KANSAS CITY — While the gluten-free market continues to grow, food formulators may consider ingredients that link gluten-free products to other trends like plant-based, keto and sustainability.

ResearchAndMarkets.com, Dublin, Ireland, forecast the US gluten-free food market to reach $10.96 billion by 2029 through a compound annual growth rate of 8.3%. The International Food Information Council’s 2022 Food and Health Survey found 9% of respondents were following a gluten-free diet, which compared to a plant-based diet at 12%, a keto or high-fat diet at 7% and a low-carb diet at 6%.

“Ketogenic and low-carb trends go hand-in-hand with gluten-free,” said Laurie Colin, senior technical business development manager for the Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, Calif. “Since most of the carbohydrates are removed from the formulation when gluten-free flours are used, breads, tortillas and batters can be included without breaking those diets.

“Another trend to consider when formulating for gluten-free consumers is plant-based. The largest share increase of the gluten-free product market is mainly attributed to the increasing animal protein intolerances and the increasing vegan population. Formulators can tap into the already present — and growing — market by making gluten-free alternatives to cakes, cookies, pancakes and more with plant-based ingredients.”

Almond flour, which contains 3 grams of carbohydrates per cup, works well in keto diets, some of which allow for 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, she said.

“Another interesting development is that gluten-free is becoming associated with the plant-based trend,” explained Marina Migueli, senior global marketing manager, health and wellness for Tate & Lyle, PLC, London. “Spoonshot (a research platform using artificial intelligence) shows that plant-based is the most associated topic in consumer conversations around gluten-free, and this makes sense, as consumers desire to reduce or eliminate wheat ingredients from their diets are resorting to alternative plant-based ingredients, including flours used in baked goods, for example.”

Tate & Lyle in May acquired Nutriati, an ingredient technology company. The transaction included Nutriati’s Artesa chickpea protein and Artesa chickpea flour businesses. The ingredients are gluten-free as well as soy-free and plant-based, said Sue Butler, senior technical manager, nutrition, bakery and confectionery for Tate & Lyle. The chickpea protein contains a minimum of 60% protein and about 28% dietary fiber.

“Artesa chickpea products can be easily incorporated into a range of applications,” Ms. Butler said. “The high starch content of the flour gives unique functionality to replace egg or other modified starches in sweet baked goods. In salty snacks, such as crackers, crisps or puffs, it gives a nice crispy, crunchy texture and has a great clean taste with little off-flavors.

“Artesa chickpea protein is high in lysine, which is complementary to grain-based proteins, which tend to be lower in lysine. Using these in combination can help formulators obtain a complete plant protein to enrich a range of applications.” 

Fixing nitrogen 

Pulses like chickpeas, yellow peas, beans and lentils bring sustainable benefits, too.

Yellow peas fix nitrogen by taking it from the air and converting it to fertilizer available to the soil, said Aaron Reed, senior food technologist for Cargill, Minneapolis, which offers Puris pea protein ingredients.

“Farmers growing peas can add up to 70 lbs of nitrogen per acre of production, reducing the amount of commercial fertilizer needed on their farms,” he said. “This, in turn, reduces fertilizer run-off, helping to protect vulnerable rivers and waterways.”

Ancient grains sorghum and quinoa are other gluten-free ingredients with sustainability benefits.

Harvest Edge gold sorghum from Chicago-based ADM needs little water and fertilizer, said Paula LaBine, marketing director, milling and baking solutions. The ancient grain offers a sweet, nutty flavor and light color.

“Sorghum serves as a neutral base that can enhance the chewy texture in a variety of sweet and savory gluten-free products,” Ms. LaBine said. “Plus, we can toast white sorghum to more closely mimic the taste of wheat flour when that is desired in the final application.”

All the Harvest Edge gold sorghum is sourced from acres enrolled in sustainable agriculture projects. Many of the growers have adopted regenerative agriculture practices such as increasing crop diversity, minimizing soil disturbance and integrating livestock. HarvestEdge is processed in ADM’s carbon-neutral mill in Dodge City, Kan.

Ardent Mills, Denver, has an exclusive partnership with Colorado Quinoa, a US-based company that supports local farmers and promotes water conservation and soil health. The company last year completed the acquisition of Firebird Artisan Mills, a gluten-free, specialty grain and pulse milling company, and Hinrichs Trading Co., a North American company involved in chickpea sourcing and packaging.

“With many of the alternative grains gluten-free applications use, gluten-free can also play nicely into the plant protein and even sustainability stories,” said Matthew Schueller, director of marketing insights and analytics for Ardent Mills. “Within the gluten-free bakery sphere, alternative and emerging grains are rapidly growing in popularity since they are able to provide the taste, texture and satisfaction of traditional bakery items, without gluten. These ingredients can do more than just take the place of gluten. They can also help provide added benefits. For example, both chickpea flour and quinoa are alternatives that are good sources of fiber (per RACC) and can be used to help add additional plant-based protein.” 

‘Plusing-up’ nutrition 

Emphasis on the nutritional profile of gluten-free products has increased, Mr. Reed of Cargill said.

“Early gluten-free bakery products contained a lot of sugar, fat and highly refined grains — all ingredients that today’s health-conscious consumers are watching closely,” he said. “We’ve found ways to boost the nutritional profile of gluten-free baked goods without impacting flavor or texture. This includes using whole grains and boosting the protein content using pea protein and soy flour.”

Colleen Madden, vice president of innovation for CK Nutraceuticals, Oakville, Ont., calls the trend “plus-up” nutrition.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity for industry to plus-up nutrition, especially the gluten-free space,” she said.

CK Nutraceuticals offers Lupro, a gluten-free lupin ingredient that is 41% protein and 33% fiber. It has a glycemic index of 11, Ms. Madden said. FabaFuel, a gluten-free fava bean ingredient, is 64% protein. It has been shown to replace modified starches in gluten-free applications, Ms. Madden said.

“The plusing up of nutrition can really be accomplished with these simple, minimally processed ingredients,” she said. “That is a trend that I still say is nascent, but it definitely is developing. These minimally processed ingredients are more and more interesting to consumers.”