If there’s only one bandwagon you plan to jump on in the coming year, the gluten-free craze is probably the most profitable one you could pick as a commissary.
“Sales of gluten-free food increased 136 percent — to $11.6 billion — from 2013 to 2015,” says Eric Richard, education coordinator at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. “And ‘gluten-free’ is now the top nutritional ingredient claim on menus, growing 127 percent from 2012 to 2015.”
And according to Packaged Facts, gluten-free products brought in $1.57 billion in profits last year alone, and the market is expected to grow to $2.34 billion by 2019 — nearly 1.5 times the size of the market in 2014.
Gluten and flour
So if you’re considering taking advantage of the trend, which doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon, one of the most important things you’ll have to change about your food’s production is the type of flour you use — and there are a lot of alternatives to choose from.
“Baking without gluten (as found primarily in wheat flour) can be challenging, because gluten contributes important properties to various types of baked products like cookies, cakes, pastries and breads,” says Gluten-Free Baking, a Colorado State University report written and published by graduate students Felicia Watson and Marisa Bunning under the direction of Dr. Martha Stone. “Gluten development is not as important for cookies as it is for cakes, so gluten-free flours can be substituted with similar results. Cakes and other types of batter-based products, like pancakes, need gluten for its gas-retaining ability that produces a light and airy interior structure and a tender crumb.”
Julie Faber, director of marketing and compliance at Pizzey Ingredients, which is a flaxseed company based in Manitoba, Canada, knows all about this, as flaxseed is a common gluten-free alternative.
“Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale that helps give baked goods their structure and shape,” she agrees. “Pizzey Ingredients’ BlendPur and BakePur flax products are naturally gluten free and can be used as a gluten-free flour in baked goods. BlendPur can also be used as a 1:1 replacement for guar or xanthan gum. While guar and xanthan gum are commonly found in many gluten-free formulations, some people are sensitive to them, and others do not consider them to be clean-label ingredients. BakePur is best suited for whole-grain applications where a coarse grind size is desired.”
Besides the many gluten-free blends available from ingredients companies like Pizzey, along with the numerous blends you can make yourself from various combinations of gluten-free flour substitutes, there are individual alternatives that differ in weight, texture, and other baking qualities that will be important to research before experimenting with.
According to wheat-free.org, among these alternatives are amaranth, arrowroot, banana, brown rice, buckwheat, chia, chickpea (also known as gram or garbanzo flour), coconut, coffee, corn, cornmeal, hemp, lupin, maize, millet, potato, quinoa, sorghum, soya, tapioca, teff, and white rice flours.
And like those many alternatives, many different blends of these ingredients can be made in order to find the closest match to your original recipe in taste, texture, and cost, and can have the additional benefit of your being able to include other buzzwords on your label such as high-fiber or high-protein.
The importance of gum
A second aspect to consider, as mentioned by Faber, is the inclusion or exclusion of xanthan or guar gum, which can ensure the stability of the product you’re trying to create.
“In addition to replacing the wheat flour with gluten-free flour, other additives can hold gas,” Gluten-Free Baking reports. “These products include xanthan gum and guar gum, and can be found in the baking or natural food section of the grocery store. Bread is perhaps the most challenging gluten-free baked product to make because gluten provides structure, creates a tender crumb, and retains gas. With experimentation and practice, a combination of gluten-free flours and gums can be used to create a loaf with good volume, softness and texture.”
It’s a lot to consider, and working alongside partnering companies and consulting firms can help you experiment to see if there’s another, gluten-free formula that is close enough (or just tasty enough) to market alongside your traditional products. It will take a little time and investment, sure, but in the end (and over the next 5 to 10 years) the potential payoff could be huge.