Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

July 22, 2009

7 Min Read
Better Gluten-Free Baking

Gluten-free foods appeal to an increasing number of consumers trying to reduce or eliminate gluten, the protein found in all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina and spelt), rye, oats, barley and related grain hybrids such as triticale and kamut. For consumers with gluten intolerance, elimination of all ingested gluten is not necessary. But for the growing number of consumers suffering from celiac disease, a lifelong autoimmune intestinal disorder, gluten must be completely removed from the diet.

Healthful and palatable

Food designers are busy getting the gluten out of formulations, but creating healthful and palatable alternatives can be challenging to overcome in baked goods, where wheat flour has historically been the base grain of choice.

Removing gluten from flour reduces its elasticity, as gluten combines with water to produce an elastic and porous web that traps gas bubbles released by action of a leavening agent. This is highly desirable in yeast-leavened products such as breads and pizza crust. Gluten is less desirable, but still necessary in small amounts, in chemically leavened products such as cakes, cookies, muffins and pie crust.

Regardless of the application, removed gluten must be replaced with other ingredients that provide similar structure.

Starchy options

Because the baking qualities of gluten-free flour are different from wheat flour, there is no single direct replacement for wheat flour. A combination of flours with varying textures, along with one or more hydrocolloids, is often used.

The greatest challenge of formulating gluten-free bakery products is providing the structure and texture of typical baked goods, says Kate Gilbert, associate research scientist, Grain Processing Corporation (GPC), Muscatine, IA. Many wheat-flour alternatives can leave the finished bakery items dry, crumbly, gritty and off-flavored.

Common gluten-free flours are derived from brown rice, buckwheat, chickpeas, corn, millet, potato, red beans, rice, sorghum, soy and tapioca. Flours considered powdery include buckwheat, chickpea, potato and tapioca. So-called gritty flours come from brown rice, corn, millet, red beans, rice, soy and sorghum.

One of the biggest challenges I faced when making my first gluten-free cookie mix was creating a cookie that wasnt gritty, says Deborah Sievers, president, Doodles Cookies, LLC, Aurora, IL. I had to find the right combination and ratio of ingredients. We use a combination of brown rice flour, tapioca, corn starch and xanthan gum to provide the proper texture and density that we desired in our cookies.

Corn starch, potato starch and rice starch are powdery and can contribute to a smooth texture. Xanthan gum is the most-common hydrocolloid in gluten-free baked goods, as it helps gluten-free flours bind, providing some of the stretch factor of gluten. Available commercially as a powder, xanthan gum should be combined with the gluten-free flour combination before any liquid is added to make the dough or batter. Plant-derived guar gum is also useful, as it functions as a thickening and bulking agent.

We offer a cost-effective natural gum blend of xanthan and guar that can replace gluten functionality in baked goods, says Aida Prenzno, laboratory director, Gum Technology Corporation, Tucson, AZ. Further, the gums work together synergistically to bind moisture, which reduces staling. The gum blend also improves cell structure, increases dough pliability and improves freeze/thaw stability.

Usage level in gluten-free, chemically leavened products such as cookies and cakes is 0.25% to 0.50%, says Prenzno. Usage increases with yeast-leavened baked goods. Pizza crust requires 0.60% to 0.75%, while bread is even higher at 0.75% to 1.20%. Because the gum blend is used at such low levels, it does not influence the flavor profile of the finished product.

A line of drop-in flour-blend replacements was tested in gluten-free cookie, muffin and cake formulations by National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, NJ. Sensory panel data show the recipes come very close to similar gluten-containing commercial products on attributes such as smooth, moist and chewy. In our tests, the cookies and muffins have exhibited outstanding shelf life, especially when compared to todays gluten-free products, says Yadunandan Dar, material scientist, National Starch Food Innovation.

GPC offers a gluten-free cookie blend that is approximately 25% of the cookie formula and includes unmodified corn starch, a cold-water-swelling modified food starch and a film-forming modified food starch, along with sorghum flour, Gilbert says. This allows many cookie formulas to be easily converted to gluten-free with a 1:1 flour-to-blend substitution.

Casey Lopez, technical sales, GPC, adds: Our cold-water-swelling modified starch increases the viscosity of the batter or dough. It also improves moisture retention of the final product over timeeven through frozen storage. It is a key ingredient for mellowing the apparent grittiness of other ingredients, such as sorghum flour. At the same time, it aids in stabilization of the structure of baked goods. Unmodified corn starch also contributes to the structure of the final product.

Our film-forming instant starch has a low viscosity, so it will not make dough or batter too thick, Lopez continues. It also improves the texture of some baked goods. For example, she says, with cookies, film-forming instant starch adds desirable chewiness. In pizza crust, it adds crispiness.

Take the cake

In cake applications, gluten-free flour blends must produce an aerated structure without off textures or off flavors, which can be quite noticeable in the finished product. Unmodified corn starch, at approximately 20% of the formula, and a cold-water-swelling modified food starch, at 2% of the formula, adds bulk and increases the viscosity of the batter to help stabilize the structure without negatively impacting sensory attributes, says Gilbert.

Eggs are often an important ingredient in gluten-free baked-good formulations. Liquid eggs can be added at production level, or dried whole egg, yolk or white, can be included in the dry mix.

As gluten is a protein, it only makes sense to seek out other functional proteins, one of which can be found in eggs, says Elisa Maloberti, director of egg product marketing, American Egg Board, Park Ridge, IL. Egg proteins add structure to baked goods. Further, the yolk assists with tenderizing the crumb. Eggs also can coagulate and create gels, readily replacing the gluten-containing ingredients typically used in the manufacture of baked-good fillings and frostings.

Nutritional support

Celiac disease prevents the proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, and can compromise nutrition as it requires eliminating certain foods, particularly those based on enriched wheat flour. Common nutritional deficiencies in those suffering from celiac disease relate to vitamins (especially B vitamins, which are high in wheat flours), minerals, essential fatty acids and fiber. Thus, fortifying gluten-free products with these nutrients is highly desirable.

Melinda Dennis, nutrition coordinator, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Celiac Disease Center, Boston, encourages patients to eat foods made with the super sixamaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and tefffor their high vitamin and fiber content. Many of these grains are making their way into gluten-free baked goods.

We use the ancient grain floursamaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and teffall of which are gluten-free, along with brown rice flour, to make all-purpose, multigrain, gluten-free flour, says Elizabeth Arndt, manager research and development, ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE. We have developed a number of applications using this new flour, including a gluten-free pan bread. We have also tested the flour in many other grain-based applications, such as muffins and cookies, and in crispy coated and battered products, all with outstanding results.

All of these innovations, along with new ones ready to roll out, will assist formulators in meeting the increasing demand for effective, gluten-free grain-based products.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., a network of professionals in business-to-business technical and trade communications, has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in food science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].


Gluten-Free Growth

According to the 2009 report, The Gluten-Free Food and Beverage Market: Trends and Developments Worldwide, 2nd Edition, from Packaged Facts, Rockville, MD, the market for gluten-free products grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28% from 2004 to 2008, capturing almost $1.6 billion in retail sales during 2008.

Packaged Facts predicts the gluten-free market will continue to experience annual double-digit growth, and that by 2012 the market will reach $2.6 billion in sales.

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