Ways to make flour more functional are flourishing. Flour blends in 2016 are being sourced from amaranth to almonds, coffee pulp to pulses. Incorporating a certain percentage of various functional flours with traditional wheat flour may boost the levels of protein and other nutrients in finished products. Blends of different gluten-free flour blends also may add to the sensory appeal and nutritional benefits of gluten-free items.

Innovation shows no sign of slowing.

Ancient alternatives

The histories of ancient grains, many gluten-free, date back centuries. The Aztecs in Mexico ate amaranth. Incas in South America grew quinoa. Teff long has been a staple in Ethiopia.

U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers have incorporated amaranth and chia, an ancient seed often called an ancient grain, into cookies and cookie dough. The March issue of the USDA’s AgResearch magazine featured their work.

Amaranth has a protein content of 13% to 14%, according to the Whole Grains Council, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Amaranth flour contains lysine, an amino acid, according to the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois, U.S.

The USDA researchers in Peoria tested amaranth-oat flour blends, amaranth flour alone and wheat flour alone in gluten-free sugar cookies and cookie dough. Amaranth and its composites had improved water-holding capacities compared to wheat flour. Differences were found in the hardness and shapes of doughs and cookies. No significant differences in color and flavor were found among all cookies.

“Our amaranth-oat cookies were acceptable in all aspects,” said George E. Inglett, a USDA chemist. “They had improved nutritional value and physical properties along with gluten-free uniqueness.”

For chia-oat composites, the researchers dry-blended Nutrim (a commercial product made from barley or oats), oat bran concentrate and whole wheat flour with finely ground chia.

“Whole chia seeds are not easily absorbed in our systems because of their hard outer coats, but they are pretty good when ground in with other components,” Inglett said. Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, that help lower blood cholesterol and prevent coronary heart disease, he said.

Ardent Mills, Denver, Colorado, U.S., continues to explore flour possibilities with its line of ancient grains.

“While it’s true that some of Ardent Mills ancient grains are comparatively higher in protein, such as amaranth and quinoa, and have high levels of phytonutrients like the calcium and magnesium found in teff, for us and our customers the excitement starts when you combine these grains and target specific benefits,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills. “For example, all ancient grains are considered whole grains and thus deliver the benefits of whole grain nutrition.”

Ardent Mills’ Sustagrain may complement ancient grains. A barley variety, Sustagrain contains more fiber than any whole grain available and is particularly high in beta-glucan, Trouba said.

“Combining ancient grain flours with Sustagrain can deliver a variety of nutrients and fiber in finished foods that make an excellent source for fiber claims, or approved health claims related to beta-glucan,” he said.

Ancient grains may add color and flavor along with enhanced nutritional content, he said. Many of them do not contain gluten, which means developers will need to consider the impact of such gluten-free ancient grains on volume and crumb structure in finished baked applications.

“Typically when gluten-containing ingredients are decreased due to the addition of ancient grains, mix times are usually shorter,” Trouba said. “For gluten-free applications, it’s important to remember these ingredients usually hold more water than native starch. So adjustments to moisture are often needed, and although some structure can come from ancient grains, other starches and protein are usually still necessary.”

A pulse from Australia

The United Nations has hailed 2016 as the “International Year of the Pulses.” North Americans may recognize such pulses as peas, beans and chickpeas, which may contain high levels of protein and fiber.

Legume, a pulse, is more popular in Australia, but lupin flour has entered the North American market. Lupin is about 40% protein and 30% fiber, said Colleen Madden, innovation manager for CK Ingredients, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The company offers sweet lupin flour by sourcing lupin from Irwin Valley, a company in Australia.

“Lupin grown in western Australia has very low levels of alkaloids, thereby eliminating the bitterness of the material and dramatically improving palatability,” Madden said.

Incorporating lupin flour at 5% may create bread with 4 grams of protein and 1.2 grams of fiber per serving, she said. At 20% substitution rates of lupin for whole wheat flour, a protein level of 5.5 grams per serving may be achieved, enough for a “good source” claim.

Incorporating lupin flour at 40% may lead to 11 grams of protein and an “excellent source” claim, Madden said. Lupin also has a glycemic index of 11, making lupin flour a potential inclusion in diabetic-friendly bread.

Additional water will be needed in formulas with more than 5% lupin flour, Madden said. Lupin flour bakes more quickly than wheat flour and will darken, which means bakers should reduce temperatures or carefully watch cooking times.

“Lupin pairs extremely well with wheat flour and with the flour of all of the traditional grain products,” she said. “Since lupin has a bland, slightly hazelnut ‘nutty’ or light ‘beany’ flavor, it is easy to blend into any formulation.”

She added, “In gluten-free bread formulas lupin is often used at 10% to 20%, and its functionality helps drastically improve the texture, color and palatability of the finished goods.”

When used in conjunction with other gluten-free flours like rice and quinoa, lupin may help add structure and texture, Madden said. Its golden yellow color may improve the appearance of gluten-free products. In pastries, cookies and cakes, lupin offers a gourmet, yellow color and adds moisture enrichment during processing, she said.

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Illinois, U.S., now offers Homecraft pulse flours due to a distribution alliance with AGT Food and Ingredients, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, which sources, processes and distributes pulse ingredients. Homecraft pulse flours may add protein and fiber to cereal and snack foods and also may replace eggs in baked foods.

Flour from almonds, coffee

For two more functional flour options, almond flour may reduce fat, oils and sugar in formulations, and coffee flour may add protein.

Added fats and oils may be reduced by about 25% since almond flour has a higher fat content than traditional flour, according to Blue Diamond Almonds, Sacramento, California, U.S. Sugar may be reduced by about 25% in baked foods since almonds have a sweet flavor.

Almond flour has a rich and buttery taste that is slightly sweet. It works well in formulations that allow for more texture such as pie crusts, streusel toppings, crackers and granola, according to Blue Diamond Almonds.

The company offers almond flour as either blanched or natural. Blanched flour involves almonds that have had their skins removed by steam and are ground up. The creamy tan color of blanched almond flour gives foods an appearance similar to traditional white flour.

Natural almond flour goes through the same grinding process, but it is made from pasteurized almonds that still have their skins intact. Foods with natural almond flour will brown slightly more when baked and fried. The granulation will be more distinguishable from miniscule pieces of almond skins.

Since almond flour batters do not contain gluten as a binder, doughs may need firming up, according to the company. Egg whites may act as a binder without changing the flavor.

Almond flour does not absorb liquid the same way as traditional flour. Chia seeds or ground flax seeds will help to stiffen up a batter or dough as the seeds absorb moisture, according to Blue Diamond Almonds.

Almond flour appeared in items at Natural Products Expo West, March 10-13 in Anaheim, California, U.S. For example, Pereg Natural Foods, Clifton, New Jersey, U.S., featured almond flour as well as quinoa flour, banana flour, buckwheat flour, chickpea flour, coconut flour and farro flour.

Coffee flour turned up in a chocolate product this year. Seattle Chocolate Co., Tukwila, Washington, U.S., introduced a chocolate bar infused with CoffeeFlour that is made from dried coffee fruit pulp. Dan Belliveau, who previously worked for Starbucks Corp., founded CoffeeFlour, which converts coffee fruit pulp, a wasted byproduct of green coffee production, into an ingredient suitable for cooking and baking. CoffeeFlour is sourced from Hawaii, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Vietnam.

CoffeeFlour has smoky, citrus and roasted fruit notes. Ten grams of coffee flour contain 5.2 grams of dietary fiber and 1.5 grams of protein. CoffeeFlour may be used as an ingredient in bread, cookies, muffins, squares, brownies, pastas, sauces and beverages.

A way to enhance flour sprouts up

Timing is pivotal in the process of sprouting grains. Timing also is crucial in the launch of new products. Could this year be the right time for launching products made with flour from sprouted grains?

Vitamin C, folate, antioxidants and soluble fiber all may increase when grains are sprouted, according to Bay State Milling, Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S. Results from bake tests at the company’s Rothwell GrainEssentials Center found sprouted whole wheat flour may enhance volume, grain texture and crumb when compared to conventional whole flour. Bay State Milling offers sprouted whole wheat, brown rice, amaranth, millet, quinoa, flax seed and chia seed through its BeneGrain line.

“Nutrient composition is directly related to the process, including time and temperature, and the level of germination that takes place,” said Sean Finnie, Ph.D., principal lead chemist, commercial science for Bay State Milling. “Bay State Milling is focused on optimizing germination whereby we control the process to enhance bioavailability and digestibility through increased enzyme activity, while maintaining functionality.”

He said the company has replaced up to 100% whole wheat with sprouted whole wheat and has seen enhanced tolerance and volumes.

“Alternative sprouted grains and seeds function similarly to their un-sprouted counterparts,” Finnie said. “Currently there is no industry standard on sprouted content claims. However, we recommend utilizing current whole grain standards.”

Companies should be aware of processing issues.

“Because sprouting enhances enzyme activity such as alpha amylase, any additional enzymes in a formulation may need adjusting at the risk of overdosing,” Finnie said. “This is seen as a benefit to bakers for potential cost reduction and cleaner labeling.”

Ardent Mills, Denver, Colorado, U.S., offers sprouted white spring whole wheat flour.

“While the jury is still out on the precise nutritional changes involved when grains are sprouted, research continues because of growing consumer interest,” said Don Trouba, director of marketing for Ardent Mills. “In fact, consumers are drawn to the wholesome, life-giving images associated with sprouting despite a lack of clear health benefits.”

Ardent Mills controls the sprouting so that the finished flour is both sprouted and whole grain.

“Working with sprouted grains can present unique challenges for bakers, depending on the format of the sprouted grains,” Trouba said. “For example, wet mashes don’t have the typical gluten benefits of wheat flours.”

When creating its sprouted white spring whole wheat flour, Ardent Mills worked to ensure the whole grain wheat flour would perform equally to or better than traditional whole wheat flour in bread.

“Because it’s flour, it’s extremely convenient to use whether in yeast-raised applications or other flour-based foods like cookies, bars and crackers,” Trouba said. “Like other whole wheat flours, moisture, baking temperature and mixing time may need to be adjusted depending on the expectations for the finished product.”