Wholegrains are a rich source of dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. But consumer preference in most European countries is for white bread – nutritionally inferior to wholegrain. The result? Many people are missing an opportunity to get some of the fibre and other nutrients essential to a healthy diet and growth in the wholegrain bread market has tended to be gradual.
In response, the EU-funded project HealthBread has developed cost-effective means of producing a range of breads with the nutritional value comparable with or even superior to wholegrain, but with a taste close to that of white bread.
“Our objective was to help bakers launch new healthier products after the project’s completion, but this has in fact already happened,” says project coordinator Jan Willem van der Kamp from TNO in the Netherlands. “Indeed, this is one thing I am especially proud of. Often the potential benefits of projects stay in academia, but HealthBread has already made a positive economic difference.”
The project’s main innovation was to combine – and further optimise – several new technologies developed in a previous EU-funded project, called HEALTHGRAIN. These techniques include advanced flour milling, long fermentation and adaptations to the baking process.
Breads with higher levels of dietary fibre and beneficial nutrients – such as B-vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – can be made by using specific parts of the wheat grain kernels. Dedicated fermentation processes then improve the availability of these nutrients and boost their uptake into the digestive tract.
To ensure that the results were as marketable as possible, the project worked with small to medium-sized bakers from across Europe. These bakeries consulted with their customers to identify what kinds of products might appeal to them.
The team also produced the HealthBread Bakers Manual, in English, Dutch, German and Italian, providing step-by-step advice to bakers how to apply the principles developed in HealthBread. It includes general guidance for selecting flours and fermentation processes in order to produce healthier breads for a range of consumers. The manual also addresses ways to communicate nutritional and health benefits in a way that is understandable for consumers and in line with the strict EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (EC) 1924/2006.
Spreading the knowledge
Another important element was the project’s initiative to assign three project partners with a mentoring role to the bakeries in the project. The mentors, supported by dissemination partner RTDS Group in Vienna, are establishing the HealthBread Association for rolling out the HealthBread approach to artisan bakeries in key European markets.
“These mentors are important,” says van der Kamp. “The average baker is not fond of reading scientific reports, but the mentors know both sides – science and the bakers’ business – and therefore can link the two.”
The immediate feedback from bakers involved in the project – and from those that have been working with the project’s mentors – has been overwhelmingly positive. Small bakeries (project partners) in Italy, Germany and Austria have already launched products onto the market using HealthBread’s technology and guidance. In Italy, the mentoring organisation Open Fields has already transferred results to two additional bakeries.
The success of HealthBread was behind the naming of van der Kamp as ‘Bakery Personality of the Year’ by the online news service FoodNavigator.com. “The real reward for me, however, is the broad European rollout of this concept,” says van der Kamp. “There are many EU projects that result in scientific publications that recommend how something should be done. In contrast, HealthBread has generated a series of tangible innovative products that are increasingly getting through to consumers and thereby making a considerable contribution to a healthier diet and, therefore, public health.”