Vegetable-infused loaves have struggled to find a mainstream audience in the UK – but could veganism offer new hope?

From the Greggs vegan sausage roll to Beyond Burgers, plant-based eating is reshaping the food market. Bakers have been swift to embrace the trend in the form of pastries, pies and pizzas, which often utilise fruit and veg, but what about bread? Fruit and vegetable-infused loaves have found large audiences in some parts of the world, so could Brits’ interest in meat-free food give them a chance to find a larger following in the UK?

“We trail well behind our European baking counterparts in the veg and fruit-infused sector – we are so content with our white bread staple,” says Megan Harrison, marketing director at Roberts Bakery.

She adds there is broader acceptance of fruit or vegetables in everyday products such as pasta, crisps and chips, adding that, as these markets grow, it will be easier to make and market vegetable- and fruit-based additions to mainstream bread products.

Vhari Russell, founder of The Food Marketing Expert, agrees: “The increase in plant-based eating offers a wonderful opportunity to increase veg-based breads, and launching them in time for Veganuary would be a very prudent move.”

Although there is plenty of room for growth, bakers haven’t ignored breads with vegetables. These include Middlesex-based Gradz Bakery, where the range includes a beetroot loaf. “We feel it is only a matter of time before these breads become more mainstream,” says Gradz co-founder Agnes Gabriel-Damaz. “We have developed quite a strong niche market for our loaves, but demand is slowly increasing as more people hear about them and how it provides a great way to return to bread that is not only more easily digested but also delicious.”

Yorkshire-based Seasons Bakery has won multiple awards for its Beetroot Multiseed Sourdough, which uses beetroot as an inclusion and as part of the ferment (see p20).

Meanwhile, Cinnamon Square won the Bakery Innovation Award in the 2018 Baking Industry Awards for breads using fermented fruits, vegetables and plants.

Vegetable wraps, meanwhile, have been part of foodservice ranges and bakery fixtures for some time, and continue to grow.

“We have seen a rise in demand for our vegetable-flavoured KaterBake wraps over the past year, showing there can be an appetite for vegetable-infused breads if the format is correct,” explains Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods. He adds that combined sales of the three flavours – beetroot, pumpkin and spinach – are up 32% year-on-year.

So why have fruit- and vegetable-infused loaves failed to find the sort of audience enjoyed by wraps?

“When introducing infusions into bread products, appearance and taste play a major factor in consumer acceptability,” says Leandra Molina Beato, bakery technologist at Campden BRI, who helped develop tortillas using butternut squash waste (see above). “The appearance of white sliced bread is a golden crust with a white crumb, so incorporating ingredients such as tomatoes (making the bread red) or kale (making the bread green) may influence the consumers’ acceptance of this product.”

Stanley Cauvain of bakery consultancy Baketran echoes this view, saying a study of consumer preferences showed European consumers placed a lot of emphasis on the ‘traditional’ characteristics of bread.

“To some extent, they did not favour innovation that changed traditional food characteristics, such as appearance, texture and flavour,” he adds.

When it comes to developing consumer-acceptable vegetable-based breads, Cauvain says technical challenges to overcome include potential changes in bread texture and flavour.

“The addition of many vegetable and fruit products to bread recipes will change the textural characteristics of the product, as well as delivering specific flavours not ‘normally’ found in breads – for example, earthy flavours from vegetables.

“If there are negative impacts on texture, then changes in flavour become more pronounced and products may become less acceptable for consumers,” he adds.

One of the big challenges when adding fresh fruit or veg is the water content of the inclusions.

“When adding fresh you must be careful with moisture levels,” says Harrison at Roberts. “Not all the liquids can be baked off, which causes microbial problems that can shorten shelf life.”

Georgia Wills, application specialist for industrial bakery R&D at Puratos UK, explains that vegetables that can be broken down in some way, whether grated or ground, work well in breads as they interfere less with the structure.

Campden BRI suggests the use of dried kale, mushroom, apricot or mango.

Fruits tend to be a bigger challenge than vegetables because of their high sugar content. In bread dough, yeast needs sugar from the starches of the flour, or added sucrose, to release carbon dioxide to make the bread rise. However, too much sugar can slow the fermentation process due to the osmotic pressure effect that sugar has.

“Another problem is the enzymatic activity some fruits and vegetables sometimes have on bread dough during bread production,” explains Campden’s Molina Beato. “For instance, pineapples, onions and garlic are high in enzymes that can affect the development of the dough.”

Cauvain points out that, while the challenges to manufacturing vegetable or fruit-infused breads are not insurmountable, processing changes may need to be made. Areas of concern will include potential impacts on yeast activity; the form and ease of incorporating the material into the dough; and possible changes in dough handling and forming.

With the plant-based food trend showing no signs of slowing, these are challenges the industry may need to meet.

Using vegetable waste to boost fibre content

Food waste has been used to increase the fibre content of tortillas by researchers at Campden BRI.

As part of its Calorie Reduction and Fibre Enhancement study, a research team replaced 20% of the wheat flour in tortillas with butternut squash peel powder. As a result, fibre content was increased by 97% from 3.3g to 6.5g per 100g meaning if the tortillas were sold, they would be eligible for a ‘high fibre’ claim on pack.

While the fibre content of the wraps soared, calories were only reduced by 3.5%.

“We’ve successfully increased the fibre but, in this case, calorie reduction has been minimal. We’ll continue to look at ways of achieving both goals over the next two years,” said bakery scientist Lucas Westphal, who is leading the project.

The peel, which would have otherwise been processed in an anaerobic digester to produce electricity, was supplied by Barfoots of Botley, which specialises in semi-exotic produce.

Adding the ingredient also had another effect – changing the colour of the tortilla.

“Colour plays a critical role in determining the consumer’s acceptance of a product, and our reformulation created a golden yellow tortilla, a food colour that’s generally accepted as appealing,” said bakery technologist Leandra Molina Beato, who worked on the project.

The research, which will run until December 2021, aims to provide the food industry with an understanding of the functionality of dietary fibres, their performance and potential new sources.

“Trialling different fibres in different products is the only way to determine the impact on functionality and consumer appeal,” added Molina Beato.

The next phase of the research will trial varying concentrations of commercial fibres in pizza bases, tomato sauces and in meatballs, while assessing characteristics that may affect product quality and consumer acceptability.

Anyone for crickets?

Insects are potentially a great source of protein – and may have a role to play in the development of healthy breads.

Finnish business Fazer Bakeries claimed a world-first two years ago when it unveiled a loaf containing cricket flour, while, last month, Roberts Bakery claimed a first for a major UK bread brand with the launch of a limited-edition loaf, also made with cricket flour.

Each of Roberts’ Crunchy Cricket Loaves contains around 336 crickets that are dried, ground, mixed with wheat flour and grains and baked to become a “tremendously tasty loaf with a crunchy finish”.

The Cheshire-based firm created a batch of 100 of the loaves to mark the return of TV show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Ten were made available to consumers through a Facebook contest.

Roberts produced the loaves, which it described as having more protein than standard bread, using crickets supplied by insect food brand Eat Grub.

Can bread become a healthy snack?

With a few exceptions, bread has failed to make much of a mark on the booming snacks category – but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

The problem, in part, is format. As well as delivering health benefits, key success factors for modern snacks include convenience, portion control and extended shelf-life.

“While bread products have the potential to be healthy and convenient, many current products tend to be too large to fit into the snack category,” says Stanley Cauvain of bakery consultancy Baketran. “Many snacks are aimed at the lunch box, especially for children, which places limits on acceptable dimensions.”

Whatever the format, taste is key, however.

“Some of the reasons why healthy bread-based snacks are not in demand in the market may be because they are usually accompanied by something and rarely eaten on their own,” says Leandra Molina Beato, bakery technologist at Campden BRI.

She suggests small portions of bread filled with healthy fillings or adding nuts, olives or vegetables to the dough can create healthy bread-based snacks that can be eaten on the go.

Puratos says snack flavours would need to be original within the bread market, but familiar enough to attract consumers.

“Where possible, they should reflect existing flavour combinations. Vegetable ‘pizza’ (cheese and vegetables), vegan curry (spices and vegetables) and apple pie are all good examples,” adds Georgia Wills, application specialist for industrial bakery R&D at Puratos.

Snacks are typically low in carbohydrate and added sugars, but high in fibre and protein, according to Campden BRI.

“Adding fibre, certain fats and protein can make bread appealing as a healthy snack,” says Molina Beato. “Wholemeal and brown breads, in particular, are appealing due to their higher fibre content. Smaller portions – such as rolls – could help open the market for bread as a snack.”

There are, however, technical challenges when developing healthy bread snacks as the natural sugars in fruit may affect dough development. And the high water activity and moisture in bread compared to crackers and biscuits could make shelf-life a problem

“The issue of shelf-life is an important one, not least within the context of the retail environment where 21-28 days mould-free shelf-life is the norm,” says Cauvain. “Locally baked products will not have the same limitations, since they are intended to be consumed a day or two after purchase,” he adds.

All of this could mean bread snacks are an opportunity for smaller businesses to offer something the larger manufacturers cannot.