superfood cake

Maybe it is just clever marketing, but I would eat a superfood infused cake for breakfast IF it tasted good, texturally resembled cake and delivered super health benefits. What are the realities of making a functional super food breakfast cake? Could breakfast cake become the next viral food trend? If so, MOVE OVER BACON! – unless you are part of my superfood breakfast cake.

Functional ingredients that impart some sort of superfood antioxidant boost are always in abundance at food shows. Imagine boosting your cake formulation to include a chia seed pomegranate spread, pea protein for plant powered aminos, or a frosting with a probiotic boost.

However, as bakers, functional ingredients are our fundamental tools. Knowing how to use the basics will allow us to have a consistent product with reliable results. Once we have mastered our functional foods we can then play around with superfood additions.

The basics of cake

Formulation wise, cakes are often divided between high ratio and low ratio cakes. High ratio cakes have a sugar weight equal to or greater than the weight of the flour, while low ratio cakes have a sugar weight that does not exceed the flour weight. Cakes can be classified based on the combination of formulations and production methods: batter (pound cake and layer cake), foam (sponge cake), chiffon (a combination of a batter & foam).1

Flour, sugar, egg and fat form the basic components of all cakes. Understanding the function of each of these ingredients in cake baking can give us a better idea of where we can substitute super foods such as flax, chia, or mushrooms. The  two vital stages for the determination of crumb structure and final volume are mixing and baking.1

Though the process is still not fully understood here is an overview of a batter type cake and the ingredients functional role:

Ingredient Role During Cake Batter Mixing Role During Cake Baking
Flour Starch granules swell aiding water absorption. Gluten acts as a water binder and enhances viscosity. Starch gelatinization sets cake structure and volume.
Sugar Promotes breakdown of fat crystals during creaming process. Controls oven rise, structure fixation and collapse. Provides browning.
Egg Protein coagulation, emulsification,viscosity and volume. Cake structure and leavening. Stabilizing gas cells as fat melts.
Fat Air is incorporated into the fat providing a framework for the leavening gases and water vapor released during baking. Enhances aeration for leavening and improves tenderness and mouthfeel.

Functional ingredients with a super boost

Superfoods or functional foods are defined as a food or food ingredient that may provide physiological benefits and helps in preventing and/or curing of diseases.2  Baking studies on chia, flax, and mushrooms have shown promise of combining the needed functionality for cakes along with a superfood boost. According to the studies, chia flour had the most promise of providing function, consumer acceptability, and a nutritional boost.

Whole Chia Flour

Whole chia flour (WCF) was added in a pound cake recipe and evaluated for nutritional and sensory qualities. The incorporation of whole chia flour resulted in a nutritionally enhanced pound cake, mainly in relation to the omega-3  α- linolenic acid content and omega06/ omegoa-3 ratio and an increase of 7g/100g of protein.3

It is possible to incorporate WCF into pound cake formulations and obtain a product with good technological and sensory performances. The presence of hydrogenated vegetable fat helps to minimize adverse effects of WCF on the specific volume and firmness of cakes.3 The best technological results were obtained for cakes produced with up to 15gWCF/100 f flour mixture and from 16 to 20 g HFV.  The experimental cakes had a considerable increase in superfood status while still retaining positive sensory results compared to the control.

Flax Seed

Flax seed has emerged as an attractive nutritional food because of its exceptionally high content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), dietary fiber, high quality protein and phytoestrogens.2 Flaxseeds contain about 55% ALA, 28-30% protein and 35% fiber.2   When used as an egg replacer in baked goods, the end products were slightly gummier and chewier with less loaf volume than formulas with egg. Usage is recommended at 1 tablespoon milled flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water.

Research done on using flax as a fat replacer in sponge cake showed extremely good results when used as a fat replacement at 30% in formula. In the attributes of texture, taste and overall acceptance sensory analysis showed that there were no significant differences (P>0.05) between the control and 30% usage.4 Higher replacement rates of 50% or 70% textural changes such as hardness, increased chewiness, and decreased sensory acceptability.4

Mushroom Flour

Another study on mushroom flour had mixed results. The β-glucans contained in mushrooms have beneficial health effects such as hypocholesterolaemic, anti-tumor, and immunomodulatory activities.5 In this study β-glucan from powdered Lentinus edodes mushrooms was substituted for wheat flour in cake baking. The baking results showed that the use of β-glucan enriched materials (BGEMs) for wheat flour produced cakes containing 1 gram of β-glucan per serving with similar volume and textural properties to the control.5

This may be enough to allow heart healthy claims since foods containing .75 g of β-glucans per serving for oats can currently use this claim.5 Cakes baked with higher levels of BGEMs (2g and 3g per serving) using wheat flour had a denser texture and increased hardness.  Further studies would be needed to determine if the addition of mushroom flour can make the superfood status needed for a breakfast cake.

I don’t know if a superfood  cake is going to hit the shelves anytime soon. Replacing the basic components of flour, eggs, sugar, and fat with superfoods can be challenging.  Bakers, if you are up for the challenge and need a sensory trained expert to taste test your bench formulations, PM me and I’ll give you my address!


  1. Wilderjans, Edith, Annelies Luyts, Kristof Brijs, and Jan A. Delcour. “Ingredient functionality in batter type cake making.” Trends in Food Science & Technology 30.1 (2013): 6-15.
  2. Kajla, Priyanka, Alka Sharma, and Dev Sood. “Flaxseed—a potential functional food source.” Journal of Food Science and Technology 52.4 (2014): 1857-1871.
  3. Luna Pizarro, Patricia, Eveline Lopes Almeida, Norma Cristina Sammán, and Yoon Kil Chang. “Evaluation of whole chia ( Salvia hispanica L.) flour and hydrogenated vegetable fat in pound cake.” LWT – Food Science and Technology 54.1 (2013): 73-79.
  4. Eslava‐Zomeño, Cristina, Amparo Quiles, and Isabel Hernando. “Designing a Clean Label Sponge Cake with Reduced Fat Content.” Journal of Food Science 81.10 (2016): C2352-C2359.
  5. Kim, Juyoung, Seung Mi Lee, In Young Bae, Hyuk‐Gu Park, Hyeon Gyu Lee, and Suyong Lee. “(1–3)(1–6)‐β‐Glucan‐enriched materials from Lentinus edodes mushroom as a high‐fibre and low‐calorie flour substitute for baked foods.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 91.10 (2011): 1915-1919.

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