Canadian Pizza Magazine

Getting the Whole Story on Grains

By Karen Hall   

Features In the Kitchen Ingredients

Getting the whole story on what makes flour

Many people have the misconception that if something is
whole grain, then it must not taste good. But that doesn’t have to be
the case, and shouldn’t be the case, said Rosie Schwartz, a
Toronto-based consulting dietician and author.

Many people have the misconception that if something is whole grain, then it must not taste good. But that doesn’t have to be the case, and shouldn’t be the case, said Rosie Schwartz, a Toronto-based consulting dietician and author.

As an increasing number of companies are advertising they’re using whole grains in their products, there is some confusion as to the difference between whole wheat and whole grain. According to Schwartz, whole wheat is simply the whole grain of the wheat.

“Whole wheat is whole grain, but whole grain is not just whole wheat. It’s all the different grains,” she said. “When you encompass whole grains it includes things like oats and barley. People are getting an understanding that variety is important.”


According to General Mills’ website (, a whole grain is the entire edible part of any grain, including wheat, corn, oats, rice, barley, millet, spelt, and amaranth. It includes all three parts of the grain kernel: the bran is the coarse outer layer and contains about 50 to 80 per cent of the minerals in grains, including iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium, as well as fibre, B vitamins, phytonutrients (substances produced naturally by plants), and other bioactive components; the endosperm is the middle layer and contains mostly carbohydrates, along with small amounts of B vitamins; and the germ is a rich source of trace minerals, unsaturated fats, B vitamins, vitamin E, antioxidants (which help keep cells healthy by protecting them from oxidation), and phytonutrients.

But when you’re talking about whole wheat flour, the germ is normally removed, said John Michaelides, technical director for the Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) in Guelph, Ont., which helps food companies and food entrepreneurs develop new products and improve their competitiveness and profitability.

“And the germ has the highest components of vitamins and healthy oils, like omega oils,” he said. “The reason the germ is removed is because of the type of oils that are available there and the exposure to oxygen will oxidize it so it becomes rancid very quickly. It’s basically being removed to give the whole wheat flour more shelf-life.”

According to Health Canada, there are several large epidemiological studies that have found that the consumption of whole grain products is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. As well, whole grains contain more vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre than their refined versions, such as white flour and white rice. White flour is enriched to restore the levels of certain key nutrients and is also fortified with higher amounts of folate, but has only about a quarter the amount of dietary fibre and is lower in a number of other nutrients than whole wheat or whole grain flours.

Schwartz added that whole grains are also associated with easier weight control. “Researchers are speculating that there may be compounds in whole grains, phytochemicals (a disease-fighting substance from plant foods) that may boost the metabolism,” she said.

In addition, there are anti-cancer phytochemicals, heart healthy phytochemicals, in whole grains – antioxidants, for example, Schwartz said.

“Fruits and vegetables are well-known for their antioxidant content,” she said. “Well in fact whole grains contain even higher levels.”

But part of the challenge today is that if a supplier says they supply a 12-grain mix, for example, there tend to be some inconsistencies, said Phillip Lee Wing, Ph.D, president of The Food Development Group in Richmond Hill, Ont., a company that provides technical support to people in the baking industry.

“Some people incorporate sunflower seeds, for instance, and then call those grains,” he said. “So you have to be careful what encompasses the definition of a grain itself.”

So what does all this mean for the pizza industry? Lino Cordeiro, national accounts culinary manager at Rich’s Foods, a company in Milton, Ont. that supplies products to the foodservice industry, said because more people are aware of what they eat today, the company introduced its wheat whole grain pizza crust a year and a half ago.

“It’s saturated fat-free, cholesterol free, and low in fat,” he said. “Now it’s not 100 per cent whole grain…but where we see the market today is people have better eating habits…and they want that classification of ‘I’m eating better now.’ So they’re saying, ‘Even though I’m not eating 100 per cent whole grain, I’m eating something that’s healthy for me.’ And (with the wheat whole grain pizza crust) you’re still getting the better nutrition from eating whole grain dough vs. white dough. So the buy-in to this product has been right across from restaurants to caterers.”

The next stage would definitely be to master the whole grain factor and still have the taste and texture, Cordeiro said.

“Because from what we see, people are getting more educated into the health benefits of the whole grains, and we see that being a huge volume for the near future,” he said. “So that is the focus of where to go of course, and we’re definitely looking towards that next level of pizza.”

But there are challenges to overcome with a 100 per cent whole grain pizza crust, Cordeiro added.

“The more grain you put in, it starts to break down the profile of the pizza dough – the airiness of the product and the texture of the product – and you start to pull away from what pizza dough is,” he said. “What really happens is it starts to break down the yeast factor. Whole grain and the yeast really fight each other so you don’t get that development from the yeast that you would normally get without the whole grain.”

Lee Wing agreed there are challenges when introducing a whole grain pizza crust.

“The challenge here is colour, taste, as well as functionality,” he said. “Grains tend to add colour to a product, and if you’re accustomed to having a white pizza crust and you’re now getting a brown pizza crust, you might think there’s something wrong with it. As well, grains do have grainy odours to them…and you also get a different taste sensation.”

But according to Michaelides, there are companies today which offer flour that comes from white wheat but is whole grain flour.

“In this particular case I am referring to a whole grain white wheat that is ground to the same granulation as the regular white wheat flour,” he said. “This means that it has almost all the characteristics of white flour but all the nutrients of the whole wheat. Whole grain may also mean un-ground or partially ground grain.

“The germ and everything is included in there (this type of flour)…so if you are going to develop a whole grain pizza crust that you want to be white instead of dark or brown colour, you can use this type of flour,” Michaelides added.

Basilio Petrolo, technical sales and service at Dover Flour, a flour mill in Cambridge, Ont., doesn’t believe offering a whole grain pizza crust has to be a challenge.

“It’s not a difficult move,” he said. “The best advice we can offer is that you may need a little more yeast to compensate for the entire grain because it is heavier than just white flour,” he said. “So it requires a little more finesse, a little more yeast, and then maybe something just to offset the bitterness of the bran. That can come either via molasses, honey, or some kind of a sweetener.”

Some companies are also testing and leaning towards products that include additional fibres and other ingredients, such as flax, to make Omega-3 claims, Petrolo said.

“The people who are top of their industry are always thinking of new plays on a traditional type of product,” he said. “And fibres and flax are certainly two things you could add. I don’t think there are many people that have something like that ready to market, but it’s certainly work-in-progress.”

In order to deliver the total benefits of flax seed you need to grind it, Michaelides said.

“So if you grind the flax the shelf-life is not that long,” he said. “But you need to grind it in order to get the health benefits. If you don’t, it will go through the GI (gastrointestinal) tract intact and there won’t be as many benefits.”

According to Lee Wing, if a company decides to offer a whole grain pizza crust, than it needs to understand why it’s moving in that direction.

“Is it because you want to make claims? Is it because of health reasons? And make sure you’re adding healthy ingredients on top of the pizza,” he said. “If you want to create a healthy product for consumers, then everything down the line – all the sauces and condiments – has to take on a healthy proposition. This means you have to put either chicken or vegetables, for example, on a premium type of product. You can’t just throw fried-this and fried-that on top of a healthy whole grain crust.”

But once you come out with a platform like this, you have to be careful not to take away the sensation the consumer is quite familiar with, Lee Wing added.

“When you order a pizza it has to be good,” he said. “Bottom line is taste, taste, taste.”• 

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