Overcoming gluten-free formulation challenges

Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, barley and rye, and often in oat (mostly because oats are processed in facilities that also work with the glutinous grains). Gluten must be avoided by people who have celiac disease, a severe intolerance to gluten or who are allergic to wheat. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that 1 in every 133 Americans has celiac disease.
But this formulation approach has even broader appeal; a gluten-free diet is one of the fastest-growing nutritional movements even for people without any allergies.
Formulating gluten-free brings some textural challenges to bakery food manufacturers. Common issues in gluten-free bakery product development are reduced volume, lack of an even cell structure, and a dry, crumbly, grainy texture that consumers find unappealing. To succeed formulators have to adhere as closely as they can to the texture and appearance of gluten-containing products. But how?

Processing considerations and texture optimization

Lack of wheat protein in the formulation brings some challenges to manufacturers. One of the challenges is dough handling. Gluten-free dough and batters lack the viscosity or elasticity of the gluten-containing dough, leading to difficulties in processibility and machinability. Ingredient changes often require modifications in the manufacturing process, which leads to higher costs or less efficient production.

The solutions offered for gluten-free formulation should be designed to minimize process changes. Processing challenges can be addressed using functional flours, modified starches, cold water soluble starches and gums. Based on the formulation, some or all of these may be required. Optimization needs to done to match the flow characteristics of gluten-free dough to a gluten-containing one.

Another challenge for manufacturers is to match the textural and sensory attributes of the gluten-containing products. Gluten-free products generally lack volume. Uniform grain development, crust formation and color development are poor compared to gluten-containing products. In addition, gluten-free products tend to have a dry, gritty or sandy texture with a crumbly mouth feel.

These issues lead to lack of cohesiveness in the mouth—the degree to which a chewed product forms a ball and holds together. A similar approach to meeting the processing challenges can clear this hurdle, too—i.e. functional flours, special starches and gums.

When formulating gluten free, it is critical to define the textural attributes of gluten-containing benchmarks, which can be done using a descriptive sensory analysis. This extensive evaluation of the sensory properties that characterize a food translates them into precise, repeatable attributes. Once the texture goals have been identified, a combined technological approach can be laid out to meet those goals.

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