Gluten-free doughs: difficult by nature

by Laurie Gorton
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Of course, the chief problem with processing gluten-free doughs is that they have no gluten. To be labeled “gluten-free,” foods can contain no more than 20 p.p.m. (20 mg per kg) gluten, according to regulations announced by the Food and Drug Administration in August 2013. The CODEX standard is the same. Even if present at 20 p.p.m. (the equivalent of a shotglass of vermouth added to a tanker load of gin), that’s not enough to form the unique wheat protein network responsible for the desirable light, airy texture of baked foods.

Guar and xanthan, often the choice to replace gluten’s structuring function, become very gummy and sticky when wet. They may gum up slicer blades during packaging of finished products. And from an ingredient handling standpoint, the dry materials are often lighter and starchier in texture than conventional wheat flour. Many gluten-free flours absorb more water than regular flours. Some flours exhibit reduced water retention, although typical gluten-free doughs are generally moist and sticky. They form gas cells slowly, and the elasticity of the dough system is decreased.

“The various grain flours, starches, gums and different protein sources impact the rheology of the dough,” said Cesar Zelaya, bakery technology manager, Handtmann, Inc., Lake Forest, Ill. “That makes each gluten-free dough unique in terms of how it needs to be properly handled for proofing or baking.”

And now, those structuring ingredients are changing again.

“The latest trend is to get rid of gums (guar and xanthan) that have become so high-priced because of competition from the oil drilling industry,” observed Franco Fusari, sales managing director, Minipan s.r.l., Massa Lombarda, Italy.
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