Unlike many competing low-carb or keto flour blends that skip the wheat, Ardent Mill’s new line of white all-purpose and specialized Keto Certified Low Net Carb Flour is nut-free, grain-based and contains gluten, which allows customers to use it on their current equipment without any change to produce baked goods that are safe for consumers with nut allergies, Ken Ruud, director of innovation at Ardent Mills told FoodNavigator-USA.
“At Ardent Mills we are all about nutritious grain-based solutions. So, our goal in this was to have a grain-based solution,” which is unusual for a Keto Certified flour blend because grains typically are so high in carbs that they are avoided by dieters who severely restrict their net carb intake, Ruud explained.
“But the magic of [our blend], so to speak, is we saved the wheat kernel but extracted out all the highly nutritious portions of that kernel – being the fiber and the protein carbohydrates – and took away the sugar containing carbohydrates,” he said, explaining, “All fiber is carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are fiber. We really wanted that highly nutritious fiber portion to help give the body some fuel but also allow it to start burning the fat in your bodies” as indicated by the keto diet.
The end result is line of flour blends that behave functionally like traditional wheat flour, so it is easier to mass produce products that are keto-compliant, nutritious and safe.
A decade of research reveals competitive edge
Over the decade of trial and error to make the blends, Ruud said Ardent Mills “experimented with cloud breads,” which are popular homemade, egg white based bread alternatives, but “found those to be difficult to mass produce.”
Likewise, many competing keto flour blends contain almonds or other nuts, which not only trigger allergens but “really minimizes what people were able to do with their current manufacturing facilities throughout the US and also yielded a different and undesirable taste.”
The solution that Ardent Mills ultimately found skips these challenges and “replaces conventional flour on a one-to-one level, and depending on your application yields amazing pizza crusts, English muffins, bagels or breads. It’s only limited by your imagination,” Ruud said.
He acknowledged that because the flours are so high in fiber, companies may need to adjust the moisture content or make other tweaks to the formulas, but Ardent Mills offers a bake-lab consultation and pilot testing resources to help with formulation, scaling and commercialization.
Keto certification offers legitimacy
Ardent Mills decision to certify the flour blends as Keto through a third-party verification process also adds legitimacy to a product that many manufacturers and end consumers seek, Ruud added.
Currently the blends are available only to manufacturers, but Ruud noted that depending on their performance in market they could one day be available for at home use.
“We feel like its just the tip of the iceberg right now. We’ve had success and seen it primarily in the bread space, but there are so many other exciting baking applications that are there and even evolving to in-home use, too, because we’ve seen, of course with COVID people have started to bake at home again and gotten excited,” Ruud said.
Trendspotting: ‘new and exotic’ options in demand
Lifestyle changes to accommodate the pandemic have also pushed consumers to be more adventurous in their baking and look for “new and exotic” options, which in turn have opened the door for more innovation at Ardent Mills, Ruud said.
“New and exotic doesn’t always have to mean new to the world. It can mean the old world reinvented,” he said. “So, we’re continuing to look at things like teff and quinoa that are traditionally grown in other parts of the world, like South America and Africa, and bringing those domestically by partnering with farmers to have them grown locally in the US and brought to our community mills for cleaning before sending them to manufacturers to use in their products.”
Building up a domestic supply of these grains will help reinforce Ardent Mills’ supply chain, which was tested along with those of other food and beverage players during the pandemic.
Ruud also noted Ardent Mills is exploring new ways to meet consumer demand for healthier options, including plant-based protein and increased fiber.
“US consumers are highly lacking in fiber in our diets,” Ruud said. “We get on average about 5% of the fiber that we should take in on daily basis. So, there’s an opportunity to get that about 20 times higher than where it is today” by exploring alternative grains, “which in turn could help us reduce issues like obesity, because fiber keeps you full longer and your body processes it and expels it and doesn’t store it.”
Answering this demand, Ruud said, Ardent Mills is “passionate about chickpeas and the opportunity there to bring things that are traditionally popular in other parts of the world to the US and offer more high protein, high fiber options that really appeal to the health benefits that consumers are seeking.”