Sales trends have led food manufacturers to launch numerous gluten-free products over the past year. Although perhaps ripe with marketing opportunity, such launches also may bring application headaches, because gluten serves a purpose.

“The gluten forms a matrix, and that matrix intertwines and helps trap the gas as products are baking,” said Carter Foss, technical sales director for American Key Food Products, Closter, N.J. “Without that, you may still get a product to rise, but then when you pull it out of the oven, it could easily collapse.”

Without gluten, a manufacturer may need a combination of other ingredients to keep proper texture in the product. Ingredients based on tapioca, potatoes, corn, rice and ancient grains such as amaranth, quinoa and teff are possible additions to gluten-free products.

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.

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. But people without celiac disease also are purchasing gluten-free products.

“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.”

Mark Purpura, technical sales manager for Advanced Food Systems, Inc., Somerset, N.J., added, “Some of the major texture problems we encounter with gluten-free products are they tend to be either very gummy or very dry. Often they tend to appear under leavened or dense.

“When we develop texture systems for gluten-free products, we often need to develop both the leavening system and texture system. Another key is the texture of the dough itself, especially in bread and pasta doughs. If not developed or formulated properly, gluten-free doughs tend to fall apart when they are processed.”

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,’” Ms. Gilbert said. “The blend is approximately 25% of the cookie formula and includes unmodified cookie 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.”

Some overall texture innovations from Grain Processing Corp. include MO40 low DE maltodextrin and modified food starches under the Pure-Gel, Pure-Cote and Inscosity brand names.

“Grain Processing’s starches and maltodextrin can significantly improve textural attributes in a wide range of applications,” said Celeste Sullivan, technical manager, food applications, for Grain Processing Corp. “When choosing the right ingredient for each formulation, it is critical to consider the processing conditions, pH and additional ingredients used for the optimum desired texture and stability.”

For gluten-free products, American Key Food Products 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 are used to make tapioca starches, granules and pearls. The cassava flour works as a single replacement for wheat flour, which simplifies the ingredient label, formulation and inventory, Mr. Foss said.

For several years Corn Products International, Inc., Westchester, Ill., has promoted Expandex modified tapioca starch for use in gluten-free products. Penford Food Ingredients Co., Centennial, Colo., has launched PenTechGF, an ingredients system for gluten-free baking that features a newly developed corn starch.

Gluten-free ingredient solutions appeared at the Supply Expo in Anaheim, Calif., in mid-March.

National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., promoted a gluten-free sugar cookie prototype made with Homecraft GF gluten-free solutions designed to produce a crispy texture commonly found in many boxed cookies. National Starch in 2009 originally introduced gluten-free solutions by combining its experience in producing such gluten-free ingredients as corn, tapioca and rice.

“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.”

ConAgra Mills, Omaha, promoted its new Eagle Mills gluten-free, all-purpose, multi-grain 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 the main ingredient in a gluten-free OptiSol 5000 product line from Glanbia Nutritionals, which has a U.S. office in Monroe, Wis.

“Flaxseed is naturally gluten-free and contains fibers, gums, proteins and lipids, which provide structure, moisture retention and improved eating quality,” said Marilyn Stieve, business development manager — flax, Glanbia Nutritionals. “Using Glanbia Nutritionals’ unique patented flaxseed processing technology, OptiSol 5000 is specially refined to offer manufacturers of baked goods, tortillas, pastas and sauces a highly functional ingredient which improves eating quality and flavor attributes as well as offering an improved nutritional profile.”

Hydrocolloids are other potential allies in the creation of gluten-free products.

“Hydrocolloids are often used to mimic the texture of both fat and starch, characteristics that would be valuable to the gluten-free product formulator,” said Mary Lou Cunningham, R.&D. innovation manager for TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md.. “Replacing the structural component that gluten provides is of paramount concern. This can be accomplished by using hydrocolloids such as xanthan and hydroxypropryl methylcellulose (HPMC).”