Meeting the gluten-free challenge

by Jeff Gelski
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The future of the gluten-free product category may depend on several factors, including product quality, but sales in 2010 point to a current marketing opportunity. Gluten-free product sales reached $306,083,373 in the four weeks ended Feb. 20, 2010, which marked an 18% increase from $258,509,729 in the four weeks ended Feb. 21, 2009, according to The Nielsen Co. Statistics covered U.S. food stores, excluding supercenters, with sales of $2 million or more.

“It’s always been on our customers’ radar,” said Kyle Marinkovich, marketing manager for Cargill, Minneapolis. “Over the last couple of years interest in it has increased significantly.”

Grain-based foods manufacturers seek ways to replace grains that have gluten, most notably wheat, and still keep a desired texture in a gluten-free product. Potential replacement ingredients may be based on tapioca, potatoes, corn, rice and ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa and teff.

“The original goal was to deliver a product that was edible for those specifically with gluten intolerances,” said Kate Gilbert, research associate scientist for Grain Processing Corp., Muscatine, Iowa. “Now the goal is for gluten-free bakery items to be edible and appealing not only to those who require that diet, but also to the average consumer. This brings greater opportunities for marketing, but more challenges to formulating gluten-free bakery items.”

It generally takes a combination of functional ingredients working together to match the textural characteristics of wheat-based bakery products, Dr. Gilbert said.

“These combinations need to provide structure and appropriate texture without leaving the finished product dry, crumbly, gritty or off-flavored,” she said.

Mr. Marinkovich said, “There is no other set of proteins that behaves like gluten. It’s very difficult to replicate.”

The long-term outlook of mainstream consumers turning to gluten-free products may be difficult to predict. A September 2009 report from The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., showed about 40 million U.S. consumers, or 13.2% of the population, were interested in gluten-free products.

“Will there always be a marketplace for gluten-free analog products?” the report said. “Yes, there will. But will gluten-free rise up as something significantly important — perhaps as important as, say, organic — to become one of the most enduring, mainstream food trends of the next decade? Absolutely not.”

People with celiac disease must avoid gluten in their diet. The disease affects 1 out of every 133 people, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Studio City, Calif. People with autism have been mentioned as other potential benefactors of gluten-free, casein-free diets.

The American Dietetic Association said, “Proponents of the (gluten-free) diet believe people with autism have a ‘leaky gut,’ or intestine, which allows parts of gluten and casein to seep into the bloodstream and affect the brain and central nervous system. The belief is, this may lead to autism or magnify its symptoms.

“To date, controlled scientific studies have not proven this true. However, some people report relief in symptoms after following a (gluten-free, casein-free) diet.”

Dee Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, said, “It seems to help with some people and some

people it doesn’t. I’ve worked with families where the whole family is gluten-free because a child has autism, and they really believe it helps the child.”

Ms. Sandquist, who has celiac disease, added people without celiac disease may follow a gluten-free diet simply because it makes them feel better.

According to The Hartman Group report, 93% of the people interested in a gluten-free diet are not diagnosed as having celiac disease. Opportunity thus exists to reach vast consumers interested in gluten-free products, but practically every grain-based food brings application challenges.

“Bread is generally the most challenging operation,” Mr. Marinkovich said, and added problems may arise in volume, crumb structure and texture.

Cargill offers a patent-pending bread base for gluten-free products described as offering authentic taste, a light and airy volume and a soft and moist texture, according to the company. The bread base also may be used to make tortillas, bagels, pizza crust, buns and rolls, Mr. Marinkovich said.

“It’s an easy way for manufacturers to quickly enter the gluten-free space because we’ve done a lot of front end work for them,” Mr. Marinkovich said.

American Key Food Products, Closter, N.J., has launched King Lion brand premium cassava flour that has been shown to work as a substitute for wheat flour. The flour is derived from the roots of the cassava plant, which is used to make tapioca starches, granules and pearls.

With bread, companies will need to use cassava flour in combination with another starch, but they should be able to reduce the number of ingredients in gluten-free products, said Carter Foss, technical sales director for American Key Food Products. Potato flour and cassava flour work well together in gluten-free bread.

Gluten-free cookies on the market may be a combination of rice starch, potato starch, almond flour and xanthan gum, Mr. Foss said. These are four key ingredients needed for a cookie to maintain the shape and bankability of a normal wheat-based cookie. Thus, companies may need to use four, five and sometimes six different ingredients to make a successful product, or one that mimics a wheat-based product, Mr. Foss said.

In contrast, cassava flour may be used as the single replacement for wheat flour, which simplifies the ingredient label, formulation and inventory, he said.

Grain Processing Corp. offers gluten-free ingredients derived from either corn or rice. Chocolate chip cookies, yellow cake, chocolate cake and cookie flour are potential applications.

“In a cookie or bar application, GPC ingredients can be used along with sorghum flour to create a ‘flour replacer,’“ Dr. Gilbert said. “The blend is approximately 25% of the cookie formula and includes unmodified corn starch, a cold water swelling modified food starch and a film forming modified food starch along with sorghum flour. This allows many cookie formulas to be converted to gluten-free with a 1:1 flour to blend substitution.

“These formulations and flour replacement technology can be applied to finished baked goods and mixes to accommodate various markets.”

In cake applications, structure must be provided without causing off-textures or off-flavors, Dr. Gilbert said.

“This can be accomplished by using unmodified corn starch at approximately 20% and a cold water swelling modified food starch at 2% of the formula,” she said. “The unmodified corn starch adds bulk while the cold water swelling starch increases the viscosity of the batter to allow the structure to stabilize during baking.”

National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., promoted a gluten-free sugar cookie prototype at Supply Expo in Anaheim, Calif., in mid-March. Homecraft GF gluten-free solutions from National Starch were used to produce a rich, crispy texture commonly found in many boxed cookies. National Starch originally

introduced gluten-free solutions in 2009 by combining its experience in producing such gluten-free

ingredients as corn, tapioca and rice with its functional flour expertise.

“Our original soft, chewy, chocolate chip prototype was very well-received,” said Bob Allin, marketing director, North America, for National Starch Food Innovation. “But bakers told us it was more suitable for fresh baked or home dry mixes. That’s why our bakery applications team went to work to optimize a formula and prototype for the gluten-free boxed cookie segment. We think they nailed it with this new sugar cookie.”

Corn Products International, Inc., Westchester, Ill., has offered its Expandex modified tapioca starch for about five years, said Eric Shinsato, technical sales support manager. Corn Products originally was working with a company affiliate in Colombia on blends for ethnic markets in the United States. Then Corn Products found the product was gluten-free and began checking out other

potential markets, Mr. Shinsato said.

Expandex may enhance the appearance, texture and flavor of baked foods, create a moist and expanded crumb, improve a food’s crispy texture in

baking applications, reduce the amount of gums used, extend shelf life and bring out the natural flavor of baked foods, according to Corn Products.

Mr. Shinsato said Expandex is not a 1:1 replacement for wheat flour and must be used in conjunction with other non-wheat grains. He mentioned rice, sorghum, bean flour, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and teff.

Each of these alternative grains has its own unique flavor, Mr. Shinsato said.

“Some people are more sensitive to flavors than others,” he added. “Some people pick up on sorghum.”

Ancient grains are crucial gluten-free

ingredients from ConAgra Mills,

Omaha. The company promoted its new Eagle Mills gluten-free, all-purpose, multigrain flour at SupplyExpo. The flour is made with a blend of brown rice and the ancient grains of amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, millet and teff. The flour was featured in pancakes, sandwiches, pastas and snack food items at the ConAgra Mills’ booth.

“Gluten-sensitive consumers crave foods with the same visual, texture and flavor appeal as mainstream products,” said Mike Veal, vice-president of

marketing for ConAgra Mills. “With this new flour we can help manufacturers provide gluten-sensitive consumers and their families with nutritious foods that they will look forward to eating.”

Other gluten-free ingredient options from ConAgra Mills include amaranth flour; quinoa flour; sorghum flour; millet flour; teff flour; a whole five-grain multigrain blend of amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, millet and teff; customized multigrain blends; and blends with chia.

Flaxseed is another gluten-free ingredient option. Gluten-free products may have a relatively high glycemic index, but using flax may improve the overall nutritional profile of the products, said Marilyn Stieve, business development manager — flax for Glanbia Nutritionals, Monroe, Wis. Besides being gluten-free, flaxseed is known for such nutritional components as omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants and lignans.

“Using Glanbia Nutritionals’ unique patented flaxseed processing technology, OptiSol 5000 is specially refined to offer manufacturers of baked goods, tortillas, pasta and sauces a highly functional ingredient which improves eating quality and flavor attributes as well as offering an improved nutritional profile,” Ms. Stieve said.

OptiSol 5000 flax ingredients work synergistically with gluten-free flour blends, she added.

“In addition to improving overall texture, crumb structure and moisture balance, OptiSol also naturally provides a ‘grainy’ flavor which masks many of the negative attributes associated with gluten-free flour blends,” Ms. Stieve said. MBN

— Jeff GelskiA.D.A. spokesperson requests enriched gluten-free products

Having been diagnosed with celiac disease nine years ago, Dee Sandquist said she appreciates how the baking industry has improved gluten-free products over that time. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten in their diet.

“There is certainly a much better choice right now and more variety,” said Ms. Sandquist, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Instead of having one or two bread mixes or cake mixes to choose from, there are several. Probably the biggest thing that has changed are ready-bake products, like breads, that are frozen. People really appreciate it.”

While texture and other eating qualities have improved in gluten-free baked foods, now they could use some enrichment, such as with B vitamins, she said.

“If they can start looking at enriching products with vitamins that regular breads have, that would be terrific,” Ms. Sandquist said.

She added glycemic index may be a problem because gluten-free foods may be denser than their conventional counterparts. She said she would encourage manufacturers to use healthier fats. MBNGluten-free products a hit with ‘guru’

Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru and NBC TV consultant, ranks new product launches weekly with 100 being a perfect score and any score 85 or higher ranking as a “hit.” Here are three recent “hits” for gluten-free baked foods:

Nature’s Path Organic Crunchy Maple Sunrise Cereal (97) — “Even if you are not avoiding gluten, this is a terrific cereal,” Mr. Lempert said.

Cherrybook Kitchen Gluten-free Dreams Mini Cookies (86) — “The flavor of these cookies is very good, but the texture is not going to be as smooth as you find with a non-gluten-free product,” Mr. Lempert said.

GlutenFreeda’s Gluten-free Burrito (85) — “In just 3 minutes, you will have a satisfying snack,” Mr. Lempert said. MBNScientists turn to HPMC as a gluten substitute

ALBANY, CALIF. — Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service are using a commercially available, plant-derived carbohydrate known as HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose) as a substitute for gluten while seeking to create new all-oat or all-barley bread.

Oats and barley both are lacking in gluten, according to the A.R.S. Gluten traps the airy bubbles formed by yeast, which lifts dough to form high, nicely textured loaves. HPMC has been shown to perform the biochemical chore, too.

The scientists at the A.R.S. Western Regional Research Center in Albany are using HPMC derived from a plant source proprietary to Dow Wolff Cellulosics, Midland, Mich. HPMC polymers are known for their ability to bind, retain water, thicken, form films and provide many other performance benefits, according to Dow Wolff Cellulosics. MBN

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