04 September 2010

Ultra? Maybe. Super? No Way!

Did you ever wonder how a box of Fruit Loops cereal can be slapped with a Whole Grain Council seal of approval?  Burger King's buns are WGC approved too.  Kellogs and Burger King are using "ultragrain flour" or "white wheat flour" in these products.  Ultragrain was first developed by ConAgra Mills (it has since been marketed as "white wheat flour" by other millers).  Here's what they have to say about the product:

"ConAgra Mills, the maker of Ultragrain, developed a patented technology that delivers whole grain flour with the same particle size as traditional refined white flour. The Ultragrain milling process retains the fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients concentrated within the bran and germ, while yielding whole grain wheat flour with a taste, ultrasmooth texture and appearance more similar to traditional refined white flour." 

I have a different take.  I try not to be too anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) because I would drive myself insane worrying about the repercussions of this process.  However, this is the best example of how a GMO directly affects me and my family.  Ultragrain flour comes from an entirely different plant than whole wheat flour...it's more than just the milling.

When this product was new to the market, I trained with the ConAgra technology rep on how to use Ultragrain flour to make bread.   The flour requires a significant autolyse time.  Autolyse is a time during which the flour and water are slightly mixed and allowed to rest.  The flour sucks up as much of the water as it can.  Because of this intense absorption, the final mix time is decreased and the dough is super hydrated yet still easy to work with.  Lots of water = open cell structure = big air holes = yum!  Without this autolyse, Ultragrain will start to break down the dough.  It's very finiky.  In addition to the autolyse, the flour behaves a little like a rye flour in the mixer.  If it is over-mixed it will turn gummy and good structure will never be achieved.

After doing signifigant market research, ConAgra determined that Ultragrain flour was undetectable by the average consumer up to 30% of the flour weight.  This means Kellogs can use 70% white flour and 30% ultragrain flour in their Fruit Loops and no one will be the wiser.   Funny, 30% is the minimum amount of whole grains needed in the dough to get the WGC seal of approval.  I'm no conspiracy theorist but I may be onto something here.

Ultragrain flour has a very distinct taste.  It's a little bitter and a little I-can't-put-my-finger-on-it.  I can sniff out ultragrain flour faster than a pig can find a truffle.  Maybe it's because I know it's there...it's everywhere.  Cereals, burger buns, Sara Lee pound cake, everyone is jumping on the whole grain band wagon.  These companies are trying to save Americans from themselves by sneaking good-for-yous into previously bad-for-you stuff, like Fruit Loops.  The Whole Grain Council doesn't care how much sugar you put on a product to mask the off-putting flavor of the ultragrain flour as long as each serving has 8 grams of whole grain.

That big grocery store chain I used to work for wants to do away with white bread all together.  A directive came down from the very top to make all breads using whole grains, even the baguettes.  The first bread they switched over was the basic Italian loaf, a huge seller.  They did not tell the customers they changed the bread they loved only that it now contains 1 serving of whole grains per slice.  A couple weeks ago, I was standing next to the bread counter and I overheard a woman asking for her Italian bread back "I used to buy 4 loaves a week."  So much for undetectible.

My baker friend, the mad scientist behind the whole grain switch, is trying to create a sweet potato brioche using the ultragrain flour.  I said yuck, he said if there's enough butter and sugar in the dough, it can't be bad.  Maybe he's on to something or maybe he could join forces with the fruit loop gang.  I tried his sweet potato bread and it was pretty tastey except for that noticably ultragrain aftertaste.

I know I'm not the typical American bread consumer but if I want wheat bread, I want wheat bread.  I want to see the flecks of bran and taste the nuttiness of the flour.  In the same thought, if I want white bread, I want white bread.  There is a time and a place for everything.  This whole scenario creates the same image for me as does the 300 pound woman ordering "diet" coke at the McDonald's drive thru.


  1. I am trying to find out more information about Ultragrain flour. You are the only person who claims that it is made from GMO wheat. I can find nothing anywhere else that indicates this as its source. Do you have documentation that indicates this is true? My research shows that Monsanto scrubbed its trials of GMO wheat in 2004 and only recently indicated it was planning to pursue them again. I also cannot find anything that indicates that GMO wheat has been approved for use in the United States. Can you point me in the direction of more accurate information? This is important to me because I am trying to limit my exposure to GMO foods as much as possible.

  2. I'm with Pamela. Why isn't there any information on the Internet about Ultragrain except for what ConAg puts out, and this is the only information that there might be something about product that isn't particularly healthy. What kind of a plant is it, how is it processed, what independent studies are or have been done on Ultragrain. It seems a wheat that should be some cause for concern, one that millions are eating, yet know data about it except from the manufacturer, and a baker.