Why gluten-free is all about fine-tuning

There’s much more to gluten-free bread than simply replacing gluten. Bakers need recipes that give the best technical and nutritional performance – all tuned to the latest trends.

By Mike Adams, bakery science section manager, Campden BRI

Understanding the nutritional impact of a gluten-free diet can be mind-spinning for consumers. Whether they need to avoid gluten or simply prefer to, they are concerned with healthy eating – and it can be a struggle to balance the nutritional gains and losses when buying gluten-free foods.

The complicating factor in the baked goods category is that many consumers today perceive gluten-free and wheat-free as one and the same thing.  Even naturally gluten-free buckwheat may be viewed as gluten-containing, simply because of its name.

What this means is that gluten-free baking is not just about replacing gluten. It’s often about replacing as many wheat components as possible– and it’s because of this that gluten-free bread typically contains twice as many ingredients as regular wheat bread. And the nutrient profile is much more diverse.

Making up the nutritional and functional shortfall
A number of market studies have recently found that many gluten-free foods are higher in sugar and fat and lower in fiber and protein. But, while it’s true that fat and sugar can improve taste, texture and other functional properties in gluten-free baking, a high fat and sugar content is not inevitable.  Good opportunities also exist to raise fiber and protein content to a nutritionally acceptable level and benefit product quality at the same time.

In gluten-free bread, wheat flour is primarily replaced by various combinations of maize, rice, tapioca and potato starch.  Without gluten to trap air in the dough, contributing to the volume and softness of the final bread, most industrial bakers compensate by using gums, such as cellulose gum. Many of these ingredients are naturally high in fiber. Another fiber source, psyllium, is frequently used to add structure and give the look of whole wheat bread. 

When it comes to proteins, some of the large bakery companies in the UK already use soy protein to delay staling and improve the color of conventional, gluten-containing white bread. Soy also has an excellent nutritional quality. So, there’s a good case for using soy in gluten-free bread as well. The only drawback is that soy protein is an allergen that some need to avoid. For this reason, the search is on for other proteins that offer similar technical and nutritional benefits. Chick peas show good potential.

Sour dough and the FODMAP movement
A current area of research interest is the use of sour dough. Evidence is growing that sour dough can improve the softness and shelf life of gluten-free bread and support flavor and aroma development. In addition, it breaks down proteins during fermentation – a property that requires careful control in gluten-containing wheat bread but which, in gluten-free baking, can act as an important backup against gluten contamination.

Another important aspect of sour dough is its connection with FODMAPs – fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols – short-chain carbohydrates present in wheat flour and other foods and which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. 

Research at Monash University in Australia suggests that FODMAPs – and not gluten – may be the cause of gastrointestinal bloating and discomfort in some individuals who believe they have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  Low FODMAP diets are already being used in the management of irritable bowel syndrome.

The ‘need to know’ for bakers is that sour dough can reduce the amount of FODMAPs in bread recipes that contain gluten-containing wheat and rye. By the same token, the FODMAP content of gluten-free breads is naturally low. 

What does it mean for gluten-free baking?
In time, it’s possible that growing consumer awareness of FODMAPs will take the focus away from gluten-free products as a means to relieving non-celiac gastrointestinal symptoms or as a lifestyle choice. When that happens, FODMAP-free could become the food industry’s next ‘free-from’ frontier. – and gluten could be back in fashion among those who don’t need to avoid it. 

If that’s the direction we’re heading in, then industrial bakers can look forward to a new set of interesting yet manageable challenges

Mike Adams leads the bakery science section at Campden BRI in the UK. For nearly 100 years, the company has served as a scientific, technical and advisory consultancy for the food and drink industry. The focus areas are product safety and quality, process efficiency, and product and process innovation. Campden BRI is also the company behind the Chorleywood bread process. Read more at www.campdenbri.co.uk.

When free-from claims get confusing…

Here are a few definitions for consumers:

  • Gluten-free
    Gluten is a mixture of proteins in wheat and related grains. In gluten-free products, the gluten has been removed, making them suitable for consumers who are gluten intolerant or sensitive.  They may still contain other wheat components, such as wheat starch. In the EU, foods labelled gluten-free may contain a gluten trace of 20ppm.
  • Wheat-free
    Products that are wheat-free are made entirely without wheat, including wheat gluten and wheat starch.
  • FODMAP-free
    FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligo, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols and are naturally present in many foods, including wheat. A FODMAP-free diet is believed to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders.

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