydrate-reduced. It might be that some people have made the link and think if we reduce wheat, which is what is done with carbohydrate reduction, they tend to lose weight.”
However, he said appealing to low-carb consumers was harder than those purchasing gluten-free.
“The crowd is a lot tougher because they’re used to wheat-based products which have a superb taste, whereas the gluten-free category already has products with very poor taste in general."