Fibres, freezing and DNA sequencing: the research to make bread healthier

Oxford start-up the Modern Baker has secured funding from Innovate UK as it seeks to disrupt the way that baked goods are made.

16 July 2018
bakeryfibrefrozengut healthhealthNPDnutrition

Start-up Modern Baker has earned itself the nickname ‘carb busters.’

But it’s not because the company is anti-carbs. The challenger brand has received more than £1m in funding from Innovate UK to improve the quality of dietary carbohydrates in foods and already has breads, cakes and biscuits available in Planet Organic, Selfridges and independent retailers, as well as its own concept cafe in Oxford.

“We quickly became the bestselling bakery brand in one of the retailers,” Modern Baker’s co-founder Leo Campbell tells Food Spark.  

“One of the things we proved is that people are willing to pay a premium for healthy, better articulated products. A revolution in healthy baking is our strapline and we are overtly promoting the fact we are optimising our products for better digestive health.”

Freezing and fibres

Along with food technology company Campden BRI, the Modern Baker is examining how the freezing of long-fermented bakery products influences the human digestive system and the effects on blood glucose response, fibre levels and nutrition.

Freezing could even be a new frontier for the bread industry, according to Campbell, who says it can further improve flavours, as well as creating advantages within the supply chain when it comes to food waste.

“We have a very strong theory and it’s supported in other areas of research, but not directly in bread, that when you freeze with good quality ingredients, the resistant starches can convert to fibre just purely through the freezing process,” he says.

“What we are setting out to do is measure, evaluate, substantiate and work out how to commercialise, so we can improve gut fibre levels.”

Campbell says “industrial fibres” used by major food manufacturers aren’t achieving anything health-wise for consumers.

“The issue is we are beginning to get industrial fibres, so on pack you can have a high figure, but it doesn’t get to your gut as it absorbs high up… The industrial fibres don’t serve the purpose they are there for, but they can still be technically measured as fibre,” he says.

The Modern Baker is working with Newcastle University, which has a lab version of the gut, to evaluate things like fibre stated on the pack, says Campbell.

“You can put through an industrial loaf of bread and it doesn’t form differently to a Coca Cola on your digestion and GI, it gives you a blood glucose rush, which is outrageous. But it’s not hard with better ingredients and better processes to halve it and bring it down to a good glucose level.,” he says.

As a result of the research, Campbell says a new generation of bread is coming that will be launched early next year that will be higher in fibre and much healthier, as well as being produced more efficiently and economically than the current range.

The trend of disruption

Even the Modern Baker’s core bread culture has been DNA sequenced, which allowed the brand to tweak its product with more of the good stuff.

“It’s now stable and consistent, but also now we understand it. We are able to see how else it can be used in other carbohydrate-related areas, and it’s turning out to be an unbelievably versatile and interesting product. We are looking specially at spin-offs,” says Campbell.

He is tight-lipped on what exactly these spin-offs could be, but says are a number of products in the pipeline.

Innovate UK has been supportive of the Modern Baker’s approach as it wants disruption in the food industry so that healthier products are developed, according to Campbell.

“The interesting thing from an industry point of view is if you follow the food scene start-ups in America, you see how more and more is coming out of Silicon Valley rather than food companies… Entrepreneurs are piling in money to disrupt the food industry as it’s so archaic and so resistant to developing innovation – it spends more time resisting regulation – rather than helping serious societal issues through innovation,” he claims.

“Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are being touted in terms of being the likes Uber or AirBnb in the food industry and that’s the future of food. There is a whole tsunami of disruption coming down the pipeline.”

Sourdough scrutiny

Campbell is also convinced that food as preventative medicine is a new frontier only just emerging, both in the food industry and in the minds of consumers.

He says provenance is an increasingly important issue as well, and sourdough bread is one area that needs to come under scrutiny.

“We all being told that sourdough bread and fermented bread is better for us, but the problem is the core sourdough isn’t being used, it’s purely a flavour or processing aid to just be able to put the word on pack. It hasn’t been long fermented,” he says.

“So there is a big trend towards buying sourdough bread but for all the wrong reasons as it has got no substance behind it. It’s a scandal really, as there is no legal definition of sourdough.”

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