The quantity of inulin that needs to be added is only a small part related to the higher price manufacturers can command for the finished bread product, says Brigitte Peters at The Netherlands’s-based Sensus. Inulin, a naturally occurring polysaccharide with a flavour range that spans bland to subtly sweet, is a soluble dietary fibre. Growing evidence suggests that inulin, a prebiotic, can improve the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Riding the functional food wave, food processors are increasingly adding inulin to their formulations to target the European digestive health market that analyst AC Nielsen values at about €2.2bn. According to Peters, within the nutritional functionality group, the number of products containing inulin is growing faster compared with the group as a whole.
Currently, bakery, dairy and cereal bars are key growth areas for chicory-sourced inulin.
Opportunities for gut health in bread products
Bakery, claimed Peters, is “a very good segment to start with fibre-enrichment opportunities”. Fibre and bakery are closely related in the mind of the consumer, so this is a logical product area to pursue inulin-enriched products, she told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Some consumers do not like real fibre’s mouth feel and appearance, so clean-label inulin offers a potential solution, bringing fibre to the end product while retaining key properties. Although most European consumers are aware of fibre and the necessity to regularly include it in their diet, knowledge of prebiotics is arguably still at a nascent stage.
But for Peters, consumers are now "more and more aware of what it means". She cites Vitaalbrood Flora, bread that includes Sensus' Frutafit inulin its formulation and that has been running with success on The Netherlands market for several years. "The bread manufacturer explained on the packaging and in accompanying adverts about prebiotics and the benefits to gut health," explained the Sensus executive, adding that sales are "good" for this product.
In terms of specific product applications, white, brown and wholemeal breads are all potential homes for the inulin product. For consumers preferring white to brown, inulin can increase the fibre content, providing the nutritional value of brown bread, said Peters.
Challenges in recipe formulation
"It's not very difficult," said the Sensus executive when asked if inulin posed a challenge to bread-makers wanting to include the ingredient in their formulations. Although she added that introducing inulin, depending on the quantities involved, could change to the dough’s properties, "but we provide the correct processing parameters and dough viscosity".
Further, bakers need to ensure that they have the correct level of fibre in their final formulation to achieve the nutritional claim. "This needs to be verified in the final product: We can do this, as can outside laboratories," said Peters, adding that because inulin, a soluble fibre, is not a traditional fibre manufacturers need to use other analytical tools to verify the fibre levels.
Inulin, a neutral, clean-label ingredient, avoids E-number status and, among others, can be labelled as fibre, dietary fibre, inulin or oligofructose.
In some processes liquid inulin, a short chain inulin with more sweetness, is preferred over the powder. The liquid inulin - that is cheaper than the powder - keeps for a year in chilled conditions. Powdered inulin can be kept for up to five years.
Peters will be speaking at the forthcoming Third International Bakery & Biscuit Convention, taking place from 17 to 19 February in Warsaw, Poland.