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In the age of the health-conscious consumer who also seeks the complete experience of innovative flavors, ingredients for filling and topping baked goods are getting creative. We have investigated the science, trends and processes related to the development and use of fillings in baking, with help from experts at Zeelandia, a company with a large portfolio of fillings for viennoisserie, patisserie, savory pastry, filled biscuits and filled chocolate/confectionery. 

By Catalina Mihu

When it comes to fillings, demands on each market depend on tradition and on cultural preferences, the expert explains. Mathijs Nouwen and Anna Treyster answered our questions on behalf of Zeelandia.

“For example, a filling of poppy-seed or plum, both very popular in Eastern Europe, will be much more difficult to sell in South-European countries. At the same time, we see that new technologies and trends in fillings, partly caused by new consumer demand, result in some slight changes,” observe Zeelandia’s experts.

The application of different kinds of fillings is also influenced by the shelf-life of the final application. In case of artisanal processing and a short shelf-life (one or two days), custard or fruit fillings can be applied. In case of industrial production, products normally have a longer shelf-life (from several weeks to several months). Therefore, other types of fillings have to be used, like fat-based or water-based fillings. Among the benefits of water-based compared to fat-based fillings, are: keeping the baked products (cake, muffin, etc.) moist, because water migration from the baked product is prevented, and also, a wide range of flavor and texture possibilities, as well as high bake-stability and thaw-stability.

Consumer trends

Fillings must fit with the general product concept and positioning, according to the specialists. Therefore, new developments are in line with consumer requests, according to trends and product recipes (applications). According to Innova Market Insights, the latest consumer trends, pertaining to fillings, are:

- “Clean Supreme”: consumer requires clean and clear label. Therefore, the fillings must have less or even no preservatives, no GMOs, less or no E-numbers, and natural flavorings and colorants.

- “Disruptive Green”: fruits and vegetables are in scope. This can include a wide range of fruit and vegetable fillings that are suitable for a number of baking applications.

- “Sweeter Balance”: less sugar (or no added sugar) is a worldwide trend. There are some recent developments in the water-based fillings, where sugar has been replaced by substitutes.

- “Kitchen Symphony”: a trend involving authentic flavors from “other cultures”. A wide range of water-based fillings is available from Europe to the Middle East and to Asia. Examples: Pumpkin Pie filling (originates in the US), or Salted Caramel (originates in the UK).

- “Plain Sophistication”: Consumers are willing to pay just that little bit more for an indulgent product, offering them momentary escapism and premium quality. There are available assortments as tropical fruit fillings, savory fillings, Mojito or Spicy Chocolate water-based fillings.

Applications and Flavors

Aside from trends, the application itself is of high importance for the development of fillings for baked goods because a filling will need to have different organoleptic and technical characteristics, depending on the product recipe, dough, shelf-life, packaging and a few other parameters, the experts explain.

Zeeland underlines that the best-selling flavors have remained the same over time. The top-five flavors are still the classics: chocolate, vanilla, nut/almond, berry/strawberry, and cocoa (source: Innova Market Insights).

Still, Zeelandia recognizes that general consumer trends also affect flavor. The latest ones include:

  • Ethnic flavors: e.g. masala (India)
  • More sophisticated flavors: exotic fruit flavors, spices, including:
  • Chili and pepper flavors
  • Coconut
  • Cinnamon
  • Flavors based on alcohol-containing drinks

- Irish coffee
- Lemon liqueur
- Cointreau cream

  • Green flavors: 

- Vegetables combined with fruit for a sweeter taste
- Vegetables combined with cheese, for a savory application
- Origins are also becoming increasingly important in flavors claims
- Origin-specified nuts
- Origin-specified cocoa
- Pink Himalayan salt

Fillings and Textures

In addition to flavor, texture is also very important in product experience and positioning. Texture has been getting more attention in promotional claims on packaging over the past years. The latest examples in texture claims are: soft / creamy / smooth combined with crunchy / crispy and even chewy.

On the other hand, the experts say that the same basic rule applies for both artisan and industrial production: great taste and texture are key. Additionally, versatility and cost-in-use are valuable characteristics. In many cases, authentic taste and texture profiles are preferred: vanilla, chocolate, nuts /seeds, caramel, mince meats, and fruit. Creaminess, smoothness and integrity of (fruit) pieces are generally of importance.

Nonetheless, there are differences between the two types of uses:

  • For artisanal use: Instant fillings (e.g. custard powders) or ready-to-use fillings are often preferred. Important parameters: ease-of-handling (e.g. pipeability), bake-stability, freeze/thaw-stability, easy-to-slice.  
  • For industrial use: Ready-to-use fillings in industrial XL packaging. Important parameters: long shelf-life, bake-stability, controlled water activity, freeze/thaw-stability.  

The depositing and dosing requirements may differ, as well:manual depositing, e.g. pipeable with piping bag (artisanal) is preferred, while pumpable / injectable when using industrial equipment (industry) is usual.

Generally speaking, there are different texture possibilities; the most important aspect is to have a good overview of the right texture (“long” or “short” texture) and consistency of the filling / topping. Depending on the structure and whether a water-based or fat-based filling is chosen, the baker/confectioner must have a heating system or a dosing system. Different systems can be used: multi-depositors (fillers), sucking dosage systems, wheel dosage systems and mini-folds systems. 

Fat-based or Water-based

Talking about how different textures of fillings impact product formulations and the baking/handling processes, Zeelandia illustrates with differences between fat-based and water-based fillings.

Fat-based fillings are, in general, less bake-stable and have a very smooth texture (“melts-in-the mouth”). Sugar in (non-emulsified) fat-based fillings may attract water from the product (e.g. muffin), which can cause moisture migration and subsequently, dryness of the baked product.

Water-based fillings are, in general, bake-stable, and have a different texture compared to fat-based (not as smooth). However, many varieties in texture can still be obtained; short, long or creamy, etc. Moisture migration can be prevented by choosing the right formulation and combination, aimed at a balance in water activity between the filling and the baked product.

Fillings with (fruit) pieces, nuts, seeds, vegetables, etc. require processes and equipment that can handle the consistency, maintain integrity of pieces, etc.

It is also possible to use fillings once the baking process is finished. This type of filling is, in general, very tasteful, and also adds to a positive, appealing impression of the product.

The Search for Natural

There are several conditions that make the use of natural colors challenging or the use of coloring ingredients that meet consumer approval; these include low pH value, a long shelf-life and exposure to light, in the case of end products that are packaged in transparent packaging. Using coloring ingredients/extracts and/or natural colors and flavors is, or is quickly becoming, the standard - at least in the EU region, according to the experts.

Fillings can have specific properties, e.g. tailored to one product or to a specific production line, and you can also use versatile ‘all-around’ fillings, either ready-to-use or instant. In some cases, additional ingredients can also be included by the baker/producer, increasing the possibilities even more.

The experts also see a strong growth in demand for savory fillings and savory toppings across many countries. This meets the needs of bakers who want to offer a broad product range that includes not only sweet, but also savory baked products. These savory fillings are often based on tomato sauce, vegetables, herbs and spices, etc.

Complementary information on fillings can be found in our print magazine European Baker & Biscuit (Sept/Oct)! 

Related articles: 

Zeelandia to Sell Its Bakery Equipment Producer to Focus on Ingredients 

Barry Callebaut Launches New Range of Fillings 

Cargill Offers Insights into New Coating and Filling Range 

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