Gluten-Free A Growing Market

According to research data, even though fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population have been medically restricted from ingesting gluten, the category has taken off enormously.

By Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.

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Thousands of gluten-free products have been released in the past few years with sales climbing by double-digits, toward $750 million yearly. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance/sensitivity is one of the fastest growing dietary concerns in America today, and bakers for health are doing their part to build the category.

Although most other grains contain elastic storage proteins, “true” gluten comes from wheat and persons with a sensitivity react the strongest to wheat, the primary source of gluten in the diet.

“A gluten-free diet is not the same as a grain-free diet,” says Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for the Whole Grains Council (www.wholegrainscouncil.org), a Boston-based consortium committed to increasing consumption of whole grains for better health. “Many delicious and healthy whole grains – including amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and wild rice – are gluten-free and contribute important phytonutrients to people who can’t eat grains like wheat, oats, barley, and rye.”

Processors apparently are keeping up with the crush to meet demand for this former niche category with help from milling companies such as Milwaukie, Ore.-based Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods (www.bobsredmill.com). Bob’s has a dedicated testing facility also to test all products labeled ‘gluten-free’ in adherence to a strict standard of less than 20 parts per million. Bob’s was a pioneer processor of less-mainstream grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, barley, sorghum, amaranth, spelt, kamut and flax. Its 30 year-history positioned it for the rush for alternatives to wheat.

Another miller, Sunnyland Mills (www.sunnylandmills.com),Fresno, Calif., also specializes in such “comeback” grains. The company provides organic kamut bulgur as a whole-grain product in a number of grinds or as a whole kernel. The company’s products are AIB certified Superior, QAI certified organic as well as kosher.

Incorporating flours and starches from gluten-free grains can have an added benefit of increasing the health profile of the end product. Availability of new functional flours and starches has been one of the biggest boons to healthy bakers.

Hi-maize whole-grain corn flour, produced by National Starch Food Innovation (www.foodinnovation.com), Bridgewater, N.J., is one example. National Starch, pioneers in the development of resistant starch (so called because it is resistant to digestion without affecting taste or texture, while balancing blood sugar, benefiting digestive function and reducing risks of disease), makes Hi-maize whole-grain from a specialty hybrid high-amylose corn which provides nearly triple the dietary fiber content delivered by whole-grain wheat flour or oats. It also contains antioxidants at levels comparable to blueberries, and nearly three times the vitamin A and one-and-a-half times the folic acid in traditional whole grain sources - all while delivering fewer calories.

For processors, going gluten-free in a formulation can be tricky. “The challenges faced in re-formulating current products to a healthier product profile were to still maintain the product’s flavor, texture and appearance while reformulating to a healthier target,” remarks Kevin Migdal, president, Double B Foods Inc. (www.doubleb.com), Meridian, Texas. “In the development of new products it’s important not sacrifice taste. In much of the consumer testing I have participated in over the years, the consumer will always say he or she is willing to sacrifice some taste attributes in favor of a healthier product profile. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in the market place. In the mass market taste still wins over healthy.”

Some sweeteners also can pose a challenge to formulators of gluten-free products. Briess Malt and Ingredients Inc. (www.briess.com),Chilton, Wis., produces a spectrum of all-natural, value-added grain- and starch-based ingredients for solving unique flavor, color, texture, processing and label claim challenges in food and beverage products. Whether you are developing a new formula, or reformulating to enhance the "healthy" and "wholesome goodness" appeal of your finished food or beverage, Briess ingredients can be part of the solution. All-natural, kosher certified and non-GMO for a clean label. Many gluten-free, whole grain and barley ingredients to achieve label claims.

Laval, Quebec-based Glutino Food Group (www.glutino.com) offers more than 100 gluten-free products under its Gluten-Free Pantry brand, including frozen breads and bagels, baking mixes, cereals, crackers, breakfast bars, skillet meals, flavoring blends, pastas, cookies, frozen entrées and pizzas. Glutino is one of the world‘s largest gluten-free food processors.

Arico Natural Foods (www.aricofoods.com) has grown steadily since launching its first line of gluten- and dairy-free cookies in the spring of 2005. The Beaverton, Ore.-based company recently attained national distribution and is also ranked as one of the fastest growing gluten-free product companies in the U.S.

Gluten-free products are nearly always packaged with other health-oriented aspects. Nutritious Creations (www.snacksforlife.com), Bay Shore, N.Y., introduced a complete line of gluten-free cookies. Free of trans fats and cholesterol, and containing no dairy, refined sugars, wheat or egg products, the new cookies were developed to appeal to people with a wide variety of dietary restrictions. The entire line has no hydrogenated oils, either, which are found in the vast majority of all crackers and cookies on the market today.

Amy’s Kitchen Inc. (www.amys.com), Petaluma, Calif., manufactures of a full line of organic products from snacks to mac & cheese to frozen dinners launched a successful line of gluten -free products several years ago. The company pushed this former niche category closer to the mainstream by including several ethnic meal varieties within the category, including Indian, Asian and Mexican meals.

Gridley, Calif.-based Mary’s Gone Crackers (www.marysgonecrackers.com) CEO Mary Waldner attributes her company’s explosive sales growth partly to the growing demand for gluten-free and partly to the surge in the organic food category. Waldner added brown rice, quinoa, and amaranth to replace gluten-containing cereals, and oil-rich flax seeds and sesame to replace functional hydrogenated fats and chemical additives in the formulation.

While Bob’s Red Mill provides a full line of flours from nuts and legumes, some bakers are turning to potatoes. London, Ontario-based Funster Natural Foods (www.funsterfoods.com) employed new baking technologies to convert such traditional food ingredients into healthful new products, with special targeting of the children’s market.

Funster offers a good reason for “creating healthy options that children will actually want to eat and parent find easy to prepare.” The company’s Mashed Potato Letters are meant to be served oven-baked, not fried, making them even healthier. Don Bartlett, president of Funster, notes also they are “easy on the conscience – the Mashed Potato Letters are free of GMO, preservatives, trans fat, saturated fat, artificial colors and flavors and additives.”

Gluten-free baking involves more than grains. Pulses – peas, beans, chick peas and lentils – are of inestimable mutual value to both the gluten-free trend and their own renaissance. Making up the majority of the edible legumes, they have the capacity to provide processors with formulation solutions that carry phenomenal marketing value.

Pea flour, for instance, can be blended with non-gluten flours to replace wheat and provide a balanced source of protein. Moreover, flours from peas and other pulses, like beans and chickpeas are high in fiber and contain multiple minerals and vitamins, including folate. To top it off, products made from and with pulses can cash in on the “green” trend: they’re an environmentally friendly crop that fixes nitrogen instead of requiring large amounts of fertilizer.

Another legume, soy, has made multiple inroads into the full spectrum of healthful products, including baked goods. But several cracker and cookie manufacturers using soy are taking advantage of its gluten-free status.

One example is Newman’s Own Organics (www.newmans.com), Aptos, Calif., just released its Soy Crisps line of snack crisps. They come in four flavors (three savory and one sweet), cinnamon sugar, white cheddar, lightly salted and  barbecue. They contain no trans fats or saturated fats. Made with organic soy and organic rice, they’re gluten free, plus contain 7-9g protein and 3g fiber per 1-oz. serving.

The exciting thing is that the companies doing the most are the small, boutique bakeries. It’s the perfect fit a relatively new category like gluten-free opens, especially when it’s related to health and digestion. It allows a wide variety of high-quality products to win otherwise reluctant consumers. What remains is to see how the giant baking concerns choose to enter this fast-rising, hot market.

Sidebar: Gluten-Free…Beer???
In 2005, Milwaukee-based Lakefront Brewery Inc.’s New Grist sorghum beer was a big hit. It’s seeing double-digit sales growth and is now sold in more than half the country. Late last year, Anheuser-Busch Co., the nation's largest brewer, owner of about half the U.S. beer market with such iconic American brews as Budweiser, Busch and Bud Light, saw this niche as so important it launched its own gluten-free beer. But c’mon! How can beer – a liquid – be gluten-free? Easily, it so happens. Sprouted barley is the main ingredient in beer, and many brews use wheat, too. Since gluten is a protein and water soluble, some of the barley’s “gluten” hordein  a glycoprotein similar to glaiden in wheat – ends up in the beer and can cause an immune reaction in susceptible individuals. Beer is not a fermented, not distilled product, and therefore no amount of filtration is going to remove all of the potentially offending peptides. Distillation would. Therefore all wines and spirits are gluten free.

Mark Anthony, Ph.D.

 

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