Flours and starches are perhaps the hardest working ingredients in food manufacturing. For that reason, they’re ubiquitous in food products and relied on for their effect on texture, which is a signature attribute of many foods.
Flours and starches contribute creaminess with a mousse-like, sauced, or smooth congealed mouthfeel; add a crisp crunch to bars and baked goods; make for a moist or soft interior in cookies; and lend a characteristic viscosity and thickness to a range of fluid foods like soups, stews, and beverages.
More than 80% of consumers are viewing, buying, and consuming foods differently, according to the International Food Information Council. These savvy end-users are focused on the source of their food and its ingredients. When it comes to flours and starches, consumers want to know if they’re refined and whole, whether they’re produced sustainably, and what their physiological effects will be, including digestibility, glycemic index, and allergenicity.
The quest is on to replace wheat, corn, and rice flours in sweet and savory baked goods with flours and starches that can also meet the growing demand for low-glycemic, allergen- free, plant-based, sustainable, satisfying, and tasty alternatives.
The new year, 2021, will prove to be yet another great period for pulses. Peas, lentils, faba beans, chickpeas, lupin, and other beans increasingly are being milled into flours and starches. Pulse flours are rich in complex carbohydrates, resistant starch, dietary fibers, proteins, minerals, and phytochemicals, such as isoflavones, phytosterols, and saponins, all of which contribute to a significantly lower glycemic impact than flours from cereals and tubers.
Typically, pulses are dehulled and the removed hull is finely milled to be added back to the flour or to be used separately as a dietary fiber ingredient. Naturally gluten-free and typically non-GMO, pulse flours and starches are “on message” for practically every food category in the marketplace.
Pulses may be fractionated by wet milling or dry milling. The wet method yields high-purity proteins and starches with very low ash, which are therefore lighter and brighter in color with little or no undesirable “beany” flavor notes. Dry-milled starch typically has a high level of starch damage, which contributes to a disproportionate interaction with moisture in finished products, so they harden and stale rapidly.
“Plant-based” and “sustainability,” the resounding themes in food marketing in 2020, will continue to lead innovation within flour and baked products categories in 2021. Pulse starches will be a part of that, especially in the “better baking” segments, as they possess unique amylose and amylopectin compositions and proportions — and, therefore, starch functionalities — that differ significantly from that of corn and tapioca starches.
Plant-based cakes, muffins, and desserts, often positioned as a better-for-you choice, typically include large proportions of fruits and vegetables, which also are high in fiber and can reduce the sugar content by half. Eliminating flour is complicated in gluten-free baked goods because there is no simple one-to-one substitution for wheat flour functionality and taste.
Steamed chickpea flour, popular in the Middle East and Asia for sweet desserts, has become a popular ingredient in homemade sweet baked goods and is being explored as a low-glycemic replacement for wheat in gluten-free batter and quick bread mixes.
Gluten-free production is generally cumbersome, time-consuming, and more expensive than the mainstream counterpart. Replacing butter, cream, and eggs with plant-based alternatives further confounds the issue and increases cost. The water-soluble proteins in finely milled chickpea flour provide an added advantage, bringing egg-like functionality to batter-based products.
While nut flours, especially almond flour, became mainstream ingredients on the coattails of the huge gluten-free trend, other nut flours are nudging their way into the market with greater frequency. Hazelnut flour, long popular in Europe, is finally garnering attention from US product developers. It is rich in folate, manganese, protein, dietary fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, and it has a high capacity to replace wheat flour, supplanting up to a third of the glutinous ingredient in many formulations.
Hazelnut flour may be used to replace a much higher level of wheat flour in batter and cookie-type applications. However, an increase in the amount of leavening agents to compensate for the heavier weight of the nut flour might be necessary, along with additional support from binding agents such as hydrocolloids or eggs.
Novel options in flour are syncing with sustainability practices within the food supply system. Dried and powdered plant-based byproducts diverted from potential waste streams become such upcycled ingredients. They are appearing as a replacement for flour in a variety of applications, including baked goods and meat analogs.
Dried and milled coconut pulp is one prominent example. The soft, flour-like product is obtained from the pulp left over from coconut milk processing. It is white in color, tastes naturally creamy, and is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. In baking, the ingredient may be used in the same manner as wheat flour to produce quick breads, pies, cookies, cakes, snacks, and desserts.
Coconut flours and starches are becoming popular as functional foods because coconut is rich in dietary fiber and has a low glycemic index. The residual saturated fatty acids, mostly in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), can boost flavor while also helping with satiety.
Dried and milled coconut works well as a replacement for soy and wheat in comminuted meats like sausages and patties. When used at a level of 10-15%, it boosts the product’s fiber content and lends a rounded, fatty flavor to the finished product without negatively affecting the springiness, cohesiveness, and gumminess of the meat product.
Another new flour source, cauliflower, has a high waste index (the ratio of non-edible to edible portion after harvesting). The main component of the non-edible portion of cauliflower is water, and the remainder is made up of carbohydrates and dietary fiber. It is high in vitamins B5 and B6, folate, and other B vitamins plus minerals, especially potassium and phosphorus. Cauliflower also contains glucosinolates and indole-3-carbinol, phytochemicals highly regarded for their ability to protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer,
One category where new and alternative flours and starches has really taken off is that of “better for you” snacks, especially crackers and chips. A range of such items made with lentil flour, cauliflower flour, chickpea flour, and various seed flours have flooded the marketplace and will continue to do so in the coming years. Expect to see unexpected textures and flavor profiles with these new ingredients and any number of other sources, especially as the practice of upcycling continues to grow.