Food scientists design new formulations for gluten-free bread

Related tags Wheat Coeliac disease

Scientists in Ireland claim to have dramatically improved the
quality of gluten-free bread, presenting an opportunity for bakers
as the number of people with a known gluten intolerance grows,
writes Chris Mercer.

Eimear Gallagher, who led the research at Ireland's Teagasc National Food Centre, said a combination of potato starch and rice flour had been used to improve the taste, texture and volume of the bread.

Two hydrocolloids, xanthan gum and HPMC, a derivative of cellulose, were also used to help bind the other ingredients together, mainly because of their strong water binding abilities.

The project was completed in tandem with similar research into other gluten-free baked goods, including pizza bases, at Ireland's University College Cork.

The breakthrough is particularly important for people suffering from coeliac disease, a chronic intolerance to gluten which causes damage to the surface of the small intestine resulting in the body's inability to absorb vital nutrients, such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. As a result, coeliacs must rely exclusively on a gluten-free diet.

Traditionally, gluten-free bread was much lower in quality than its gluten-based counterpart. But the new formula, which has taken the Teagasc team three years to perfect after experimenting with a number of different starches and proteins, could provide an opportunity for bakers to take advantage of an unfortunate yet growing niche market.

Gallagher said that recent figures in Ireland estimated that one in every 150 people may have coeliac disease, and a recent medical study on the UK claimed that one in every one to 200 people may have the disease but be undiagnosed.

Many more may have milder intolerances causing uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches and abdominal pains. "We have only touched the tip of the iceberg in identifying such people. Therefore, the need for quality bread to meet their dietary needs is of huge importance,"​ said Gallagher.

She added that five or six Irish bakeries were currently testing Teagasc's new version of gluten-free bread with a view to launching it on the market.

The initial presence of gluten-free products on shop shelves was largely pioneered by organic food stores, but a number of major supermarkets in the UK and Ireland have now begun stocking small gluten-free selections - highlighting the potential for gluten-free foods in a mainstream retail market.

One major supplier to the multiple retailers, UK and Ireland-based Greencore, has also developed a new range of gluten-free baked goods and plans to launch these in the near future.

Cost is the practical consideration likely to hold back the gluten-free market for now mainly because companies would need to buy specialist raw materials and a separate production line so as to prevent contamination with gluten, a protein chain found in common grains such as wheat, rye and barley.

Some bakers may prefer to wait until further research has been done, and Gallagher said she has already applied for public funds from the Irish government and the Enterprise Ireland group to examine ways to extend the shelf-life of gluten-free bread and enhance its nutritional quality by adding fibre, calcium and folic acid.

Related topics Market trends Food safety & quality

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