Consumers have spoken, and they want organic, natural foods with ingredients they can pronounce.
Across all food and beverage categories, there is a growing consumer preference for food that is more natural. Products highlighting ingredients that are easily understood are booming in popularity, while those with ‘mystery’ components, such as additives, artificial flavours and colours, are falling by the wayside.
Peggy Shannon, a clinical dietitian based in the US, is quick to confirm there is a growing segment of the population that is attracted by simplicity.
“There is a developing awareness that if you can’t pronounce it and you don’t know what it is, then you don’t want it in your food,” she told Today’s Dietician.
It’s what Peggy refers to as the “get back-to-basics” trend, a movement that promotes a balanced diet with a clear focus on raw, unprocessed ingredients and a desire to avoid chemicals and preservatives.
Here are just some of the ways the back to nature trend is playing out in the international baking scene.
A rustic aesthetic
No doubt, there is always going to be a place for fondant on the dessert table, particularly at weddings. However, the burgeoning woodland and rustic-chic wedding trend is pushing forward a new cake aesthetic: one that foregoes traditional frosting for a more pared-down look, often created with buttercream or cream cheese and finished off with organic berries, fresh compote and edible flowers.
BBC’s Great British Bake Off 2013 winner Frances Quinn said the professional baking scene is shunning synthetic fondant icing and unnatural colourings in favour of rustic, natural ingredients. Her Midsummer Night’s Dream wedding cake, which netted her the competition’s crown with its cascading vegetable petals, is a perfect example.
“I think there’s going to be a return to more natural ingredients. I’m a perfectionist, but more rustic finishes appeal to me,” Frances told Good Food.
“For instance, instead of using fondant icing I use traditional ganache and also make my own marzipan using pistachios or orange blossom.”
Indeed, fresh flowers are flourishing in international cake design. Old-fashioned roses are still the most popular choice, however, peonies, ranunculus, baby’s breath, daisies and foraged flowers are showing up on the latest designer creations.
Better tasting allergen-free foods
Because of the increasing demand for gluten- and other allergen-free foods, product developers are spending more time in their test kitchens to make goodies that taste as good – or better – than their traditional counterparts.
The result: food professionals and home baking enthusiasts alike are experiencing with a range of energy-rich and high-in-protein flours, including amaranth, chickpea, millet, chestnut, buckwheat, coconut and chia.
“You can’t expect consumers who ordered pizza from Papa John’s last week to all of the sudden want to eat rice-flour, cracker-crust pizza,” Jules Shepard, founder of Jules Gluten Free said.
“It’s about finding alternatives that mimic what the consumer is used to.”
Frédérique Jules, pioneer for gluten-free cuisine in Paris agrees. She’s the owner of NOGLU, one of only a few completely gluten-free restaurants in the city, which is known for its love affair with wheat.
“There are many gluten-free grains and flours and they offer a multitude of combinations for delicious baking and cooking,” she says.
“Their flavours and textures are often new and surprising and the research we carried out when developing the dishes for our restaurant means we can offer recipes that are attractive on both a nutritional level and in terms of flavour.
“We also incorporate dairy substitutes into our recipes, because lactose intolerance often goes hand in hand with gluten intolerance, and these diary substitutes offer their own nutritional value and flavour variations as well.”
Integrity and value
While the core natural products consumer doesn’t need to be convinced of the value in natural and organic food, mainstream customers can be turned off by healthy and natural claims, perceiving them to be nothing more than marketing spin.
“It comes down to integrity,” said Karen Trilevsky, founder and chief executive officer of FullBloom Baking Company, which makes natural, organic and gluten-free baked goods.
With no government definition of what constitutes “natural” and no regulation of “natural” label claims, Karen said many consumers are confused about what they should invest in.
“Many customers would still rather pay $1.39 for a non-natural, non-organic bar versus $1.99 for an organic one,” she added.
“It’s up to retailers and manufacturers to relay the value message.”
A new standard to control the use of claims on food labels came into effect in last year. For more information, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au.
The caveman way
Due to its high protein focus, the paleo diet lends itself to sandwiches, but many dieters go without because wheats and grains are discouraged. Nonetheless, there are plenty of paleo-friendly breads, cakes and slices that have been given the green-light, such as those with a tapioca or coconut-flour base.
In Paleo cooking, coconut flour often replaces the typical wheat-based flour used in most store-bought bread. The savoury comes from a combination of flax meal, sea salt and olive oil.
Coconut flour provides the right texture and helps the product actually taste like a bread. And, since it is derived from coconuts, Jess from popular paleo blog Paleo Grubs saidno grains are harmed in the process.
“Using sweet potatoes as a base ingredient also serves many purposes for Paleo dieters. Firstly, you don’t have to use a wheat or grain source as the main ingredient. Secondly, it provides plenty of antioxidants and vitamin support from the sweet potatoes, as well as additional fibre,” she said.
It should be noted that hard cheeses like asiago and parmesan are usually given a nod on the Paleo diet, because they don’t include as much dairy as soft varieties.
“Flatbread is also nice change of pace to ordinary loaves,” Jess said.
Grain-free pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, zucchini cake and nut-free sesame hamburger buns are also popular choices for paleo bakers.
Paleo Protein Balls
Recipe By Lola Berry At lolaberry.com
“Remember, if there are any ingredients you’re not familiar with check out a health or specialty store – half the fun can be exploring new things.”
• 2 tablespoons almond butter
• 2 tablespoons of tahini
• 3 tablespoons of maple syrup
• pinch cinnamon
• 2 tablespoons cocoa
• 2 heaped tablespoons grass-fedwhey protein isolate (optional)
• 1 teaspoon buckwheat
• 1 tablespoons puffed amaranth
• 1 tablespoon millet puffs
• 1 teaspoon chia seeds
• pinch rose hips
• pinch hibiscus
• 1 teaspoon maca powder
• 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds or pepitas
• 1 teaspoon flaxseeds
• 2 tablespoons of quinoa flakes
It’s as simple as mixing everything together, bar the quinoa flakes. Once you’ve formed the little balls then roll them on a flat surface in quinoa flakes and place in the fridge for 20 minutes to go firm.
The organic effect
No doubt, growing consumer awareness for natural products owes largely to the organic food trend. In the retail category, organic products that were once only found in health food stores are now widely available, including organic fruits and vegetables, eggs, and grass-fed and free-range meat.
Traditionally-baked food is seen as a safer alternative to many store-bought products, because it contains less of the bad stuff – pesticides and nitrates – and more positive components such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and antioxidants.
Red Beard Bakery in Trentham, Victoria, is among a growing number of Australian bakeries that refuse to use bakers yeast, preservatives and other additives. Its loaves are certified organic, shaped by hand and baked in a woodfired oven built in 1891 – one of only a handful of Scotch ovens still operating in the country.
“Organic sourdough is made with a traditional wild yeast leaven, the way bread has been made for thousands of years. It’s delicious and it’s easy to digest,” the bakery’s owners, brothers John and Alan Reid said.
“Our customers have always responded well to our organic offering. Organic bread is just created for food lovers with a gourmet palate, or who simply enjoy a wholesome, nutritious loaf.
“You can certainly taste the difference when you are eating bread that is made without chemicals and other frightening additives.”
Superfoods are the most nutritionally-dense foods on the planet. For years nutritionists have said they help lower cholesterol, however, a growing body of scientific research is now suggesting they also help ward off cancer, as well as assist with skin problems, immunity issues and a host of other health issues. For bakers. the most usable superfoods include cacao, spirulina, coconuts, bee products and goji berries.