Gluten-Free Is Too Often Taste-Free

CHICAGO—An estimated 2 million Americans are afflicted with celiac disease, an intolerance for food containing wheat, and the market for gluten-free products is booming even while food companies and researchers have yet to fully solve their greatest challenge—making products that taste good.

“There is clearly a market opportunity for gluten-free foods,” said Jodi Engelson, a senior research scientist at Cargill and speaking here at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo. “For the patients who suffer, the diagnosis rate is increasing. In response to this, we have witnessed over a 100 percent increase in gluten-free products over the last seven years.”

Yet taste—or more specifically, good taste—is an issue.

Wheat is more easily replaced in products like sauces, but more difficult in baked goods like bread and cookies. Products suffer in terms of texture and shelf life.

“That’s the real challenge for a product development person,” Engelson said.

Ranjit Kadan, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the gluten-free market is the fastest growing segment of health food products in the country. Where the market was estimated at $210 million in 2001, it is close to $700 million today. It’s projected to be $1.7 billion by 2010.

The demand for wheat-free products has grown as the number of people with celiac disease has risen

“Until recently, we thought it was a rare disease,” said Kadan, “But that’s not so. In 2003, we found that 1 out of 133 in the U.S. had it.”

Congress has mandated the Food and Drug Administration define gluten-free products by 2008. Currently, there is no standard, and products may claim food is gluten-free if it has no gluten, if it has a limited amount of gluten, or if it never had gluten.

“So far, we’ve received over 700 comments to the proposed rule,” said Geraldine June, an FDA official.

Now in its 67th year, the IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo is the world’s largest annual scientific forum and exposition on food. Ranked among the largest U.S. conventions, the meeting delivers comprehensive, cutting-edge research and opinion from food science-, technology-, marketing- and business-leaders.

Concluding Tuesday, the IFT annual meeting precedes Wednesday’s IFT Global Food Safety & Quality conference, and the IFT Food Nanotechnology conference.
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Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, IFT is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see IFT.org.

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