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Grape skins become functional flour


March 6, 2008
By Canadian Pizza

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With the two significant trends currently ongoing in the
food industry – wine pairing and functionality – sooner or later there
had to be a meeting of the two.

Grape skins become functional flour

feature-mar07With the two significant trends currently ongoing in the food industry – wine pairing and functionality – sooner or later there had to be a meeting of the two.

For Mark Walpole, the idea arose from his upbringing in wine country, and his passion for creating unique cuisines. The entrepreneur in him spawned a new kind of flour for the baking and food industry.

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The specialty ingredient in Walpole’s wine flour is made from pomace – the grape skins Ontario’s wine makers normally pay to dispose of.

“I grew up in this region and really appreciate Ontario wines,” says Walpole, co-founder, CEO and director of operations at Vinifera for Life, based in the heart of Ontario’s wine-growing Niagara region. “As a chef, I’m constantly pushing the envelope, trying unusual blends of flavors, looking for recipes and combinations my customers enjoy.

“And, as a local, you can’t help but notice the enormous amount of unneeded skins that are disposed of in landfills each year. That set me to thinking on how to make excellent use of what was formerly just waste material.”

Surprisingly, grape skins turned out to have formidable claims to health benefits, according to research done with the Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC).

“They weren’t surprised to find the pomace naturally high in fiber,” says Walpole. “We were delighted with the results that the skins are rich in polyphenols such as antioxidants and resveratrol – substances that help the body protect itself against a number of illnesses including cancer.”

Walpole went to the GFTC not only to find out what exactly was in grape skins, but also to help him determine how best to dry and grind the skins in order to minimize the loss of the functional nutritional components identified. Walpole says it was the GFTC product development specialists who established the formulations and prototypes he was able to use in his own facility.

In Canada, through Walpole’s Ontario and Quebec commercial distributor, CK Foods Inc., the company launched a range of cabernet-type gourmet breads banner-wide with a major supermarket chain in October.

Walpole had just shipped three tons of grape skin flour to Italy when we spoke. The Antinori family, which has produced award-winning wines from their estates in Umbria and Tuscany for 600 years, uses the functional flour for making focaccia at their restaurant.

“I’m most proud of the fact that the products taste wonderful – they have no acidic aftertaste, which is a common complaint with food cooked with wine,” says Walpole. “We knew that any product made with our grape skin flour couldn’t just be healthy – it had to taste good, or consumers wouldn’t buy it, let alone eat it. We spent two and a half months validating our formulas and expectations of the product, confirming the results we sought to achieve.”

Initially, the wine flour has been used in the production of bread in the Niagara region with great success. Four “varietals” are on the market – cabernet, ice wine, late harvest and chardonnay. Walpole and his colleagues have extended their market to Toronto, as well as to grape skin powders, which offer the baking industry applications beyond bread: the flour can be used to produce crackers, pasta, snack foods, tea, and when ground finer, can even be incorporated into an energy bar or drink. Products are also being developed with organic growers.

Not far from where Walpole’s company produces the wine flour is Canadian Pizza’s own Pizza Dude, Roberto Vergalito. The St. Catharine’s pizzaiolo and owner of Roberto’s Pizza tested the product in his own kitchen.

“It’s a really nice flour. It’s great for pastas and health-wise it’s a really good product,” Vergalito says.

Wine Terms 
Bouquet: The smell of the wine.

Body: The apparent weight – light, medium or full – of the wine in your mouth.

Breathe: To allow wine to mix with air.

Finish: The aftertaste or flavour impression left in the mouth after swallowing.

Fruity: With aromas and flavours of fruit.

New World: Wine-making countries outside of Europe.

Old World: Classic wine-making countries of Europe.

Varietal: A wine that uses the name of the principal grape from which it’s made, such as merlot or chardonnay.

Vintage date: The year a wine was made.

As for pizza though, he found it took a little experimenting to get the best result in blending the gluten-free wine flour with commercial white flour to achieve balance, dough consistency and rise.

“From the market research we conducted, through the Canadian Innovation Centre, we know that consumers are looking for healthy choices,” says Walpole.

Acceptance has extended beyond Canadian borders, with orders coming into the fledgling company from the U.S., Norway, the U.K. and Italy. Functional foods are one of the fastest growing segments in the food industry – as high as $37 billion (all figures in CDN) in the U.S., $20 billion in Europe, $14 billion in Japan and $2 billion in Canada. The entire segment is expected to outpace the growth of the food industry as a whole.

“The interest shown internationally is very encouraging at such an early stage in our development,” says Walpole. “Europeans especially, have always been interested in eating products that protect their health – so wine flour bread, with its resveratrol, Omega 6 and 3, as well as dietary fiber content, would have enormous appeal.”

Michael Ackerman, CEO of PMA International, spotted Walpole on the Food Network.  He estimates that they will be shipping up to 200 tons of the wine flour internationally in 2007. He’s also in discussions with Mexico and China.

Joseph Kedzierski, a baker in nearby St. Catharine’s, Ont., has drawn a great deal of customer enthusiasm for his baguettes made with the wine flour.

“I charge $1.50 a loaf and if they ask for focaccia I’ll make it,” says the Polish baker, who has known Walpole for 40 years.

“When he (Mark) first told me what he was doing with the grapes, I told him he was stupid. Not anymore,” Kedzierski says, chuckling.

Word has spread in Ontario, with consumer press and celebrity chefs reviewing the functional flour favorably – especially when it’s in a result as superb as one of Brian Kirk’s loaves from Alchemy in Kensington Market in Toronto.

Success with the wine flour wasn’t immediate – it also took Kirk a number of attempts before he found the right percentage of Walpole’s flour to regular flour in order to have dough to work with, rather than mush. He has a number of specialty breads in his bakery, such as hemp and spelt, so working with unusual flours isn’t new to him.

“It’s cutting edge stuff, for sure – but white and brown has been done to death,” says Kirk with a grin.•


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