What’s beyond wheat? Grain-free diets, allergen alerts, and new nutrition trends

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Western diets are highly dependent on grains: What might be the alternatives?
Western diets are highly dependent on grains: What might be the alternatives?

Related tags Bread Wheat

Consumers continue to embrace free-from diets: and grain-free could be the next big opportunity for bakers, according to Mintel.

More grain-free recipes and baking ingredients are appearing, and there’s an opportunity for more grain-free finished bakery products, says the market researchers.

Gluten-free has been a big trend in recent years: a 2014 survey suggested that 22% of US adults eat gluten-free varieties of some foods. A gluten-free diet omits gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, barley and rye.

Although the paleo diet carries a much smaller following, the tenets of the trend (which focus on allergen-free, high protein, and unprocessed diets) could be long lasting.

“Given that gluten-free and paleo diets both place emphasis on the avoidance of certain types of grains, another consumer trend emerging as the next iteration of these diets is grain-free,”​ said Chris Brockman, research manager at Mintel.

What’s instead of wheat?

A key focus among consumers is a desire for unprocessed food in diets.

“Criticism of typical western diets being highly dependent on grains, in particular refined processed grains, has contributed to some of the negative stigma attached to their use in food,” ​said Brockman.

Wheat in particular has been demonised, given that 20% of the world’s calories are estimated to come from wheat (more than any other single food).”

“But other grains - with the exception of trendy and nutritionally superior ‘ancient grains’ such as quinoa - are also being viewed in a bad light in many cases. Supposedly healthier substitutes to grains, based on nuts, fruit and vegetables are thus being seen in increasing numbers.”

Between 2012 and 2014 there was a 71% increase in the launch of bakery products in the US with non-grain flours used as an ingredient.

Almond and coconut flours are becoming particularly trendy and are being launched in increasing numbers as baking ingredients,” ​Brockman continued. “The potential for other fruit, nut and vegetable based flours is also significant.”

“Use of non-grain flours in ready-to-eat bakery products is still limited, although Julian Bakery have specialised in this concept with a dedicated paleo range, and Food for Life Baking have introduced an almond bread.

Julian Bakery Paleo bread almond
Julian Bakery paleo bread

"It would appear there is an opportunity to extend the concept from baking ingredients to finished products in the future as consumer awareness of the grain-free concept and benefits increases.”


Since December 2014 the EU Food Information for Consumer Regulation (FIC) has required that 14 allergens (including eggs, milk, wheat and other gluten-containing cereals, soya and peanuts) are highlighted on food labels.

Peter Becker, president of the International Union of Bakers and Confectioners (UIBC) and the German Bakers’ Confederation said bakers should respond to consumer preferences for allergen-free products and increase their product lines accordingly. “Bakers must respond to demand and include corresponding offers in their product range,” ​he said.

Another ingredient used to replace wheat flour is chia seed, which hails from South America.

It is championed for its health-promoting properties and easier dough processing attributes. The gluten-free seed is used in refinement of bread and other bakery, or as a substitute for wheat flour or eggs. It is suitable for vegan and gluten-free diets.

One exhibitor at iba, the international bakery trade fair held in Munich this month, is Ireland’s Chia bia, which developed its chia breads in 2014 in collaboration with German baker Martin Gunthner. A recipe contest has compiled almost 100 recipes for bread, biscuits and bars into a brochure.  

vegipan bread


Becker also eyes up vegan products as another opportunity for bakers.

At iba, Bernd Siefert, Grand Patissier and World Confectionery Champion 2015, will demonstrate how to make cakes and pies without milk, cream butter or eggs.

Meanwhile, Austrian company backaldrin will have its vegan snack ideas on show, based on its Vegipan vegan and yeast-free wholemeal bread. 

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