According to What’s in Store 2016, the annual trends report from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, to retain shoppers, retailers must consider growing consumer interest in a wide array of wheat and non-wheat whole grains. “Whether for gluten-free needs or general wellness, the benefit of complex whole and ancient grains is starting to gain broader appeal,” said Mary Kay O’Connor, managing editor of the report.

Working with non-wheat flours in traditional applications comes with a number of challenges, most notably structure development of baked foods. When wheat flour is removed or reduced in a formulation, so are the two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, responsible for forming gluten. When glutenin and gliadin are mixed with water, they connect and cross-connect to form elastic strands of gluten, which then capture and retain leavening gasses and provide structure to baked foods. Gluten also aids in binding water, a key factor in freshness.

“When it comes down to it, working with non-wheat flours, especially going completely gluten-free, is just weird,” said Sarah Watson, associate brand manager, Watson Inc. “It takes everything you have ever learned about baking and just throws it out the window.

“This is best exemplified with bread,” she continued. “With traditional wheat bread, you only need a couple of ingredients. With gluten-free bread, there is no single gluten-free flour that is a direct substitute for wheat flour. So, often you use twice as many ingredients, with a mix of different flours and starches, to get a similar texture and flavor.”

Processing is typically complicated, too. “Low-gluten and gluten-free systems tend to resemble liquid batters and, therefore, can present challenges with production equipment,” Ms. Watson said. “In terms of shelf life, many gluten-free formulations contain more bound water than their wheat-based counterpart, which can create a molding problem. As for nutrition, traditional gluten-free flours and starches have very little inherent nutritional value, which is why gluten-free systems are prime for fortification.”

Gluten-free is the extreme in the non-wheat bakery category. The growing trend is to partially replace wheat flour with those obtained by grinding grains, legumes, nuts and even some fruits and vegetables. This keeps some gluten in the formulation while adding value in terms of color, flavor, texture and, often, nutrition.