03 July 2012

Gluten doppelgänger in the baking

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Gasp of relief for people affected by coeliac disease: new ingredients that make gluten-free products tasty and highly-nutritious are expected to soon become available with the help from a food innovation network

All their life, people with coeliac disease relinquish eating food containing wheat, rye or barley. These cereals contain a protein called gluten that is not well tolerated by their body. But many of the existing gluten-free products are often of inferior quality putting coeliac sufferers at a real disadvantage. For example, their nutritional value is lower because they often lack in vitamin B, iron and fibres.

Scientists in Ireland — a country known for its high-rate of coeliac sufferers — are now testing new gluten-free ingredients. Not only are they healthier than current gluten-free alternatives but they are more nourishing than rice, corn or potatoes. Replacing gluten presents a major technological challenge. Indeed, it is the gluten protein, which gives wheat-based products their texture, including the elastic characteristics of dough. It also contributes to the crunchy appearance and the crumbly nature of baked products.

Looking for alternatives with similar protein structure led researchers to focus on buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth and even fruit flour, the by-product from fruit juice processing. “We tested our new flours in bread and snacks and analysed their molecular structures”, Eimear Gallagher, researcher at Teagasc, a food research center in Dublin, Ireland told youris.com. “So far the results look very promising.”

Research in new gluten-free ingredients is valued. “It is important to find a replacement for wheat that is as nutritious, bioavailable and in addition has good characteristics for the processing,” says Klaus Lösche, Head of technology transfer at the Germany-based Bremerhaven Institute for Food Technology and Bioprocessing, which is working on chickpeas in combination with pulses. “[This] research brings ease and variety into the strict diet of coeliacs,” says Anne Manning a Manager at the Dublin-based Coeliac Society of Ireland.

To make the result of its research benefit coeliac people, Teagasc already established, in the past, a collaboration with an Irish company called Virginia Harvest. As a result, a new gluten-free scone mix has been available on supermarket shelves in Ireland and the UK since October 2011. Scientist were paramount in establishing its quality. “The product testing and verification of our scone mix was very important to us”, Helen O’Dowd, owner of Virginia Harvest, told youris.com.

Now, thanks to the support of an EU-funded food innovation network called Functional Food Net, scientists expect further industry collaborations to take place and to lead to more innovative products. This is warranted because the demand for gluten-free food is rising: “The number of people diagnosed with a gluten-intolerance is growing”, says Lösche. Yet all may not immediately benefit from such food innovation, Manning points out: “for each person diagnosed, there are likely to be five to ten people who remain undiagnosed.”

 

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