A technologist in the US claims to have developed a wholegrain rice bread mix suitable for the 2 million Americans who suffer from coeliac disease, an intolerance to gluten.
Developing a gluten-free, wholegrain bread that is not only tasty but also has the right texture is a tough task, since gluten proteins contribute to the viscosity of bread as well as other baked goods.
Coeliac disease is a gut disorder which can strike at any age. It is thought to affect one in 1,000 people in the UK and is also known to run in families. Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries, puddings and pies, which are all usually made with flour containing gluten must be avoided.
Ranjit Kadan, a food technologist at the US government's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), experimented until he found the best rice cultivar and flour particle size for the wholegrain bread.
Research is still ongoing to find the optimal bread machine conditions, reports Kadan, for kneading and baking the wholegrain bread dough but initial results suggest the ingredients could be a viable alternative to wheat, rye and barley grains.
His latest research joins recent developments in this area that saw food scientists in Ireland last month announcing they had improved the quality of gluten-free bread through a combination of potato starch and rice flour.
Eimear Gallagher, who led the research at Ireland's Teagasc National Food Centre, said the combination bettered the taste, texture and volume of the bread.
Two hydrocolloids, xanthan gum and HPMC, a derivative of cellulose, were also used to help bind the other ingredients together, mainly because of their strong water binding abilities.
The project was completed in tandem with similar research into other gluten-free baked goods, including pizza bases, at Ireland's University College Cork.
And scientists on both sides of the Atlantic are currently focusing on the kernels of food-grade sorghum, aiming to bring this gluten-free grain, little used in food formulations - into mainstream foods products such as breads, biscuits, pizza crusts and noodles.
"We are working on identifying the chemical reasons behind why certain sorghum hybrids are of much better quality - crumb grain, texture of bread - than others," Scott Bean, lead researcher on the project recently told FoodNavigator.com.
While the gluten-free aspect of sorghum is a key thrust behind the ARS research, crop prices are also in the equation. Sorghum - also called milo - is a much cheaper crop compared to recent market prices for wheat, soy and maize. If the technologists succeed in designing new characteristics for food formulations, the hardier sorghum crop could become a cheaper source for alternative ingredients to wheat, already the case for the animal feed market.
In 2004 Europe imported 1.5 million tonnes of the grain, a figure that compares to a mere 12,000 tonnes recorded in 2003.
With approximately 60 million tonnes grown annually in the world, the easy to grow, resilient sorghum crop is primarily produced in Africa - 21 million tonnes - followed by North America with 16 million and Asia with 11 million tonnes. Europe has a meagre share with 700,000 tonnes in total grown, spread largely between France and Italy.