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Designing a Power-Packed Bowl of CerealDesigning a Power-Packed Bowl of Cereal

October 26, 2012

9 Min Read
Designing a Power-Packed Bowl of Cereal

By Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

Fortification of breakfast cereals dates back to the 1930s. Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI, claims it was the first to spray a mixture of vitamins onto Kelloggs Pep Wheat Flakes, a popular cereal at the time. Many companies followed suit and, over time, minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc joined the multivitamin blend.

Today, breakfast cereals remain a delivery vehicle for vitamins and minerals, but are also now used as a carrier for other extra nutrition, ranging from the more familiar, such as fiber and protein, to the less-known, such as green tea extract and probiotics. Because cereal is a long-shelf-life, shelf-stable product, cereal designers must take precautionary steps to ensure that added nutrients do not negatively impact product quality, and remain efficacious at the point of consumption. 

Fortification vs. enrichment

Though breakfast cereal marketers tend to describe their products as simply fortified," most cereals are both fortified and enriched. Fortification is the process of adding nutrients that were never present in the product, while enrichment is adding back nutrients that originally existed in the food but were lost due to processing. When nutrients are added back at levels beyond their original concentration, then it is also referred to as fortification.

The process of refining cereal grains destroys or removes vitamins, minerals and fiber; hence, theres a need to enrich," says Ramakanth Jonnala, project leader, R&D, International Fiber Corp., North Tonawanda, NY. However, even when added back, the levels are often not high enough to meet many consumers nutritional needs.

Fortification is a responsible way to provide consumers with micronutrients that are lacking in the diet," says Michael McBurney, head of scientific affairs, DSM Nutritional Products North America, Parsippany, NJ. Research shows that both enrichment and fortification dramatically improve nutrient intakes."

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (2011; 141: 1,847-1,854),  more than 90% of the U.S. population would have inadequate intakes of vitamins A, D and E if it were not for enrichment and fortification. Further, consumers who believe its ideal to only eat fresh and minimally processed foods need to understand that to get the essential nutrients required by the body, they need to consume many different types of foods, and several servings. Not only is this a tedious process, it can also be calorically unwise.

For example, recognizing that nearly all Americans fall short of meeting their fiber needs, yet meet or exceed their daily recommendations for grain foods, nutrition authorities collaborated on a paper, Filling Americas Fiber Intake Gap: Summary of a Roundtable to Probe Realistic Solutions with a Focus on Grain-Based Foods," published in the Journal of Nutrition (2012; 142:1,390S-1,401S). Much of the discussion focuses on opportunities to improve the fiber content of grain-based foods, such as breakfast cereal, as a strategy with an immediate potential for increasing fiber intakes without exceeding energy goals.

This is a critical combination, according to a modeling exercise using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2006, that measured the effect on calorie intake when Americans increased their intake of inherently fiber-rich foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.) to meet fiber recommendations. The study found that calorie intake increased by more than 1,000 per day. Alternatively, by adding fiber ingredients to grain foods that are naturally low in fiber to make them  good or excellent sources of fiber, daily fiber intakes increased while caloric intakes remained unchanged (The FASEB Journal, 2010; 24: Abstract 745.1).

Breakfast cereal is a staple of many American diets. By fortifying a product consumers are already eating on a daily basis, consumers receive key nutrients that are often missing from their diets," says Jeremy Bartos, senior innovation scientist, Glanbia Nutritionals Inc., Carlsbad, CA. In addition, consumers are looking toward fortified foods and beverages to increase nutrient intake." Fortifying breakfast cereals makes sense.

McBurney adds: Breakfast cereal companies study dietary intake patterns, often using data from NHANES to guide their fortification strategy. With the exception of a few brands, a serving of most ready-to-eat cereals provides 20% to 25% of the Daily Value of key nutrients. This keeps the micronutrient intake in line with the amount of calories typically consumed at breakfast."

When developing a formula to target a specific fortification level, it is important to remember that serving sizes are not consistent among cereals. FDA has established different serving sizes (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed, or RACC) for the varied types of cereals based on their density," says McBurney. This arose because extruded cereals are much denser than flaked cereals."

The serving size in standard cup measurements must be the one that holds an amount of cereal closest to one of FDAs three standard RACCs for cereal: 15 grams, 30 grams and 55 grams. The weight stated on the label must be the weight of the cereal actually contained in that nearest fractional-cup measure. For example, a company starts by weighing a cup of cereal and picking the closest RACC. Then they take that RACC weight of cereal and see how many cups it really fills, then take the nearest standard cup size and weigh that amount of cereal. That is the serving size, in both standard cup measurement and weight that must be listed on the Nutrition Facts.

Trends in ingredient addition

When it comes to fortification, breakfast cereals are the most common mainstream food to get pumped up with nutrients. And its no wonder, according to "Breakfast CerealsU.S.",  a 2012 consumer survey from Mintel, Chicago. The survey showed that, while the No. 1 reason for eating cereal is the fact that it is a quick meal, half of the respondents who eat cold or hot cereal believe that cereal is a healthier option than most other breakfast foods. Half of consumers also believe that cereal is an inexpensive breakfast option, and four in 10 believe cereal is a good way to manage their health concerns.

The cereal category is on trend with other fortified foods in offering condition-specific products for adults," says Cathy Arnold, senior formulation scientist supervisor, Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, NY. Formulations are designed to address bone and joint health, heart health, weight management and energy, just to name a few. For example, inulin, plant stanols/sterols and, more recently, CoQ10 are being used in cereals with a heart-health claim.

For children, reducing sugar content is an ongoing initiative, with the areas of immunity and overall development as key points in product development," Arnold continues. Immunity-boosting nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins A, C and E, as well as selenium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, continue to be the go-to ingredients that support immunity claims."

Jonnala adds: Manufacturers are combining both soluble and insoluble fibers to enhance the fiber quality and quantity per serving. For instance, cellulose fibers can be easily mixed with hydrocolloids or gums and other soluble fibers to make breakfast cereals with enhanced nutritional quality and functionality. Manufacturers are slowly moving away from claiming their finished product is a good or excellent source of fiber to flagging the amount of the Daily Value in a single serving."

Also for digestive health, probiotics are now an option for addition to cereal. We produce a highly stable probiotic strain that has been shown to support digestive and immune health," says Mike Bush, vice president of business development, Ganeden Biotech, Mayfield Heights, OH. It withstands the high-temperature processes encountered in cereal manufacturing and can also withstand shelf life."

Methods of addition

Because the matrix of each cereal product is unique, many variables need to be taken into account when adding nutrients.These include the type of finished product, as well as the desired  flavor and color," says Arnold. For each ingredient, a formulator must consider its solubility, bioavailability, safety and how it might interact with the other ingredients. Factors that can affect stability include temperature, pH, oxygen, light and moisture.

To minimize stability issues, a manufacturer can separate vitamins and minerals into two individual premixes, or encapsulate certain vitamins or minerals, or utilize a particular form of a specific ingredient, depending on what other ingredients are utilized in the premix," says Arnold. The point of addition can also aid in minimizing interactions."

Adding nutrients directly to the cereal matrix allows for a homogenous mixture with consistent concentrations of micronutrients on every flake, puff or ring, Bartos says. "Nutrients that might be affected by the heat and pressure encountered during the manufacturing process are often protected by encapsulation," he adds. "Encapsulation also allows the inclusion of ingredients that might affect taste or appearance, promote oxidation or lose efficacy over time."

Most fiber ingredients can be added directly to the cereal matrix and extruded or baked without a problem. Generally, cellulose fibers are heat-resistant and retain their nutritional and functional properties even at high temperatures," says Jonnala. "They are white in color, bland and odorless, and do not interfere with flavor profiles and overall product quality. Interestingly, manufacturers who use extrusion to produce breakfast cereals find that cellulose fiber significantly improves the rate of extrusion."

Cristina Munteanu, senior technical services technologist, Ingredion Incorporated., Westchester, IL, says: Our short-chain fructooligosaccharide prebiotic soluble fiber can be successfully added directly to the cereal matrix or sprayed on with the sweetener/flavor solution. It can also be added via inclusions or infused fruit pieces, or used as a binding syrup for cereal clusters. It is clear in solution, soluble, nonviscous and has a clean, slightly sweet taste that lends itself very well to hot and cold cereals, even in the most delicately flavored applications. And, since it does contribute to sweetness, it can be used to partially replace part of the sweeteners in the product.

At levels as low as 1.1 grams per serving of cereal, structure/function claims in the areas of digestive health, prebiotic benefit and immune health can be made," Munteanu adds. At a slightly higher level, a calcium absorption claim is possible. She notes this is an excellent fit for products that either contain calcium or are consumed with milk or non-dairy milk alternatives."

Those who take time to sit down in the morning for a bowl of cereal and milk are starting the day off with a power-packed breakfast. Theres a formulation to meet everyones personal needs and taste preferences, thanks to innovative efforts by product designers.    

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. She has a B.S. in food science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].

On the Web: To download content related to formulating bakery/cereal products, visit the Food Product Design Content Library at foodproductdesign/library.aspx.


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