Despite their oxymoronic existence, gluten-free foods persist. Sales in this segment grew 17.8% from 2013 to 2016 according to research from Mintel, though that growth has slowed down from year to year. From 2015 to 2016, these products saw 17.9% growth, which is still worth noticing. Not only are numbers up, but the percentage of people choosing gluten-free also continues to ascend. Consumption increased 32% in 2016 as compared with 24% in 2013, according to Mintel.
“The trend for gluten-free products is one we’ve seen grow over the past decade,” said Yanling Yin, senior manager of bakery applications for Corbion. “What started out as an industry targeting those with celiac disease and other gluten intolerances has now grown to become a popular lifestyle choice for consumers who don’t necessarily have those types of dietary restrictions but perceive gluten-free foods to be healthier and more premium than traditional applications.”
In the quest to make products that mimic their conventional counterparts, formulators have come a long way. Sixty-nine per cent of American consumers said gluten-free products are higher quality than they used to be, according to Mintel’s “Gluten-Free Foods, US” report, while 68% said they are satisfied with the variety of gluten-free foods available. However, formulators see more room for improvement.
Removing gluten from foods whose very strength comes from the structure of gluten network leaves little for bakers to work with. The challenges hit on every front: taste, texture and shelf life. The gluten-free alternatives bakers produced in the past have struggled to match the nutritional value of traditional baked goods.
“These challenges haven’t changed over the years, but the types of solutions available to address them have,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, marketing manager of confectionery and bakery for Ingredion.
Improved by leaps and bounds
As bakers have raced to create acceptable gluten-free products, some applications have proven easier than others to reformulate. Some products posed more challenges, but the investment in research and development has yielded impressive results. Other baked goods still face challenges in reformulating to remove gluten.
“Some products have always been more easily formulated as gluten-free than others,” said Harold Ward, director of technical service and product applications for Bay State Milling Co. “Examples of those more easily formulated are cookies and brownies. The more challenging products are still those that would, in a wheat-based product, rely on developing a gluten matrix for structure and gas retention, such as breads and tortillas.”
Since the early days of gluten-free formulating, bread has received most of the attention.
“As more gluten-free functional ingredient solutions have become available, the bread category has been able to take advantage and create products that, in some cases, are just as good as the wheat-based versions,” Mr. Rodriguez said. And lately, gluten-free tortillas are where much of the leaps and bounds have been made.
Much of these improvements can be attributed to ingredient advancements.
“Over the years we’ve seen a shift in ingredient technology when it comes to gluten-free formulations — from regular gluten-free flours to those with physical treatment to regular starches to modified starches.” Ms. Yin said.
However, despite these improvements, yeast-leavened products continue to be more challenging, she said, because the gas retention capacity needed is so critical to the finished product characteristics. As bakers continue to research and test, suppliers have some ways around these issues to help bakers deliver the quality consumers expect.
In most baked goods, gluten is critical to developing the structure of the finished product. This contributes to mouthfeel, texture, volume and even taste.
“When formulating gluten-free baked goods, one of the challenges manufacturers face is making products with similar eating qualities as their gluten counterparts,” Ms. Yin said. “Wheat gluten provides viscoelastic properties to baked goods and helps to retain gas bubbles in the dough. It provides a crumb structure that consumers expect. Without gluten, there is a challenge to meet consumer expectations of texture and mouthfeel.”
These come from the lack of even structure gluten delivers, according to Mr. Rodriguez. This also contributes to reduced volume and results in dry, crumbly textures and grainy flavors.
There aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions for replacing gluten’s functionality in wheat-based baked goods. A common and effective strategy is using several ingredients to mimic the structure-building capabilities of gluten. This requires working closely with suppliers to find the right solution for a product.
“Working side-by-side with customers, Corbion can help baked goods manufacturers formulate gluten-free products with the synergy of ingredients to allow dough to rise in the oven, produce a nice cell structure and deliver the eating qualities consumers expect,” Ms. Yin said. Corbion offers a variety of gluten-free mixes and bases that bakers can experiment with.
At Bay State Milling’s Rothwell GrainEssentials Center, bakers can work closely with the company’s product applications team to find a solution to their gluten-free challenges. Work at this center yielded a line of gluten-free flours that is available in both refined and whole grain versions.
“These gluten-free all-purpose flours were formulated in our Rothwell GrainEssentials Center to deliver performance and functionality in a range of applications, including sheeted products,” Mr. Ward said.
Ingredion bases its gluten-free solutions in a variety of sources: tapioca, potato, rice, corn, hydrocolloid gums and pulses, as well as fibers and proteins. The company’s gluten-free texturizing system is a starch-based solution that helps bakers formulate gluten-free baked goods that closely resemble their gluten-containing counterparts at an affordable price point, another challenge with gluten-free ingredients. Ingredion also offers bulk flour systems that enable bakers to make high-quality gluten-free baked goods with more functionality and a clean, simple ingredient label.