Corn protein a step toward ‘holy grail’ for gluten-free bread, say researchers

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Defatted corn protein could be used for making gluten-free bread with a crumb structure and texture closer to that of wheat bread, according to chemists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Developing palatable gluten-free breads has been a major challenge for bakers because gluten – the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and spelt – plays a crucial role in giving bread its chewy, elastic texture. Meanwhile, demand for gluten-free products has increased as more Americans are being diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which symptoms are triggered by gluten consumption.

An article published in the latest edition of Agricultural Research Magazine details how ARS chemists Scott Bean and Tilman Schober at the Grain Quality and Structure Research Unit in Manhattan, Kansas have been working on ways to replicate the texture of gluten-containing bread without the gluten. They said they have had some success using non-gluten-containing grains for pan breads, but for leavened breads, the dough tends to spread out too much.

They had previously found that using a corn protein called zein could produce a more wheat-like dough, but the resulting bread was still flatter than wheat bread and lacked dough strength. However, by removing some of its fat content, they found they could make a bread that more closely resembles wheat bread.

“We found that removing more of the fat from the protein’s surface allows the proteins to stick to each other much like wheat proteins do — leading to the elastic nature of wheat dough,” Bean said. “…Corn protein, in our view, is an intermediate step to achieving the Holy Grail of gluten-free breads — forming a wheat-like dough using non-wheat proteins, resulting in products with a fluffy, light texture.”

Bean and Schober said that sorghum may prove even more effective than defatted corn protein as a replacement for wheat in breads.

The research could lead to the development of more palatable gluten-free breads for the estimated 1 in 133 Americans with celiac disease – as well as for others with wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, they said.

Source: Agricultural Research Magazine