KANSAS CITY — Gluten-free is not going away despite what some people may say. That was my conclusion after I attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, where I was surprised to see the amount of gluten-free products.
When developing these baked goods, the two challenges formulators face include structure and gas retention. The trick involves getting the structure to set up while the gases, whether from yeast or chemical leavening, are still being held.
A lattice from proteins, sugar crystallization in dry crisp sweet products, and cohesive-type hydrocolloids and carbohydrates can provide true structure.
For the lattice-protein structures, eggs are the obvious ingredient and probably the easiest. Some whey protein isolates also provide structure, but watch what they do to eating quality and cost. Another good option is oat flour, which hasn’t been used much before because of its limited availability on the market. That has now changed. It has both protein and fibers that form films, hold in gas and seem to set up in a baked product creating an open texture. It also features beta glucan, which isn’t just good for the heart; it’s also a big help for gluten-free products.
Common rice flour, tapioca starch/flour and potato blends tend to absorb a lot of water and give the gummy texture characteristic of many early gluten-free muffins and bread. In the pre-gel form, however, they can work very well.
The type of rice flour can make a huge difference in a product’s texture. Common long-grain rice is used to make most rice flours, and no matter how fine the mesh, it will have that sandy mouthfeel. This is where using flours made from short- or medium-grain rice can make a difference.
Newer, more recognized flour sources include legumes like lentils, peas and chickpeas. These feature higher levels of proteins and fibers compared with traditional grains. Despite the better nutritional profile, they are not considered whole grains, a claim that’s often sought after. Muffins and cookies made with heat-treated forms of legumes are near identical to proteins containing gluten. Part of the excellent functionality of the legume-based flours is their ability to hold in gases as well.
For gas retention, film formation is needed to get lift and cohesiveness in the product. The most common is xanthan gum that gives products a network of film formers to hold the gases in combination with eggs in the product. Together with a proper blend of flours that don’t absorb too much water, the result is a nice product. I wouldn’t be surprised if more specialized gums come out on the market duplicating and improving on the functionalities of xanthan gum. Oat flour helps in forming films and for holding gases.
Starches are typically designed to keep fat out of fried foods. This is where potato starches come into play in gluten-free: They form excellent films. The negative is they absorb a fair amount of water. That balance of absorption and functionality needs to be achieved in the formulation.Gluten provides product cohesiveness in products through structure and film to hold the gases of leavening agents. Duplicate these in your gluten-free product, and you have a winner.