One in 100 people worldwide have celiac disease and many more suffer from gluten intolerances. In addition to that, there is a massive cohort of consumers following a gluten-free diet due to perceived health improvements fueling a continued boom in the category.
“When we talk about gluten-free and the challenges in it, gluten-free products have come a long way – quality has gone up; product offerings have gone up; and the number of manufacturers has increased greatly,” said Eric Shinsato, technical sales support manager at Ingredion.
“We’ve raised the bar on quality and so in terms of product development we need to do the same,” he told attendees at the AACCI’s annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island last week.
The consumer would always look for products that most closely resembled wheat-containing baked goods, he said, and that was what manufacturers had to meet or get closer to.
Tackling a ‘gannet of issues’
Shinsato said companies working in the sector weren’t just up against one or two challenges, but a raft of very different issues, from processing and functionality to nutrition.
“As a product developer working on gluten-free products, I saw a gannet of issues.”
From a processing standpoint, removing gluten from the dough was a big game changer in terms of consistency, he said. It led to processing problems because manufacturers were often unable to run gluten-free lines on the same equipment, he explained.
“If you look at the next issue – taste and texture – volume is always an issue; trying to get that rise, but also keep that structure after the rise, particularly in bread.”
Ingredion had developed a two-pronged approach to gluten-free – focus on clean label versus quality and durability. The latter, Shinsato said, could be improved by modified starches. “Once you throw modified starches into the mix, you can make some serious changes,” he said.
For gluten-free issues like shelf life and nutrition, progress had come a long way, he said. There were, for example, more ambient stored gluten-free baked goods on shelf and a number of ancient grains being widely used to add function and nutrition to the products.
Listen to consumer feedback – they’re very upfront
Shinsato said it was critical manufacturers were able to understand feedback from consumers, particularly any problems they raised.
“How do we go about measuring these characteristics? One of the ways is sensory – evaluating the product taste, texture and mouthfeel. Working with consumers in the gluten-free market, they are very, very upfront with you and they’ll give you the thumbs up or thumbs down.”
Ingredion used sensory evaluations to improve its gluten-free formulations, he said. “Our sensory group does a lot of work on developing the vocab on what they key attributes are to a product like bread, for example. It’s information like this where we can see where we come up short or where we are on target.”