Decoding Gluten-Free Products
Gluten, which is present in some grains like wheat, barley and rye, makes the bread chewy and gives it an elastic quality. The elastic quality is very important in the formation of dough and impacts the structure of the crumb and ultimately the quality of baked product.
Gluten is also responsible for a serious auto-immune disorder known as celiac disease. When a person with celiac disease eats anything with gluten, the body overreacts to the protein and damages the villi, which are very small finger-like projections found along the wall of the small intestine. When these villis are injured, the small intestine can’t properly absorb nutrients from food, leading to nutrients deficiency in the person’s body. This also results in intestinal problems like diarrhoea, constipation, gas etc. There is no treatment for celiac disease other than to make sure that your diet is completely gluten-free.
While the demand for traditional gluten-free products for people suffering from celiac disease has been there for many years now, demand for gluten-free baked products has increased significantly of late. Gluten-free foods are known to have a low GI and calorie content. This helps to reduce weight and also fight obesity, providing more energy than the normal baked products. Hence, many bakers have gluten-free products on their shelves now.
Consumers who are not affected by celiac disease (gluten intolerance) already have a sensory reference of a certain taste and texture profile in their minds, which is that of regular wheat-based baked products. Hence, when they demand gluten-free products, they are willing to compromise on the flavour profile and prefer products that can offer similar taste and texture.
Though gluten-free products are an excellent option for health freaks, formulating and processing of gluten free baked products is a big challenge. The product should not have any marked difference for the consumers – especially texture and taste between gluten and gluten-free products. Usually, when gluten is removed from the baked product, the product takes on some undesirable traits such as grittiness, low volume and reduced shelf life.
The primary challenge is texture; it is difficult to create the tender yet chewy texture without gluten. But by using the right grain and granulation, the grittiness issue can be solved and can provide an appealing visual element to the product. More and more bakers are conducting research and trying to improve the quality of their gluten-free products. Continuous trial and error methods have resulted in creation of a whole range of new gluten-free products, with bakers trying to distinguish themselves from others by baking their own unique variant.
The market for gluten-free baked products can be segmented into sub-categories such as biscuits, cookies, baked breads, cakes, pastries, and other baked products. Baking gluten-free products like these in a commercial setup is, however, not an easy task at all and has many challenges that need to be managed. The task is even more difficult for those who are looking to bake gluten-free confectionery products. The thought of overcoming these challenges is what really stops bakers from offering a wide portfolio of gluten-free baked products at their outlets.
Key challenges faced by bakers
Recipe for gluten-free baking: The first challenge which professional bakers face while considering baking gluten-free products is to have a recipe that works. Replacing wheat flour and gluten and its role in baking is truly a complicated task.
Sourcing of Ingredients: It is also important to ensure that the ingredients selected for baking gluten-free confectionery products are easily available in the market so that their quality and consistency is maintained and output does not vary each time. At times, bakers simply opt for the standard gluten-free flour available in the market but end up feeling disappointed with the results as the one-of-a-kind gluten-free flour does not suit all products. A range of products in different proportions needs to be considered depending upon the application and techniques.
Inconvenience & high-pricing: Since gluten-free products still cater to a relatively small market compared to regular baked products, stocking up inventories is a challenge and bakers may end up having to keep stock of multiple ingredients for baking different kinds of gluten-free items which is rather inconvenient. Gluten-free products typically have a significantly lower yield compared to regular products and added with the complexities of baking, ingredients’ sourcing and stocking, the baked gluten free products end up being a tad expensive.
Product consistency concerns: Once you have a set of customers who are attuned to a particular taste and product profile, it is important to ensure that variance in the product is minimised. Consistency is a critical aspect in today’s business and retaining customers depends on consistency of the product and service. Variation occurs in every product that uses natural ingredients. However, if the number of ingredients used is higher, then the possibility of variation in the product also increases. Hence, maintaining consistency also plays a vital role and acts as a challenge for bakers baking gluten-free confectionery.
Separate equipment & tools for baking: Gluten-free products are primarily for those suffering from celiac disease. Even a trace of gluten can prove to be fatal. Therefore, it is critically essential that any potential possibility of gluten exposure is avoided while making gluten-free products. This means maintaining a separate set of equipment, separate baking areas, separate staff wear, separate raw materials storage area, etc. Hence, an additional investment is required.
Low shelf life: Lack of wheat flour and gluten in the products significantly reduces the moisture retention capacity of the product, and so gluten-free products typically have a very low shelf life. Gluten-free products need to be consumed within 48 hours of baking or under proper refrigeration can be used for a maximum of 3-4 days. With unpredictable consumption patterns, it can be an expensive affair to offer a range of different gluten-free products due to unsold inventory.