Breakfast Bars and Cereals 101

With a reputation as the most important meal of the day, the breakfast category continues to expand. Attendees of Prepared Foods’ 2006 R&D Seminar learned that consumers are lured to breakfast foods by inclusions such as almonds, soy and dairy proteins and whole grains such as barley.

Sensory Characteristics of Almonds

Almonds are perceived by consumers as being a healthy product. A poll (Sterling-Rice Group, 2006) revealed that 82% of consumers polled believe that a product that contains almonds is better nutritionally, and 73% feel that almonds are heart healthy. Almonds appear in many breakfast foods and add value as inclusions in breakfast pastries, cereal bars and cereals.

The Almond Board of California funded a project to better define almond flavor and texture, something that had never been done before. It contracted Sensory Spectrum Inc. to develop standard methods for evaluating appearance, aroma, flavor and texture. Part of the project was to develop standard language and descriptors for each of these areas.

The consultants worked with seven almond varieties including Nonpareil, Carmel, Butte, Fritz, Mission, Sonora and Monterey that represent over 80% of California almond production. For appearance, the group looked at hue, color intensity, chroma, visual roughness and skin integrity. The descriptors for aroma include total almond impact, almond nut meat, dark roast, benzaldehyde, woody/tea, vegetable oil/beany/squash, sweet aromatic/ caramelized and cardboard. The flavor descriptors were more extensive than those established for aroma but did, however, include a number of the same terms. Scoring for all attributes was based on a zero to 15-point scale, where zero was none and 15 was very strong.

The investigative work indicated that almond aroma, flavor and taste were fairly similar between different varieties (see chart “Almond Flavor Range”). As is demonstrated by the figure, there is also rather significant variation within varieties themselves, especially in regards to flavor. However, texture attributes such as force to grind, crunch/snap and hardness showed greater variability.

Almonds are available in many forms such as whole, sliced, diced, slivered and meal, as both natural and blanched, plus other forms such as almond butter, almond paste and almond oil. They may be used in products such as nutrition bars, candies, cereals, bakery products, or simply as flavored or un-flavored snacks. There is variability amongst the different varieties of almonds, but when it comes to flavor and aroma, this variation is surprisingly small.  Almonds have a subtle flavor with a relatively low intensity. This makes almonds unique to complement with other ingredients in a product formulation without overtaking primary flavor of a formulation.


“Assessment of the Natural Sensory Variability of Almonds—New Research on Sensory Characteristics of Almonds,” Huang Guangwei, senior manager, Scientific and Technical Affairs. Almond Board of California,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor

Soy Proteins in Beverages, Bars and Snacks

Soy protein is an excellent source of complete protein (it contains all essential amino acids), is low in saturated fat and is cholesterol-free. The FDA allows food processors to make health claims for foods that contain soy protein if the food contains at least 6.25g of soy protein per serving and that food is low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Foods made from whole soybeans will qualify, provided they contain no added fat.

The soybean is a unique product. Among the products routinely manufactured from the bean are textured soy flour, soy flour, refined oil, soy lethicin, isolated soy protein, textured soy protein concentrate, soy protein concentrate and a range of phytochemicals and nutraceuticals. The three major proteins isolated from soybeans are, therefore, soy flour, soy protein concentrate and isolated soy protein, which contain approximately 50%, 70% and 90% protein, respectively (see chart “Soy Protein Comparisons”). These products have unique functional properties that include dispersibility, solubility, viscosity, foaming, gelation and emulsification.

Soy proteins may be incorporated into many different foods such as soy protein beverages, nutrition bars, breakfast bars and cereals, and snack foods. The driving forces in the beverage industry have been health claims, the increasing number of vegetarians, and improved processing and flavors in finished products. A market that was estimated at $622 million in 2003 is expected to triple by 2010. There are two basic categories of soy beverages. These are ready-to-drink and powdered products. Keys to use are proper hydration of the protein, homogenization and use of the appropriate stabilizers. Soy also may impart off-flavors to products. These include beany-ness, bitterness and astringency. These flavors can be minimized or masked by selection of the proper protein, the incorporation of masking agents into the formula or through the use of cream or dairy flavors. Acidified beverages require special processing, which includes minimizing air incorporation to prevent foaming and the use of pectin in combination with xanthan gum or alginate in the stabilizer system.

Soy protein and nuggets are commonly used in value-added health and nutrition bars. The nutrition bar market is currently a $3 billion a year industry. When using soy in nutrition bars, the main challenge to the developer is to manipulate water binding. Higher water binding results in increased bar firming over time.

Soy proteins may be incorporated into cookies, crackers, candies, snack chips, jerky, frozen desserts and yogurt. The primary uses of soy proteins in snack foods are fat reduction and nutritional enhancement. Processors may use the three soy proteins mentioned earlier, plus they can use soy nuts or soy grits. Soy nuts may be used as a topping, plus they will enhance texture.


“Soy Protein Applications in Nutritional Beverages, Bars and Snack Foods,” Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), Lisa L. Bradford, soy foods technologist II,,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor

Formulating Healthier Foods with Barley Ingredients

Increased use of whole grains is a trend seen in the breakfast cereal and bar segment. Barley, known to many as the grain from which malt is made, is experiencing a surge in use. The driving forces include the push to incorporate more whole grains into foods, barley’s association with better health, the movement towards foods that have a reduced Glycemic Index (GI) and consumer demands for artesian and varietal foods.

Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, including the bran, the germ and the endosperm, in approximately the same proportion as the original grain. Whole grain foods use grains that are milled, crushed or flaked. For the uninitiated, the bran is the outer shell, which protects the seed, the germ provides nourishment for the seed and contains vitamins and trace minerals, and the endosperm provides energy. (See chart “What is a Whole Grain?”)

Recent research indicates that consumption of whole grains can reduce the risk of developing diseases such as coronary heart disease, cancer and even reduce mortality. Whole grains improve health of the gut and can reduce obesity and diabetes. At this time, whole grains make up approximately 13% of the grains consumed by Americans. For better health, the USDA recommends that this should be increased to 50%.

Barley is an underutilized whole grain. Whole grains are low in fat, high in fiber, low in cholesterol and an excellent source of other nutrients. Barley has the highest levels of any grain of the healthy soluble fiber, beta glucan. They can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, thereby allowing the manufacturer to make certain health claims. An example would be: “Low fat diets, rich in fiber containing grain products, fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, a disease associated with many factors.” 

Using raw whole kernel barley has some difficulties. The husk material is gritty and may contribute bitter notes to foods, and the raw grain requires a long time to cook. However, raw forms of barley are available without the husk. Whole grain products include barley, hulless barley, waxy hulless barley and de-hulled barley. Another product used by many cooks in soups and as a thickening agent is pearled barley. Pearled barley has the outer husk and bran layer removed. It has a light creamy color and a reduced cook time. 

Reduced cook time can also be achieved by using barley that has been precooked, steamflaked or pregelatinized. These naturally processed products may be sold as pre-gelatinized whole kernels, flours or flakes. They can have cook times anywhere from one to 25 minutes (vs. 45 minutes for raw) and can be directly incorporated into baked goods, nutrition bars, breakfast bars and cereals, soups, gravies, sauces and side dishes. Processors can select the option that best meets their needs.


“Formulating Healthier Foods with Barley Ingredients,” Briess Malt & Ingredients Company, Bob Hansen, manager of technical services,,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor

Dairy Proteins in Nutrition Bars

A popular food format, nutrition bars include protein bars, bars formulated expressly for women’s needs, low-carbohydrate products, meal and snack bars, breakfast bars and energy products. Whey protein has been a favored component of athletes and body builders, because bars and other nutritional products formulated with whey have high quality protein.

Whey protein isolates pose product developers with challenges, but they also offer significant benefits. These advantages include being a high-quality protein source and having a clean and creamy flavor. Additionally, they may be used in a variety of nutritional and food bars and can be modified to overcome challenges. Among the difficulties facing potential users is the fact that bars tend to harden over time and can develop stickiness.

All product developers look for a means to find answers more quickly. One company uses accelerated shelflife studies (55% relative humidity at 95°F) plus texture analysis to predict product performance more accurately. One month at the accelerated conditions is equivalent to three months at ambient conditions.

Not all proteins are created equal (see chart “Combined Protein Comparison”). As the accompanying graphic shows, formulating a nutritional bar using the following basic test formula of 39.9% protein, 51.3% polyol syrup and 8.8% fat produced different results for toughness/texture using four different whey and other protein combinations.

Changing the fat source or type of fat used in nutritional bars will also affect overall texture. Using the same basic formula noted above, texture changes become more pronounced as developers moved from cocoa butter to peanut butter to shortening and, finally, to vegetable oil. The harder the fat, the less textural change is observed over time. Similar changes may be seen as the syrup component is changed from glycerin to high fructose corn syrup to maltitol.

The bottom line is that formulation has significant effects on overall acceptance and texture. Nutritional bar manufacturers should work with their vendors to select the proteins and other ingredients that best meet their needs.

“Use and Functionality of Dairy Proteins in Nutrition Bar Applications,” Jessica A. Marshall, food technologist, Glanbia Nutritionals Inc.,,

—Summary by Richard F. Stier, Contributing Editor