In a presentation at the IFT show in Chicago last week, researchers and product developers said that the focus had shifted toward ensuring good nutrition in gluten-free products, while also improving their taste and appearance.
“Historically, product development has focused on the ‘gluten-free’ aspects,” said Chris Thomas, senior food technologist at Ingredion. “Now, consumers want nutrition quality, variety and appearance.”
Gluten plays an important role in the texture and structure of foods, and omitting it led to many early gluten-free products having a gritty or dry texture and a short shelf life. Some also had inferior nutritional value, and companies often added sugar to mask a bland taste.
However, firms have made strides in replicating the function of gluten in products, using flours, starches and bran from different ingredients.
Thomas said Ingredion used native functional flours from tapioca and rise to achieve texture, colour and appearance similar to wheat-containing products, while eliminating grittiness and crumbliness – and these products also had a similar nutritional profile and shelf life to gluten-containing products.
Flours and starch-like substances from pulses have also taken off in gluten-free foods, said Mehmet Tulbek, global director of the Alliance Grain Traders’ research, development and innovation division.
“Pulse ingredients were found to be suitable for gluten-free expanded snack, pasta, meat and beverage products,” said Tulbek. “Overall, the ingredients are working very well.”
Apart from flours and starches, pulses also have high levels of protein, fibre and other nutrients, and are low in fat, making them particularly attractive to vegetarian consumers, he said.
Estimates of the size of the global gluten-free market vary widely – but market researchers agree that it is a market with strong growth. Partly, this has been driven by increased diagnosis of coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. But there is also a growing market for gluten-free products among those who omit gluten based on self-diagnosis of gluten ‘sensitivity’, and many more cutting out gluten in an effort to lose weight, although dietitians say this is ineffective.