Overcoming gluten-free formulation challenges

Overcoming gluten-free formulation challenges

There’s a lot more to gluten-free formulation than just cutting gluten and bulking up with fat and sugar. Product expert Dilek Uzunalioglu lays out a combined approach that addresses organoleptic qualities as well as adequate nutritional enrichment.

Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, barley and rye, and often in oat (mostly because oats are processed in facilities that also work with the glutinous grains). Gluten must be avoided by people who have celiac disease, a severe intolerance to gluten or who are allergic to wheat. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that 1 in every 133 Americans has celiac disease.

But this formulation approach has even broader appeal; a gluten-free diet is one of the fastest-growing nutritional movements even for people without any allergies.

Formulating gluten-free brings some textural challenges to bakery food manufacturers. Common issues in gluten-free bakery product development are reduced volume, lack of an even cell structure, and a dry, crumbly, grainy texture that consumers find unappealing. To succeed formulators have to adhere as closely as they can to the texture and appearance of gluten-containing products. But how?

Processing considerations and texture optimization

Lack of wheat protein in the formulation brings some challenges to manufacturers. One of the challenges is dough handling. Gluten-free dough and batters lack the viscosity or elasticity of the gluten-containing dough, leading to difficulties in processibility and machinability. Ingredient changes often require modifications in the manufacturing process, which leads to higher costs or less efficient production.

The solutions offered for gluten-free formulation should be designed to minimize process changes. Processing challenges can be addressed using functional flours, modified starches, cold water soluble starches and gums. Based on the formulation, some or all of these may be required. Optimization needs to done to match the flow characteristics of gluten-free dough to a gluten-containing one.

Another challenge for manufacturers is to match the textural and sensory attributes of the gluten-containing products. Gluten-free products generally lack volume. Uniform grain development, crust formation and color development are poor compared to gluten-containing products. In addition, gluten-free products tend to have a dry, gritty or sandy texture with a crumbly mouthfeel.

These issues lead to lack of cohesiveness in the mouth—the degree to which a chewed product forms a ball and holds together. A similar approach to meeting the processing challenges can clear this hurdle, too—i.e. functional flours, special starches and gums.

When formulating gluten free, it is critical to define the textural attributes of gluten-containing benchmarks, which can be done using a descriptive sensory analysis. This extensive evaluation of the sensory properties that characterize a food translates them into precise, repeatable attributes. Once the texture goals have been identified, a combined technological approach can be laid out to meet those goals.

Ensuring nutritional profiles for gluten-free products

The other challenge in gluten-free formulation is to match the nutritional profile of a gluten-containing formulation. The nutritional profile of gluten-free products is often sacrificed when the enriched wheat flour is eliminated. Gluten-free products often lack protein, fiber and minerals. Therefore it is critical to balance the nutritional value of gluten-free products when formulating. Ingredients such as resistant starch and minerals may enhance the nutritional profile of gluten-free formulations.

Attention should be given to dough handling, final product texture and mouthfeel when enhancing as the formula may need to be adjusted.

Ingredients for gluten-free formulations

For example, the addition of Hi-maize 260 resistant starch in gluten-free formulations enhances the nutritional benefits while maintaining the consumer appeal.  Hi-maize provides clean taste, is versatile to use in different applications, and is easy to incorporate while maintaining desired texture, mouthfeel and appearance of regular baked goods. A few of the benefits of Hi-maize include weight and blood sugar management and digestive health—benefits that are supported by a broad foundation of scientific evidence.

As a source of calcium, magnesium and trace minerals, Aquamin calcified mineral source can also be used to enhance the nutritional profile of gluten-free products. Aquamin is sourced from marine red algae and it is environmentally friendly and sustainable. One of Aquamin’s most beneficial functional attributes is that it provides a clean taste thanks to its porous structure that complexes with fat and/or water to provides a smooth, non-chalky, non-gritty texture.

One approach some formulators have taken to achieve acceptable organoleptic properties in a gluten-free product is to boost fat and sugar content. Reading such a label could come as an unwelcome surprise for today’s health conscious consumers. Manufacturers should pay attention to matching the nutritional profile of gluten-containing products when formulating gluten-free products to ensure comparable fat and caloric values.

Additional ingredient solutions that can help manufacturers to overcome gluten-free formulation challenges include specialty flours and modified tapioca starch. Specialty flours are clean label functional blends of rice and tapioca flours created by proprietary technology that enable production of gluten-free products with a superior aspect, eating quality and taste compared to gluten-free alternatives.

At National Starch, we used a coordinated approach to develop these flours. First, the textural attributes of gluten-containing and gluten-free benchmarks were defined using descriptive sensory analysis conducted by a trained sensory panel and the gaps were identified. Then solutions were evaluated and optimized to match processing and volume, cell structure and textural sensory attributes of the gluten-containing products.

The specialty flours were shown to enhance dough hydration and reduce baking losses. Their unique composition provides good volume, a homogeneous crumb structure, and a smooth, soft and elastic texture with good bite.

Specialty flours also help to eliminate the undesirable traits commonly encountered in gluten-free products, such as sandiness, grittiness and crumbliness. They achieve better color and appearance vs. current gluten-free products and help maintain better freshness over shelf life than alternative gluten-free ingredients. Specialty flours are versatile to use in a range of baked goods and can be used in ready-to-eat, refrigerated, frozen, and dry-mix products.

Modified tapioca starch is another ideal solution as it enhances the texture and appearance of gluten-free products by complementing alternative flours used in gluten-free baking. It helps with the machinability of the dough by providing elasticity and provides moist, expanded texture, crispiness and chewiness. Using a modified tapioca starch can provide a neutral flavor with no grit and can reduce the amount of gums needed in the product. Testing has demonstrated that tapioca starch can go a long way toward meeting wheat flour benchmarks.

Of all of the considerations when formulating gluten-free products, priorities should be focused on manufacturing in a certified gluten-free facility, nutritional enrichment to ensure that profiles match those of gluten-containing products, which also means avoiding the addition of fats and sugars as much as possible, and finally, delivering on the high-quality taste, texture and eating experience that consumers expect.

Dilek Uzunalioglu is senior associate in bakery and snack applications for Ingredion (formerly Corn Products International/National Starch Food Innovation).

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