On the formulating side, gluten-free baked foods are always improving. Formulators are finding new ways to enhance the structure and nutrition of these type of bread. On the processing side, these doughs remain completely different from their conventional counterparts. The difference is suppliers have a better sense of what to expect when a gluten-free baker requests equipment.

“Yes, formulations have certainly improved, but we learned a lot as gluten-free became more mainstream, and now we’re able to process gluten-free with confidence,” said David Moline, vice-president, sales and marketing, Moline Machinery.

While some gluten-free doughs have begun to take shape more similar to conventional bread doughs, many of them remain batter-like in consistency. These doughs tend to be relatively tacky to work with. Today’s equipment helps handle these doughs in a way that maintains their integrity.

“Today, we know how gluten-free doughs have to be handled,” said Alex Weissbach, head of technical process management, Rondo, Inc. “Today the requests we see from bakers more and more are for increased production capacity and improved flexibility with better price-performance ratios.”

With the help of test centers and teams of experts these bakers can increase their capacity and flexibility while preserving their product quality.

Sticky and delicate

Despite formulation improvements, gluten-free structure remains the critical issue in getting these products to hold up against machining. These doughs (or batters in many cases) need to be handled with care.

“Our flagship divider/rounders aren’t capable of processing gluten-free bread products, and the reason for that is without the gluten, it’s almost a thick cake batter,” said Jon Cabral, marketing director, Erika Record Baking Equipment. “That forces you to pivot. The equipment you’re used to isn’t going to work very well or at all for gluten-free products.”

This requires bakers and equipment suppliers to think outside the box when looking at automating the gluten-free process. Bakers can use a depositor or extruder — or even sheeting and laminating — instead of a ram-and-shear divider.

“If the product is a true flowable batter, then piston-style batter depositors work very well, provided the correct nozzle for the depositor is selected to work with the sticky gluten-free batter,” said Rod Gregg, vice-president, sales, Hinds-Bock Corp.

Some gluten-free formulations have evolved to have a more dough-like consistency, allowing them to be processed on more traditional bread-forming equipment. These dough-like formulations contain film-forming ingredients that mimic the gluten network, noted Jay Fernandez, bakery innovation center manager, The Middleby Corp.


“Dough-like gluten-free formulas can vary greatly,” he said. “All will have more water than traditional breads and buns, so it’s important that we work closely with the customer and test.”

John Giacoio, vice-president, sales, Rheon USA, said as the gluten-free bread industry began to grow, the company didn’t even realize it had anything to offer these customers.

“Bakers began asking us if we had this capability, but they weren’t coming to us for our traditional bread equipment,” he said. “They were actually looking at our co-extrusion equipment.”

Whatever system is being used, it’s critical that the equipment handle the dough gently and have ways to keep the dough from sticking.

Rheon’s co-extrusion equipment was built with sticky applications in mind: caramels and nougats for the candy industry as well as mochi ice cream. This capability to form sticky materials into accurate balls and logs made it a good fit for gluten-free doughs, too.

“It just lends itself perfectly to these sticky, wet doughs that don’t have a lot of structure,” Mr. Giacoio said.

A co-extruder typically is designed to create a filled product, but in the case of gluten-free buns and rolls, Rheon’s machine does not add filling — just more dough. The nozzle’s diameter and settings can be changed to make rolls, hamburger buns or hot dog buns. The shutter that cuts the dough piece is made from a UHMW plastic, suitable for a sticky product. The shutter motion — designed to seal in a filling — is very effective at creating a perfect ball or tube shape.

AMF Bakery Systems developed a simple, continuous style direct-deposit dough divider to handle slack doughs like gluten-free. The company’s BreadFlex D3 Divider uses a low shear proprietary vane style metering pump to gently and accurately scale the dough.

For depositing, another common way to shape and divide gluten-free doughs, it’s important that the dough is pulled gently and consistently through the pump.

“The quality of gluten-free baked goods has improved over time in terms of offering the customer a better eating experience and product characteristics,” said Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager, Handtmann, Inc. “This is raising the bar for processing equipment. It needs to handle the dough gentler without changing the texture and other desired characteristics on the finished product.”

Handtmann offers a series of dividers and depositors designed to minimize the handling of doughs or batters with that intention of preserving their integrity.

Erika Record’s depositing solution features intermediate gears to create a consistent flow through the nozzle head.

Sheeters and laminators come with their own challenges in handling these doughs gently. For example, the falling heights associated with these processes can damage the dough, more so for delicate gluten-free than stronger doughs.

“On a sheeting line, the dough has to go through a gauging station, and the dough sheet hangs through the falling height,” said Nick Magistrelli, vice-president, sales, Rademaker USA. “It’s important to remain cognizant of those falling heights because a short, sticky dough like gluten-free wants to hang on rollers and belts, that affects the processing and product quality.”

Rademaker has designed its reduction components in a way that keeps these falling heights to a minimum.

When gluten-free dough is sheeted, Mr. Moline said that a dough sheet tension monitoring system will become a must-have rather than an optional feature.

“On a traditional artisan bread or flatbread system, it’s not necessary because the dough strength is there,” he said.

A monitoring system ensures the dough is properly sheeted without breaking the sheet.

He also suggested that gluten-free doughs would benefit from having more sheeting stations with less reduction at each station. This creates a gentler sheeting experience for the dough.


Becoming flexible

The category is always growing and bakers are trying to meet that demand; for some, this means automating for the first time.

“At the beginning, it didn’t necessarily warrant the investment for an automated line,” Mr. Moline said. “Now we’re seeing demand has grown to the point where fully automated systems are starting to make a lot more sense.”

For others, it could be increasing throughput on an existing line or expanding into new products. This demands more automation, efficiency and flexibility.

“In addition to efficiency, many gluten-free bakers are looking to expand their range,” said John McIsaac, vice-president of strategic business development, Reiser. “We are seeing more gluten-free applications for specialty rolls, sweet goods and bagels.”

Vemag depositors from Reiser are designed to improve efficiency and enhance a line’s flexibility. Weight control and accurate scaling prevent wasting or giving away expensive ingredients.

“Tight scaling is becoming even more critical in a more competitive environment,” Mr. McIsaac explained. Reiser has turned its focus to Vemag attachments and Vemag double-screws to enable bakers to expand their offerings.

“One base Vemag with several different attachments can process a wide range of gluten-free products such as breads, buns, bagels, cookies, muffins and more in single or multiple lanes,” said Ron Mullins, director, national bakery accounts, Reiser.

AMF’s BreadFlex D3 Divider has quick change nozzles to allow operators to quickly change from small to large products or products requiring a profile extrusion.

By using a confectionery depositor, bakers can create a wider variety of gluten-free products than just bread. Erika Record’s depositor’s touchscreen recipe programming makes it easy to select the appropriate product, and the equipment enables operators to swap out attachments quickly and easily for different production needs. With one machine, bakers can make gluten-free bread, cookies, cakes and a variety of other products.

“We like to offer a well-rounded solution,” Mr. Cabral said. “If you’re a gluten-free-only bakery, then we can help with not just bread but also all of the other products you’re trying to adapt to gluten-free as well.”

As bakers expect their gluten-free business to grow, it’s important that the equipment they invest in keeps up with demand.

“Bakers expect us to design and build the new production lines to meet today’s requirement but also thinking ahead and being able to easily increase capacity and have the option to add new production without much retooling and capital expenditure,” Mr. Zelaya said.

Handtmann equipped its new VF800 series dough dividers to be able to increase throughput at anytime with just the release of a software code.

“This allows us to make the equipment more affordable today for those bakers who don’t need the extra capacity right away, but they have the option to upgrade and increase capacity in the future without having to replace the equipment,” he explained.

This article is an excerpt from the December 2018 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on gluten-free processing, click here.