Carbohydrates may be coming back into favour, but consumers are still seeking breads with health benefits, prompting a variety of solutions from the industry

Carbohydrates have become somewhat tarnished in recent years, with numerous diets warning consumers to minimise intake or even abandon them all together.

However, according to the Waitrose Food & Drink Report 2017-18 – based on consumer research and Waitrose sales data – carbs are back on the menu as Brits move away from faddy diets.

The retailer discovered that, although two-thirds of Brits follow a diet or health drive, three-quarters are now opting for a more common-sense approach rather than a strict regimen.

But, while cutting out food groups altogether has fallen out of favour, there is still plenty of consumer interest in reducing carb intake – presenting bakers with an opportunity to produce and market lower-carb loaves.

It’s an opportunity Hovis tapped this summer by rolling out a Lower Carb range, with 30% less carbohydrates per 100g compared with other sliced white, wholemeal or seeded bread.

For businesses also aiming to cater to carb-avoiders, wholegrain breads, and breads with seeds, are naturally lower in carbohydrates, points out Edme sales director Mike Carr.

“Around 15% of wholegrain flour is bran, or indigestible cellulose,” he says. “This roughage replaces carbohydrates. Many people who are trying to avoid carbs cut out bread, while ironically, keeping white pasta and rice in their diets. This means they are missing out on the many health benefits of wholegrain breads.”

Reducing the carbohydrate content of a loaf can be achieved by adding ingredients such as pulses, seeds and vegetables – although costs will go up because wheat flour is one of the least expensive ingredients in bread.

“If you reduce the carbohydrate content of bread, you will need to substitute carbohydrate with other components to achieve the same weight of loaf,” explains Gary Tucker, head of baking and cereal processing at Campden BRI.

He adds that protein is the most commonly used substitute, and that the additional protein content is often used as a positive marketing message to tap consumer interest in higher-protein foods.

“There are other substitutes that can be used, such as fat and water, but these are less accepted by consumers,” says Tucker.

“Substituting carbohydrate with protein requires some of the flour to be replaced with protein or flour higher in protein than wheat flour – such as pulses, for example.”

Ingredients suppliers offer products to help bakers reduce carb content, such as ADM Milling’s range of higher-fibre flours, mixes and concentrates, which it says can be used “with ease” by small bakers.

Adapting recipes to be lower in carbs can increase the fibre content of a product, which in itself is beneficial, says ADM Milling technical director Ian Robinson. “The latest government Eatwell Guidance recommends consumers increase their fibre intake, as a diet rich in fibre can help aid digestion, help with weight control and boost gut health,” he adds.

“Fibre intake in the UK currently falls well below the recommended level of 30g per day for adults, because people eat too few portions of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain products.”

Wholegrain and malted wholegrain, flours can also enhance texture and taste, adds Carr, who says: “By adding in malted flakes and kibbles or WholeSoft Sprouted grains, a good loaf can be turned into a truly premium proposition.”

There are potential downsides that bakers must be aware of when making lower-carb breads as they can have a chewier bite and texture, and the loaves tend to be denser. Similarly, bakers should be careful when using oat flours in products (see panel, p33).

“Bread relies on gluten-forming proteins and carbohydrate to maintain its structure and texture over its shelf life,” explains Tucker.

“Removing wheat flour will reduce the level of these and is likely to result in bread with a firmer texture.”

He also notes care must be taken when selecting the source of protein to replace carbohydrates as some have distinct flavours that can be off-putting if used in high amounts, such as pea protein.

The Bread Roll Company, which makes the Hi-Lo brand of high-protein, low-carb bread, suggests sourdough can be added to mask any off flavours.

Brits are showing a growing appetite for sourdough flavours, and sourdough is increasingly the first choice of bread for many people, according to Miriam Bernhart, category market leader at CSM Bakery Solutions.

“We have all warmed to the complex taste and earthy sentiment of sourdough, and the fact that it can be used in a variety of forms from bread loaves to pizza dough, as well as across all meal occasions.”

Whatever method a business uses to reduce the carbohydrate content of a product, care must be taken when marketing them. While low-carb, seeded breads can offer many nutritional benefits, consumers may be making the assumption that low-carb equals low calorie, says Edme’s Carr.

“This is not the case. Seeds, while being fantastic high-protein ingredients, contain significant amounts of unsaturated fat and are high in calories.”

And calories, of course, are something else many consumers would like to minimise.

A positive way to get your oats

Many bread products on the market contain oats, but there are opportunities to develop more to tap demand for healthier breads.

Oats are high in energy, rich in soluble fibre and have a wide range of health benefits, says Edme sales director Mike Carr.

“For example, they can help lower blood cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease,” he explains. “They can improve digestion, speed up the metabolism and aid satiety (feeling of fullness). They also deliver high doses of Vitamin B1 (thiamine), manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.”

Oats are often touted as one of the healthiest sources of ‘good carbs’, says Michael Schofield, marketing manager at Bakels.

“Furthermore, there is an opportunity for oat flour to be used in breads, due to its naturally higher source of protein than traditional wheat flour, satisfying an increasing mainstream demand for protein,” he adds.

Schofield says Bakels has seen increasing success with oat and barley in recent years, due to customers and consumers seeking healthier alternatives to traditional wheat-containing bread. The company produces an Oat & Barley Bread Concentrate that contains oat and barley flakes, malted barley, malted wheat flakes and wheat fibre in a 50/50 concentrate.

ADM, meanwhile, supplies an Oatmill Bread and Roll Concentrate that contains oat bran.

“Oat-based bread mixes can be used to easily produce an array of interesting breads,” says ADM Milling technical director Ian Robinson. “Adding inclusions such as honey, apricots, pine nuts, dried fruits or pecans can also elevate the texture, bite, flavour and healthy appeal of oat breads.”

ADM also offers a range of other inclusions to reinforce the health credentials of bread, including omegas, fibre ingredient Fibersol and probiotics.

Robinson adds that, like other low-carb bread options, using oat-based breads can have a chewier bite and texture, and the loaves tend to be denser.

It’s a view echoed by Gary Tucker, head of baking and cereal processing at Campden BRI, who says: “Any flour or ingredient that dilutes the wheat flour will have a negative impact on the aerated structure.

“The use of oats may also require the use of increased levels of minor ingredients in recipes, to counteract the impact on softness and structure. Some of these minor ingredients could be fat or emulsifiers, added to improve gas retention, neither of which are in line with consumers’ expectations of healthy bread. There are also issues around bread getting firmer and crumblier over shelf life.”

Making sense of sourdough

While claims about the health benefits of sourdough abound, there is little in the way of hard evidence to back them up.

Breads made using sourdough undergo a longer fermentation process that, according to some food scientists, allows the body to more readily absorb important micronutrients from the dough.

“The European Food Safety Authority has not yet accepted any claims relating to the health benefits of sourdough, but there are a number of anecdotal claims about benefits to gut health, specifically in relation to wheat intolerance,” says ADM Milling technical director Ian Robinson.

Longer fermentation can increase sourdough’s flexibility of use in a range of recipes, says Stephen Ville, managing director of The Bread Roll Company. He adds that many small firms have created their own unique sourdough recipes and traditions.

Of course, for businesses that do not have the time or inclination to ferment their dough, dried and liquid sourdough ingredients can be added to a bread recipe.

“The main benefits of these are that they add flavour, but they can also help increase the mould-free shelf life. The benefits to improved digestibility are less clear,” says Gary Tucker, head of baking and cereal processing at Campden BRI. “This is likely to require a traditional sourdough bread process where the dough receives a lengthy fermentation process at low temperatures”