The Place and Importance of Additives in Flour Quality

09 July 201310 min reading
Sarah Zimmerman / Flour Fortification Initiative Communications Coordinator Foods made with wheat flour have an especially important role to play during an economic crisis. As incomes decrease, people may limit their intake of more expensive foods such as meat, fruits, and vegetables. But they are likely to continue or increase their consumption of flour-based foods such as bread and pasta. Making sure these staple foods have a high nutritional content can make up for some of the nutritional loss from not eating the higher priced commodities. Offering a superior product is the goal of bakers around the world, but knowing precisely which flours will provide the best nutritional content and baking performance can be daunting. Some global guidelines can be used to simplify the process. Following these recommendations will help the bread, biscuits and pasta made with fortified and improved flour enhance the health of consumers and satisfy customers. A basic reminder is that nothing substitutes for quality wheat. Flour millers may be tempted to buy cheaper, lower quality grain, but nothing can convert inferior wheat into superior flour. For improved nutrition, the World Health Organization has published guidelines for the amount of minerals and vitamins to add to flour during milling. These remain the same regardless of whether the flour is intended for bread or biscuits. When bakers choose fortified flour, they provide a service to customers by offering products with a higher nutritional content. Protein and carbohydrates are essential for good health, but wheat already has an ample supply of these. Consequently, proteins and carbohydrates are not added during milling. Bakers should be aware of the flour’s protein content because it affects baking qualities. The protein content is determined by the type of wheat used to make flour, however, not by an additive in the milling process. Enzymes, which are present in all living organisms, are added to flour at the rate of about 10 parts per million, meaning that bakers only handle very diluted levels of this improver. When liquid is added to flour at the bakery, enzymes start metabolic activities that improve the dough’s handling properties and increase dough stability and proofing tolerance. Enzymes also keep bread fresher for longer. Amylolytic enzymes are commonly used to break down starch in the flour to sugar; then yeast fermentation of sugar produces the carbon dioxide that raises the dough, said Lecturer at Department of Food Engineering at Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at Okan University Prof. Dr. M. Hikmet Boyacığlu in Turkey. Various types of flour have different types of enzymes, depending on the flour’s purpose. Biscuit flour, for example, usually has the enzyme proteases to lower the protein level. Enzymes have no nutritional value, however, and bakers can rely on reputable millers to add the appropriate enzymes needed for specific flours. MINERALS Wheat naturally contains iron and zinc. Because these minerals are in wheat’s outer layers which are not used in refined flour, as much as 80 percent of the natural mineral content may be lost in the milling process. Also, wheat’s phytate content inhibits people’s ability to absorb these nutrients from their food. Iron and zinc can be restored with flour enrichment which replaces the lost nutrients. Fortification goes a step further and adds higher levels of these minerals to address nutritional deficiencies in a population. All people need iron to make hemoglobin which carries oxygen to tissues and muscles. This vital mineral improves a person’s capacity for physical activity and work productivity. Iron is essential for a child’s physical and mental development, and iron is also critical for the health of a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Zinc, another mineral, helps children develop, strengthens immune systems, and lessens complications from diarrhea. The level of iron and zinc to add to flour to improve public health depends on several factors: 1. The population’s consumption of flour. Countries where people consume more than 150 grams of flour per day can fortify flour with less iron than countries where people consume less than 75 grams per day, for example. 2. The type of iron compound used. Some types of iron are easily absorbed by the human body. If these easily absorbed compounds are used, less iron is needed per metric ton of flour. 3. The flour’s extraction rate. High extraction flours, also called whole wheat or atta flours, retain more of the wheat’s natural phytates. Consequently, fortification of these flours requires more zinc to create the expected public health impact. Also, sodium iron EDTA (NaFeEDTA) is the only iron compound the World Health Organization recommends for high extraction flours because it is highly bioavailable. 4. Other fortification. If other foods are effectively fortified with iron and zinc, then the amount needed in wheat flour will be less. 5. Dietary intake. If the population regularly consumes foods that are high in these nutrients, the amount added to flour may be less. See Table 1 for recommended levels of iron to use in fortification. See the full World Health Organization recommendation at VITAMINS Wheat is also a natural source of B vitamins such as folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. Like the minerals, these vitamins are in the wheat’s outer layers which are mostly discarded in milling. Bakers which use fortified flour for their products help their customers increase their intake of these essential nutrients. Fortifying flour with folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, has proven to be effective at reducing the prevalence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. These birth defects are permanently disabling or fatal, but they can be mostly prevented if the mother has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid before she conceives and very early in her pregnancy. Countries which fortify flour with folic acid have seen their rates of these birth defects decline 30 to 70 percent. The other B vitamins commonly added to flour and their health benefits are: • Niacin (vitamin B3) prevents the skin disease known as pellagra. • Riboflavin (vitamin B2) helps with metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. • Thiamin (vitamin B1) prevents the nervous system disease called beriberi. • Vitamin B12 maintains functions of the brain and nervous system. Currently Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Jordan fortify flour with vitamin D. This nutrient helps bodies absorb calcium which improves bone health. Some countries fortify flour with vitamin A because vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of childhood blindness. However vitamin A can shorten the flour’s shelf life and the increase the price of the vitamin and mineral premix to be added to flour. Consequently, vitamin A is often added to cooking oils or margarines instead of flour. Like minerals, these vitamins can be restored through with enrichment or the flour’s vitamin content can be enhanced with fortification. These vitamins are not affected by phytates, so the main factor to consider when determining the addition rate is the population’s wheat consumption. Globally more than 75 countries require fortification of wheat flour with at least iron or folic acid. These countries set specific standards for the amount of each nutrient to add to flour. Flour that is exported to these countries should meet the fortification standard of the receiving country. See Table 1 for the recommendations for folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and zinc. See the full recommendations at For three additional B vitamins, the minimal levels needed to replace the nutrients that were in wheat naturally are: Thiamin: 6.4 parts per million (ppm) Riboflavin: 4.0 parts per million (ppm) Niacin: 53 parts per million (ppm) Note: Parts per million equals milligrams per kilogram. PROTEIN People need protein for good health, and the main source of protein for most people is meat, poultry, dairy, and egg dishes. Wheat products are not a primary source of protein for nutrition, yet the protein content is important to consider because it affects the strength of the dough. Flour’s protein content is determined by the type of wheat used to make flour. Hard types of wheat have higher protein content then softer wheat. Higher protein levels are best for breads made with yeast. Bread flour is usually made with a blend of hard wheat with protein content that varies from 12 to 14 percent. Cake flour used for biscuits, cakes, and crackers is usually made from soft wheat with a protein content from 7 to 9 percent. In these products, a higher protein content could give food a tough texture. Semolina is produced from the endosperm of hard (high protein) durum wheat, and it is used as the basis of pasta products. Gluten generally has 40 to 45 percent protein, making the semolina flour used for pasta higher in protein content. CARBOHYDRATES Wheat is a natural source of complex carbohydrates. These essential nutrients provide energy for daily activities. In the United States, adults are encouraged to eat six ounces of grain foods such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta daily. The recommendation also says half of the grains eaten should be whole grains to improve fiber intake. Some people limit their carbohydrate intake to control their weight or to manage their blood sugar because all forms of carbohydrates increase a person’s blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates in breads and pastas are considered complex carbohydrates. They are considered preferable to simple carbohydrates because the complex variety breaks down more slowly during digestion to release energy over a longer period of time. GLOBAL IMPACT Nutritional deficiencies can be common in industrialized countries as well as developing regions. In Turkey for instance, three studies have revealed a relatively high prevalence of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs). One study looked at university hospital records from 1993-1994 and found 3 NTDs per 1000 live and stillbirths. Another study in Afyonkarahisar found 3.5 NTDs per 1000 births using 2003-2004 data for abortions, still births and live births. The third study from four university hospitals in Turkey found 4 NTDs per 1000 pregnancies. In comparison, countries which fortify flour with folic acid generally report less than 1 NTD per 1000 births. Regardless of the country’s development stage, it is nearly impossible to consume the recommended daily amount of folic acid from unfortified foods. For example, a person would have to eat four slices of beef liver, 14 cups of raw broccoli, 19 cups of raw green beans or 200 medium red applies to consume the equivalent of 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. By eating foods fortified with folic acid, women are more likely to consume adequate amounts of this essential nutrient. Animal foods such as red meat, fish, and poultry are the best natural source of iron, but many people do not eat meat due to personal beliefs. Also, in countries where the common diet includes many foods which inhibit iron absorption, people may not benefit from natural iron in their foods. Iron inhibitors include calcium; tannins in tea; polyphenols in honey, legumes and many fruits; and phytates in legumes and whole grains. Iron deficiency leads to lethargy and decreased productivity. In children, iron deficiency limits physical growth and mental development, and these losses are never recovered. Children who do not reach their full physical and academic potential will have limited opportunities in the future. Therefore increasing a population’s iron intake, which leads to less risk of iron deficiency, in time is likely to improve the country’s gross domestic product. Foods made with wheat flour have an especially important role to play during an economic crisis. As incomes decrease, people may limit their intake of more expensive foods such as meat, fruits, and vegetables. But they are likely to continue or increase their consumption of flour-based foods such as bread and pasta. Making sure these staple foods have a high nutritional content can make up for some of the nutritional loss from not eating the higher priced commodities. From bread to noodles to pastries, flour-based foods are consumed by people around the world. Bakers who choose the highest quality, most nutritious flour available for their products will improve their customers’ nutritional intake while providing superior foods for the customers to enjoy.
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