Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the American Dietetic Association (ADA) annual conference in San Diego yesterday, Bay State Milling director of marketing Colleen Zammer said the firm’s gluten-free mixes had been so successful it was now considering whether to manufacture finished products such as pizza bases for food manufacturers and foodservice companies.
The largest family-owned milling company in the US, Bay State is best-known for supplying wheat flour and bakery mixes to bakeries, foodservice operators and food manufacturers, but had recently branched out into gluten-free after developing a dedicated facility at its site at Wichita, Kansas, said Zammer.
Texture remains a challenge
While xanthan gum and tapioca starch could replace some of the qualities of gluten, it remained very difficult to precisely replicate the textural qualities of baked goods made with wheat flour, she said.
“I don’t think we are quite there yet in terms of texture.”
But although many gluten-free products still had an undesirable dense or crumbly texture, they were improving all of the time, while some manufacturers were also moving beyond rice flour and tapioca starch to include more nutritious ancient grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, chia, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff, she said.
Fortification of gluten-free products with vitamins, minerals and other ingredients was also becoming more common as firms recognized that celiacs often missed out on nutrients found in fortified wheat flour, she added.
While many gluten-free manufacturers were still Mom and Pop operations started by individuals suffering from celiac disease or cooking for celiac family members, continued double-digit growth in the market would prompt more major league players to bid for a slice of the action, she predicted.
Firms were also beginning to cotton on the fact that the market for gluten-free extended well beyond celiacs, and stretched to gluten sensitive individuals, people choosing to avoid wheat for ‘lifestyle’ reasons, plus family members of all of these groups, she said.
As for labeling, gluten-free expert Tricia Thompson said the prospect of a clear threshold for gluten (the FDA has proposed that products containing less than 20ppm gluten can carry a gluten-free label) was good news, and would give clarity to consumers and manufacturers alike.
However, she warned that many grain-based products, especially oat-based products - that were naturally gluten-free were nevertheless cross-contaminated with gluten at well over 20ppm, and advised consumers to select only those carrying gluten free labels.
On the plus side, recent analysis of 27 leading gluten-free products on the US market by Gluten Free Watchdog had revealed that 25 were under the 20ppm limit, and most were under 5ppm, she said.
She also tried to reassure dieticians that if modified food starch, glucose syrup, dextrins, maltodextrins, caramel colors and sugar alcohols were derived from wheat, firms making FDA-regulated products had to make this clear on the label. “If it just says starch, it means corn starch,” she said.
To confuse matters, however, on products regulated by USDA such as meat, poultry and egg products, the word starch could mean corn OR wheat starch, she said.
FDA: Tell us what you think about gluten-free labeling – by Monday!
Rhonda Kane from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urged all stakeholders to get their comments in about the FDA's proposed gluten-free labeling rule by Monday October 3. Under the proposed rule, firms will be able to use gluten-free claims on products containing less than 20ppm gluten.
Stakeholders are primarily invited to comment on whether the <20ppm threshold is appropriate, she said, but the FDA also wants to know whether there is any merit in defining the term ‘low-gluten’ for products containing more than 20ppm, but less than, say, 200ppm gluten.
The FDA also wants to know whether gluten-free claims should be accompanied by some kind of qualifying statement making it clear that products could still contain up to 20ppm gluten, added Kane.
Finally, if manufacturers wanted to make gluten-free claims on products that did not naturally contain gluten in the first place, such as milk or bottled water, should such claims be accompanied by statements along the lines of, ‘all milk is generally gluten-free’, she asked.
“If you think this is a good idea, you need to tell us.”