Gluten free finally gets tasty

Gluten free finally gets tasty

Food formulators and bakers have been challenged to mimic the performance and shelf life of wheat flour with gluten-free materials. What was once dry and crumbly has evolved into gluten-free solutions that consumers can finally feel good about. Yadunandan Dar, PhD, explains.

Gluten — more specifically wheat gluten — is a critical ingredient that provides many physical and aesthetic properties needed to produce consumer-acceptable baked goods. Gluten contributes notable structural properties, such as spread in cookie batter, dome shape in muffins, and cell structure in lighter baked goods such as bread and cakes, plus appropriate shelf life in all classes of baked goods.

Gluten also provides many attributes that consumers find appealing, such as texture and colour. Trying to achieve all this functionality without gluten makes it very difficult to prepare desirable baked goods with gluten-free materials. Food formulators and bakers have been challenged to mimic the texture, performance and shelf life of wheat flour with gluten-free materials. They are trying to satisfy an urgent need for the estimated 3-5 million people in North America and tens of millions worldwide with gluten sensitivities.

According to market researcher Packaged Facts, gluten-free product sales have grown at an average annual rate of 28 per cent since 2004, and reached $1.56 billion in 2008, says Natural Foods Merchandiser.

Consumers of baked goods in this fast-growing segment should not have to compromise on taste and texture because of health concerns. We are finally approaching a state of technology where trade-offs are becoming a thing of the past. The baking industry in particular yearns for greater latitude in manufacturing consumer-pleasing gluten-free baked goods.

With that goal in mind, National Starch Food Innovation has combined its long experience in producing gluten-free ingredients — corn, tapioca, rice — and its unique functional-flour expertise to create a family of gluten-free ingredients. Researchers have optimised desirable textural attributes in baked-goods formulations with these ingredients.

The new gluten-free products can replace much of the functionality of wheat flour. The products contain ingredients made with a proprietary physical treatment process, without additives or chemicals, and that impart important functionality that retains moisture and provides baked goods with textures typical of wheat flour.

In addition to good baking and eating properties, the new gluten-free solutions carry a clean label and are considered more wholesome because they are flours, which mean they retain more of the grain than hydrocolloid-based, gluten-free ingredients. This is critical for people with gluten intolerance who need proteins, fibre and micronutrients from the grains they eat.

Rice flour and tapioca flour can be used for the production of pancakes, pound cakes, high-ratio cakes, biscuits, muffins, bread, breadsticks and rolls, waffles, pizza crust, and similar food products. A second National Starch blend is labelled as 'tapioca flour, rice flour' on the ingredient statement, and is used for the production of cookies, pie crust, brownies, batter for fried foods, tortillas, wraps, shortbread, baked crackers and similar food products. \[See photo comparisons, for more.\]

The products have broad applicability, and function well by themselves or when used with small amounts of other texturising ingredients to help match the texture of wheat flour-containing products, and they have been evaluated for use in home recipes, packaged mixes and industrial-scale formulations. The easy-to-formulate drop-in replacement flours mean that, in most applications, they can readily replace flour or existing gluten-free ingredients — without formulation adjustment. National Starch has developed a large library of starting formulations that have been optimised for appealing texture to assist bakers with their new or reformulated products.

A trained sensory panel evaluated our new gluten-free ingredients in recipes for cookies, muffins and cakes. The panel relied on a continuum of key consumer-appeal criteria — from dry and crumbly to moist and chewy, and from grainy to smooth. It looked at leading gluten-free brands, benchmark gluten-containing products and National Starch recipes that include the new gluten-free solutions.

The sensory panel data show that the National Starch recipes come very close to the gluten-containing products on important attributes — smooth, moist, chewy — while even the best commercial gluten-free products fell short. With this data in hand, we are confident we can assist bakers in producing exceptional gluten-free products without major compromises.

Yadunandan Dar, PhD, is applications technology manager at National Starch Food Innovation. The company's Homecraft Create GF 10 mixes appears on the ingredient statement as 'rice flour, tapioca flour.'

Gums for bars
FI talks with Dr Mar Nieto, senior principal scientist at TIC Gums, about how gums do more than merely hold nutrition bars together.

FI: What is the primary benefit of using hydrocolloid gums in bars? Functionally, as an alternative to gelatin? Functionally, to hold the bar pieces together? Or as a fat replacer?

MN: Gums can function as an adhesive to bind the bar pieces together as replacement for gelatin or corn syrup. However, although all gums are sticky when made into paste, choosing a low-viscosity gum, such as gum arabic, that can be made into a thick syrup at high concentration or high Brix is your best option to minimise the amount of free water you are adding to the product and prevent textural problems.

FI: How important is the nutritional bonus of gums as a fibre source?

MN: Other gums can easily be added to the bars at a functional dose — the thick gums like guar, konjac and pectin — to impart other health benefits like providing satiety, maintaining healthy cholesterol already within normal limits, and improving the glucose response of diabetics. In addition, these fibres including gum arabic are prebiotics. They boost growth of good bacteria in our colon.

FI: What challenges do working with gums pose — water-binding, texture or mouthfeel issues?

MN: The biggest challenge is making a high Brix syrup with a low water activity of approximately 0.65-0.70, similar to that of corn syrup. Our experience is that this can be achieved with gum arabic by adding glycerin to the syrup recipe.


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