The greatest challenge in creating successful new gluten-free products may be in understanding them. As food developers, we must clearly understand what it is we are trying to create. Who is buying gluten-free products? What do they want? Why do they want it?

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect January 1, 2006 and requires foods with any of the “big eight” allergens to include a warning statement. An anticipated second part of the FALCPA proposes defining “gluten-free” as containing less than 20ppm of gluten.

What is Gluten-free?

Labeling of new gluten-free food items is still a bit tricky. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect January 1, 2006. Food items containing any of the “big eight” allergens must include a warning statement as of that date. Wheat is the first item on the allergen hit parade.  Milk, eggs, tree nuts, soy and fish also require a label statement. However, the gluten in wheat has put that grain on the top of the list. The anticipated second part of FALCPA defines gluten-free. Under the proposed rule, gluten-free is defined as containing less than 20 parts per million [ppm] of gluten. Gluten-free for label/claim purposes means that the food product must not contain:

* Any ingredient that includes derivatives of any species of wheat, rye, barley or any crossbred hybrid of these grains, collectively known as prohibitive grains. The FDA is not, at this time, proposing to include oats in the definition of a prohibitive grain.

* Any ingredient that is derived from a prohibitive grain that has not been processed to remove the gluten, resulting in more than 20ppm of gluten.

* Any food made from oats, or any ingredient derived from oats that bears a gluten-free label claim would be deemed misbranded if the claim suggests that all foods containing oats or derived from oats are gluten-free.

* A food shall be considered misbranded if it is inherently gluten-free and does not also refer to all foods of the same type as also being gluten-free (Today’s Dietitian, April 2007, Vol. 9).

These label restrictions are driven primarily by the seriousness of celiac disease (CD) and its sufferers’ high level of gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that predominantly affects the small bowel. The result is an immune-mediated intolerance to ingested gluten, which is the storage protein of wheat. Clinical manifestations include diarrhea and numerous other sequelae of malabsorption, non-specific gastrointestinal disturbance and a host of extraintestinal phenomena affecting the skin, joints, teeth, nervous system, energy level and mood.

Virginia Erwin is a private practice nutritionist who has worked extensively with gluten-free diets. “There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there and, unfortunately, many people who have CD are paying the price,” Erwin says. “Though some of the increased incidence of CD being reported may be due to better screening and testing procedures, it is a serious issue.”

She adds, “Children with celiac disease are at greater risk for developing health problems due to malabsorption of vital nutrients such as iron and folate. One of the biggest factors in helping people with CD is teaching them how to read labels and ask a lot of questions about gluten contained in food that is not prepared at home in their own gluten-free kitchens. Proper labeling of gluten-free foods is becoming ever more important.”

Celiac disease appears to be more common in the U.S. than previously thought, and there is evidence that it is under-diagnosed. A growing number of Americans do believe that eating gluten is unhealthy. This subset of health-minded consumers crosses all demographic boundaries. Though sufferers of CD drive the core demand for gluten-free products, a second group of consumers is purchasing gluten-free foods. This second group falls under the category of “health and wellness seekers.” This group may be far larger than those actually suffering from CD.

In its introduction of Ralston® Creamy Rice, Ralston Foods promotes the rice-based cereal as being ideal for people diagnosed with celiac disease.

Creating Gluten-free Foods

Of course, creating and formulating successful gluten-free food products requires far more than simply understanding CD and the regulations regarding gluten-free labeling. The first Gluten-free Summit, to take place annually, recently was held in Copper Mountain, Colo. Many of the world’s top experts in the area of gluten-free product development were there as presenters and speakers. Scientists, nutritionists, chefs and bakers came together to share knowledge and insights into this emerging area of nutrition.

Suzanne Bowland is the founder and president of GF Culinary Productions, as well as the creator and driving force behind the summit. She says, “Wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a hybrid of rye and wheat) are the cereal grains that must be avoided in new formulations and recipes. They contain the storage protein known as gluten, and it is the fragment of gluten known as gliadin that gives people who can’t tolerate gluten trouble. Wheat has many varieties including spelt, kamut, farro, bulgur, dinkle, couscous and so forth. So, chefs have to be very familiar with the wheat family tree, so to speak. Also, unless oats are pure gluten-free oats, they are on the avoid list because most oats are not gluten-free, due to cross-contamination with wheat during harvesting and/or during the manufacturing process.  The many grains (generally known as grains, but some are seeds or grasses) used to replace gluten-based grains include rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, Job’s tears, rage, tiff, corn, Indian rice grass (Montana), taro and sorghum. Many of the grains such as tiff, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth and millet can be cooked quite similarly to how rice is cooked. Many chefs will recommend flavoring the broth that the grains are cooked in to help better impart flavor.”

Gluten-free Resources

Bowland recommends several books on gluten-free grains, including Whole Grains Everyday Every Way, by Lorna Sass. “There has been an explosion of interest in gluten-free foods and recipes. Not only are we finding them in restaurants, but also in cookbooks and through classes like the lecture series and GF Summit,” says Bowland. This increased interest is revealed in some gluten-free cookbooks. Author Carol Fester has written Gluten-free Quick and Easy, available this August by the Penguin Group, and The Wheat-free Cook by Jacqueline Mall Orca is already available from Harper Collins.

Chef Richard Coppedge, CMB, professor of baking at The Culinary Institute of America, has written a gluten-free baking book to be published early next year. Chef Coppedge has done a great deal of research into gluten-free baked item development. His students are required to convert a gluten-based bakery product into a gluten-free version. They need to be prepared and versatile, he says, because of the dramatic increase in restaurant customers with CD or gluten/wheat intolerance or allergies. Chef Coppedge says, “Less than a decade ago, when I first began working with gluten-free items, the reported number of people with gluten allergy was only one in 250 million. Today, the number of people claiming to be gluten sensitive may be one in 133. That is a pretty amazing increase.” As to creating gluten-free formulas, chef Coppedge advises, “I use a variety of flours, ranging from white/brown rice to bean flours and even whey powder.

Chefs' Preferences

The growing percentage of people purchasing gluten-free products has spilled over to restaurants, where it is not unusual for some chefs to receive several requests for gluten-free menu items every day. Regarding retail, Bowman commented that there are likely many more people who are undiagnosed CD sufferers or who are gluten-intolerant, so they purchase gluten-free products. No doubt, sales figures in these categories continue to grow each year, as chefs and companies develop more gluten-free recipes.

Retail products aside, many notable chefs have created some incredible gluten-free foods. Chef Elise Wiggins of Panzano Restaurant in Denver created a signature tortellini recipe that uses amaranth flour and tapioca flour for the pasta. Wiggins declares she enjoys working with amaranth flour more than semolina. Chef Wiggins also has made a gluten-free focaccia using white rice flour, potato flour and tapioca flour, which she now serves at her restaurant, and she uses the leftovers to make a savory bread pudding. 

Chef Curtis Lincoln of The Brown Palace Hotel created a tabbouleh recipe where he used quinoa instead of traditionally used bulgur wheat. He toasts the quinoa before mixing all of the other ingredients for a marvelous flavor. During a recent presentation, he mentioned that he likes the quinoa version more than the traditional bulgur wheat version. 

Another food professional, chef-instructor Eric Stein of Johnson & Wales College, adores teff, the smallest grain in the world. He uses teff to make a porridge dish that sings with a variety of fragrant spices.

Given the increasing number of people who suffer from CD and the equally large number of consumers who insist that eating gluten-free foods makes them feel healthier, it is no wonder so many chefs are getting in on the act. Understanding the realities of dining from a customer’s point of view has always been the restaurant chef’s edge in new recipe development.

Showcase: Proteins, Gums and Starches for Gluten-free Products

Egg products are the perfect ingredients for those looking to formulate gluten-free foods. One of gluten’s main functions is to provide structure to foods. A logical replacement for gluten would be another functional protein such as egg protein. Egg proteins can thicken sauces, gravies, smoothies and provide structure in gluten-free breads. Plus, they have coagulative properties to bind food products such as snacks, processed meats and prepared entrées. Eggs products can help achieve a gluten-free label.  American Egg Board, Elisa Maloberti, 847-296-7043, 877-488-6143 (toll free), emaloberti@aeb.org, www.aeb.org

Gluten-free bread and bakery applications often lack that “homemade” bread taste and appearance, especially if they do not incorporate starches. Penford Food Ingredients Co.’s research has indicated that a combination of a pregelatinized starch with cook-up starches works synergistically to restore the attributes lost by removing wheat flour. Pregelatinized starches, such as PenPlus® 2510 tapioca starch, assist in providing dough elasticity and resilience. Cook-up starches, like PenBind® 150 tapioca starch, add volume and structure to bakery products. Penford Food Ingredients Co., Steve Smith, 303-645-0171, ssmith@penx.com, www.penfordfoods.com

According to the Center for Celiac Research, approximately one in 133 Americans may suffer from celiac disease. NUTRALYS®, a family of gluten-free, non-allergenic proteins derived from yellow pea, delivers unique nutritional value and excellent functional properties to many applications. With 85% protein and a rich amino acid profile, NUTRALYS offers high emulsion/gel properties and stability to gluten-free products. This highly digestible (98%), all-natural, GMO-free protein provides low viscosity and free-flowing, easy mixing capabilities to food processors. Roquette America, Chandani Perera, Chandani. perera@roquette.com, www.roquette.com

A family of six functional whey protein concentrates can be used in gluten-free applications to help provide body and structure. Unlike commodity whey protein, Grande Bravo 300, 500 and 550 are able to provide water binding and viscosity without any heating necessary, but they are able to hold their functionality if heated. These products provide a heavy mouthfeel in sauces, soups and fillings, plus a tender bite in bakery products and a yield improvement in the meat category. Grande Bravo 200 and 250 can help provide a more creamy texture and need to be heated to 170°F in order to achieve their characteristics. They can increase the crispness in baked products or add a creamy note. Grande Custom Ingredients Group, Michelle Ludtke, 800-772-3210, ext. 1461, www.grandecig.com

An all-natural gum blend that combines xanthan and guar gum to create a synergistic combination can replace the gluten functionality in baked goods. Gum Technology’s Coyote Brand Stabilizer ST-101 mimics the function of gluten mixed with water, which produces an elastic and porous web capable of trapping the gas bubbles produced by leavening agents, thus allowing the product to rise. Call 800-368-GUMS for a sample and gluten-free brownie recipe. Gum Technology Corporation, 800-369-4867, info@gumtech.com, www.gumtech.com

Two soluble, all-natural fibers offer ground-breaking nutritional and functional properties. ORAFTI’s Beneo™ (inulin, oligofructose) and Beneo Synergy 1 have healthy benefits that include improved calcium absorption, “invisible” fiber enrichment, improved mouthfeel and enhanced gastrointestinal health through prebiotics. Beneo replaces fat and sugar in foods, beverages and nutraceuticals without affecting taste, and Synergy 1 promotes bone mineral density at lower use levels. ORAFTI, Joseph O’Neill, 610-889-9828, joneill@orafti-us.com, www.orafti.com

Moisture retention, water control, air cell entrapment, suspension and viscosity can all be problems of functionality in gluten-free foods. VersaGum™ xanthan gum from Cargill Texturizing Solutions delivers those functionalities that can be inherently missing or compromised. It has a high heat tolerance and maintains viscosity to hold an end product’s structure during the baking process. Other products to improve gluten-free foods include locust bean and guar gums; carrageenan and agar; corn and tapioca starches; and dietary fibers like inulin and whole-grain, gluten-free flours. Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Lori Fligge, 952-742-2275, lori_fligge@cargill.com, www.cargilltexturizing.com

Links