Gluten-free products had been increasingly hitting the shelves to become one of the fastest growing food segments in recent times. Nowadays being gluten-free is a must even though it isn’t as attractive a proposition as it used to be. It seems to be everywhere on a food pack simply because it is a claim that has to be there without much further thought.
The whole point of gluten-free baked goods for instance was in response to the condition of coeliac disease was much more prevalent that used to be thought. Product developers stepped up to the plate and really made a difference by finding ingredients and formulations that took gluten out of a food. There is also the realization that free-from is a major draw for many consumers looking for perceived healthiness.
Has Gluten-Free Now Burst Its Bubble?
Gluten-free is something that doesn’t resonate with everyone but for ten years or more the trend has been one way even though it is losing some of its steam.
We looked at the evidence a few years back, where 1 in 140 consumers in the United States and 1 in 125 of the public in the United Kingdom struggle with the symptoms of ceoliac disease (Sansome-Smith, 2014).That number of people by the way who deal with coeliac disease is still there and wont go away anytime soon. Clearly, given the number there will always be a need for gluten-free foods.
In the USA, the total number of coeliacs is just over 3 million. It doesn’t actually explain why so much gluten-free produce is purchased yet consumers have increasingly less regard for it as a claim
What showed that the gluten-free trend was waning was market research in 2018. A culinary forecast by the USA’s National Restaurant Association (NRA) found that 44% of chefs thought the gluten-free trend was the hottest item around. However that number was one of the lowest recorded given it was such a hot trend (61%) in 2016 and 74% in 2013.
Why Is Gluten Such An Issue?
When gluten, which is found in most common cereals such as barley, rye and wheat is consumed by coeliacs, then gripping pains and a general feeling of malaise follows. For some the situation is so severe, that intestinal absorption of food is severely impaired and leads to severe malnutrition (Davison & Bridges, 1987; Ciclitira & Ellis, 1987).
The symptoms of gluten intolerance though are only seen in about 5 to 10% of individuals and only because they recognise that intolerance and were diagnosed with the condition. For the remainder who are not diagnosed, the clinical symptoms are just as severe, milder or might not even manifest themselves. It appears that being “celiac is not the driver of the trend towards gluten-free” but those who are “lifestylers”. About 20% of the US public claim to observe a gluten-free diet because they believe it is generally healthier. Likewise, a quarter of US consumers have purchased gluten-free products at various times because they perceive it does them no harm. That represents a huge opportunity for all food and beverage manufacturers.
What Changes Occur When Gluten Is Removed From A Baked Good
Removing gluten especially from baked goods has functional consequences. When gluten is absent, the texture of a baked good alters radically, producing a drier, grainy and crumble-like structure. It also reduces volume and can alter the cell structure especially noticeable in bread products. Processing operations also alter to accommodate such changes. The loss of gluten also means a reduced shelf-life and an increase in the perception of staling. The consumer of gluten-free products though always wants the same sensory performance as the gluten-based options. It would appear that in 2014, 86% of US gluten-free consumers were satisfied with the taste of their products which indicates how well product developers have risen to the challenge because it wasn’t the case four years ago.
In terms of product types, cookies and crackers appear to be the least impacted by removal of gluten whilst bread and pizza dough present the greatest challenge.
Gluten Replacement Ingredients
To overcome the removal of gluten, alternatives have been sought including alternative flour and starch, modified pre-gelatinised and cook-up starches, and various gums. Each ingredient replacement can be explained accordingly;
- Proteins: The protein ingredients that have been tested to replace wheat in a gluten-free product. They include whey, soy, maize zein, egg white powder, and various pulses. They are used between 2 and 5% w/w in a formulation. All these ingredients can provide a certain degree of functional structure and help with colour development.
- Native flours and starches: These make up most of the bulk and base of a formulation and can be used from 20% to 50% w/w. They are generally obtained from primary sources such as corn, potato, rice, and tapioca.
- Oats: An excellent source of gluten-free starch comes from oats which are used whole or as starch. Most people with coeliac disease tolerate gluten-free oats because they contain a protein called avenin which is related to gluten from wheat but shows enough of a difference to be tolerated.
- Cook-up native functional or modified starches: These ingredients, derived again from the same primary sources as for native flours, help in securing a similar texture to a gluten containing product. These can also be used from 20% to 50% w/w.
- Pre-gelatinized native functional starches or modified starches: These too are derived from corn, tapioca, rice, and potatoes. These are used at 2–10%w/w to prevent staling.
- Other hydrocolloids/gums: These include xanthan gum, guar gum, and cellulose, and they are to be used in a very small amount—0.5–3% w/w.
Pulses Are Suitable Alternative Ingredients For Gluten-Free Products
Pulse ingredients are free of gluten and viewed as suitable, highly desirable alternatives to cereal based ones for example. These are available as flours, semolina, protein, starch and fibre products. They are functional ingredients which can be used in base formulas for gluten free formulations. Pulse flours are non-GMO (genetically modified), suited to vegetarian products and natural food solutions. They are also good sources of fibre, starch and protein as well as possessing many vital vitamins and minerals.
The great prize for the developer was producing a gluten-free bread. .
Suppliers & Vendors Of Gluten-Free Baked Goods
If you have a sweet tooth then why not try ‘Deliciously Ella’s’ Melt in the Middle Chocolate Brownie. This is a brownie made with cacao and ground almond but uses coconut sugar as its main sweetener along with gluten-free oats and oat flour to replace wheat. It’s a clever move to keep that consistency in texture: a really fudge-like centre surrounded by a slightly crisper outside. Ideal for baking from frozen.
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Ciclitira, P.J., Ellis, H.J. (1987). Investigation of cereal toxicity in coeliac disease. Postgrad. Med. J. 63 pp. 767-775.
Sansome-Smith, A.W. (2014) The Rise Of Gluten-Free Baked Goods. Internal Market Research Report. Private Communication.