Consumer interest in comfort foods, especially indulgent foods, is higher than ever. Yet the forces driving that interest are in conjunction with an equally high awareness of the importance of nutrition to health. The two trends need not be in conflict, however. Several strategies already are firmly rooted in formulating better baked goods.

The ability to deliver satisfying comfort treats with healthful ingredients is getting ample play in bakery. Significant trends already in this category include sugar reduction via newly available sweeteners, the addition of prebiotic fiber containing ingredients, the adoption of functional flours and starches, a switch to natural colors (including nutraceutical ones), healthier fats, and even using baked goods as vehicles for bioactive and probiotic boosts.



When it comes to the emerging “have your cake and benefit from it too” paradigm, many product developers are starting from the base ingredients, the flours and starches that make the bulk of most baked goods. Currently filling the bill for this healthy baking approach are flours made from legumes (pulses), seeds, roots, ancient grains, and pseudo-cereals. These are excellent options to boost fiber and protein in baked goods, as well as healthier fats, minerals, and certain vitamins.

Consumption of these ingredients is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Additionally, they improve satiety and decrease the glycemic index of food formulations. Available ingredient options include whole flours as well as fiber- and protein-rich powders. The addition rate of such ingredients depends on the source of the ingredient and the final formulation.

Generally, high inclusion rates disrupt the gluten network and change dough rheology. However, at optimized usage levels, legume and pseudocereal ingredients provide substantial nutritional benefits with minimal changes in sensory attributes. Many of these ingredients, especially flours from legumes, roots, and tubers, also are pursued as ingredients perfect for gluten-free, allergen-free (or low allergenic) and non-GMO baked goods. They exhibit both good functional behavior and high nutritional value.

Ingredients sourced from soybeans, chickpeas, amaranth, quinoa, chia, sorghum, and others have proved useful in gluten-free formulations like bread, biscuits, and cakes. Acorn meal was recently studied in gluten-free bread and utilized successfully, although loaf volume decreased and crumb hardness increased.

A recent study on traditional Portuguese “broa” bread evaluated the inclusion of pea, chickpea, lentil, and faba bean flours. The use of chickpea flour resulted in a sensory analysis most similar to a control flour, but with an increased final protein content. Apulian black chickpea (native to the Apulia region in southern Italy) also has been assessed in bakery products. Addition of this flour resulted in darker and harder products with decreased volume, but increased fiber and protein content and antioxidant activity.



Fats provide several important functions in bakery formulations. Reducing and replacing solid fats in baked goods can be challenging as they are important for texture and structure of final products. The good news is, oil and fat technology has improved dramatically in recent years, as have the options for maintaining organoleptic attributes while dropping fat calories.

For example, high oleic sunflower oil in cookies and croissants, whole chia flour in poundcake, and chia mucilage gel in cakes all improve upon previous methods using bulking agents, gums, and starches. Meanwhile, solid and flaked shortenings with the healthful attributes of liquid oils now are readily available.

Korean researchers studied the use of an oleogel made from grape seed oil and candelilla wax to replace shortening in muffins. The use of oleogels resulted in more firm and springy muffins and a significantly lower saturated to unsaturated fat ratio, due to the high unsaturated fat content of grape seed oil.

Shortening in muffins was successfully able to be replaced up to 25% with the oleogel, resulting in muffins with similar quality to the full shortening control. The same group of researchers found similar results replacing 25% of shortening in cakes with an oleogel comprised of canola oil and carnauba wax.

Oil seed mucilages, such as from chia or flaxseed, also can be used as fat replacers.  These contain water-soluble polysaccharides and have similar functional properties to guar gum. Oil seeds as a whole ingredient also provide considerable nutritional content via protein, fiber, and minerals.

One of the more interesting developments in fat technology, however, was last year’s launch of a fat replacer developed by university scientists as a GMO-free modified plant-based oil —that helps manufacturers dramatically lower calories without compromising the taste, texture, or functionality.

The new fat is an esterified propoxylated glycerol (EPG) that breaks up fat molecules into their glycerin and fatty acid components and then reconnects them with a food-grade propoxyl connector. The result is a more than 90% reduction in fat calories, without a change in organoleptic characteristics and neutral flavor. Best of all, unlike previous modified fat molecules, the gluten-free, allergen-free, trans fat-free, vegan, and kosher fat does not cause gastrointestinal side effects.



Fermentation technology in bakery products has potential beyond leavening and flavor. Sourdough fermentation can be used as a novel approach to sugar reduction in baked goods. Some lactic acid bacteria (LAB) strains produce mannitol, and Candida milleri, a strain of yeast, can transform xylose into xylitol. LAB and yeasts also produce exopolysaccharides that can act as a bulking agent and assist with satisfactory product texture. Also, of interest, the use of fructophilic LAB can reduce FODMAPs in wheat-based bakery products, compared to conventional sourdough cultures.

Fermentation also can be used on cereal byproducts, such as germ and bran from wheat and rice processing. Fermentation helps increase the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals, improves protein digestibility, inactivates anti-nutritional factors, and is even believed to create new bioactive compounds with antimicrobial, antitumor, and antioxidant properties.

Sourdough fermentation also shows promise in improving the quality of legumes and pseudo-cereal based ingredients. Similar to cereal byproducts, the fermentation of legumes improves bioavailability of fibers and phenolic compounds and improves protein digestibility.

One of the biggest trends in breads is allowing the germination of the grains or seeds prior to drying and milling. Flour from these so-called “sprouted grains” are not only whole grains, replete with the extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but have half the gluten and about a quarter less carbohydrate than traditional flour. Flours from a combination of multiple sprouted grains and seeds can also provide a balanced and complete complement of amino acids.



Although sugar reduction has been well established in bakery items, there are two ingredients that have gained recent interest—erythritol, a polyol, and allulose, a rare sugar. Both naturally occur in fruits in small quantities. 

Erythritol is 60-80% as sweet as sucrose, and only .24 kcals/g. It exhibits antioxidant properties and, unlike many other polyols, does not cause gastric issues when consumed in appropriate quantities. Erythritol has a high production cost because it cannot be synthesized, but work has been done to improve productivity and yield of fermentations.

Allulose, a sugar found naturally in raisins, beets, figs, jackfruit, corn, and wheat, is fast becoming a preferred sucrose replacer in many products. Since becoming GRAS approved (at levels of up to 30g/day) in 2012, and as costs of production dropped its price point below erythritol, the epimer of fructose has gained considerable attention, especially from bakers.

While much more hygroscopic than sucrose, allulose has a browning capacity slightly better than sucrose or glucose. It also affords good crumb structure, although a lower ability to crystallize compared to sucrose. It provides excellent shelf life, and can be used as a 1:1 replacement to provide the bulk that sucrose provides in formulations, yet at between 1/10 and 1/20th of the calories — 0.2 to .4 kcal/g.

While allulose is ranked as being 70% as sweet as sucrose, its fructose-like flavor profile can support fruit, chocolate, and vanilla flavors in such a manner that added sweetness might not be required. However, some formulators and ingredient suppliers blend allulose with stevia or monkfruit to boost sweetness. It is available in both powder and liquid forms, and its clean sweetness requires no maskers.



Researchers are finding creative ways to upcycle the byproducts of fruit and vegetable processing in order to help reduce waste streams and improve food manufacturing sustainability. Such ingredients typically are natural sources of antioxidants, and rich in fiber and can serve as value-added ingredients for the baking industry.

Grape byproducts from wine making is one such example. Grape fiber comprises 50-75% of dry matter, with a soluble fiber containing mostly pectins, and insoluble fiber content consisting of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Additionally, grape byproducts potentially have antimicrobial activity. Researchers at Oregon State University used wine grape pomace successfully in bread and muffins without significant differences in consumer acceptability. Inclusion rate of grape by-products must be optimized for each formulation, as too much can change dough rheology, color, flavor, and final acceptability.

Yogurt acid whey is a byproduct of Greek-style yogurt production. Researchers at Cornell University tested this ingredient in pizza and pancake formulations. With alterations to the formula, it was possible to achieve a test product on par with commercial products.

Yogurt acid whey can improve shelf life of baked goods and also shorten ingredient declarations by partially or completely replacing sugar, salt, acids, additives, preservatives, and other dairy ingredients and flavors.

Olive pomace, the byproduct from olive oil extraction, also presents a good source of fiber and phenolic compounds. In addition, the pomace still is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. This novel ingredient has been used with great success in bread and biscuit formulations, lowering glycemic index and improving fiber content and antioxidant activity. Depending on how much is used, there can be negative impact on color and flavor. 

Defatted sunflower seed flour, made from the byproduct of sunflower oil extraction, can be used to boost the protein content and antioxidant capacity of baked goods. A recent study proved the viability of this concept in biscuits. However, high inclusion rates will have a negative impact on color and firmness.

A study published last year investigated the use of debittered orange fiber produced from the byproduct of orange juice manufacturing as a fat replacement in brioche. Replacing as much as 70% of the fat with the orange fiber in formulation resulted in a product with increased fiber and protein content yet did not adversely affecting stability.

The baker’s ingredient toolkit has expanded impressively in the past few years, especially when it comes to creating healthful indulgences and irresistible treats. Processors can take advantage of ingredient technicians skilled in reformulating and even building better baked goods from scratch.