Bakers Journal

Technical Talk: October 2014

September 15, 2014
By John Michaelides

Making sense of the gluten-free marketplace – and the new rules that will affect us all.

Making sense of the gluten-free marketplace – and the new rules that will affect us all.

The core audience for gluten-free products will always be those suffering from Celiac disease.


The development of gluten-free products is the food product manufacturers’ attempt to satisfy the needs of those suffering from Celiac disease. This disease is the chronic intolerance to some cereal gluten forming proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and some other wheat-related cereals.

The term “gluten” is basically the result of various proteins from wheat, barley, rye and other related grains that combine during dough development to form the structure that is important in the baking process. The main two proteins in these grains are gliadin and glutenin. The celiac-toxic component, which is present in alpha, gamma and omega-gliadins (wheat), hordeins (barley) and secalins (rye), is the main cause of disease.

It is estimated that one in 100 to 300 people worldwide is diagnosed with Celiac disease. Although the number of individuals diagnosed with Celiac disease is growing due to better and faster diagnosis techniques, this portion of gluten-free (GF) consumers represents a small number in the market.

There is also a growing number of self-diagnosed consumers who are influenced by media and other information sources. Self-diagnosis is common due to the multitude of symptoms Celiac disease is known to cause. These include severe cramps, inflammation, chronic diarrhea, abdominal distension, fatigue, neurological symptoms, anaemia, osteoporosis, skin rashes and weight loss. 

Although it currently may appear to be niche, there are indications that the market is moving into the mainstream. There is no doubt the actual number of cases is increasing, but one needs to be careful with these figures because of the uncertainty of the self-diagnosed portion of consumers. However, the core audience for gluten-free products will always be those genuinely suffering from Celiac disease and who have an adverse reaction to consuming gluten.

And the audience is also potentially broader. While a dairy or gluten-free diet was once used only by those suffering from illness or intolerance, many ‘free-from’ products are now seen as foods that can improve general health. The wheat-free diet recently caused a lot of controversy and confusion to the general consumer. Free-from foods must credibly communicate the broader benefits rather than simply relying on the ingredients they exclude.

The entrance of GF food products in the market will continue to evolve with new technologies and with ingredients that enable manufacturers to develop products that closely resemble, in structure and taste, those that contain gluten.

The GF market is currently enjoying substantial growth, which is a good portion of the total intolerance market. North America and the EU are the most developed markets with a number of new GF products appearing annually.

As a result of the growing market and consumption of GF food products, many countries and jurisdictions are looking to ensure that consumer health is protected and products are correctly labelled. For this reason, definitions of what constitutes a gluten-free product had to be developed.

Most countries have developed labelling rules on GF food products based on the Codex Alimentarius definition. This definition states that gluten-free foods can be made from naturally gluten-free ingredients and/or ingredients containing wheat, barley, rye, or crossbred varieties of these grains that have been specially processed to remove gluten with a gluten level not exceeding 20 milligrams per kilogram (20 parts per million).

Health Canada’s position on GF states: “Based on the available scientific evidence, Health Canada considers that gluten-free foods, prepared under good manufacturing practices, which contain levels of gluten not exceeding 20 ppm as a result of cross-contamination, meet the health and safety intent of B.24.018 when a gluten-free claim is made.”

Based on the enhanced labelling regulations for allergens and gluten sources, any intentionally added gluten sources, even at low levels (e.g. wheat flour as a component in a seasoning mixture which makes up a small proportion of the final food), must be declared either in the list of ingredients or in a “contains” statement. In these cases, a gluten-free claim would be considered false and misleading.

“If, however, a manufacturer using a cereal-derived ingredient includes additional processing steps which are demonstrated to be effective in removing gluten, then the food may be represented as gluten-free.”

Last August, the U.S. FDA issued a final rule defining the term “gluten-free” for voluntary use in the labelling of foods. The compliance date for the final rule was August 5, 2014. The rule states: “In general, foods may be labeled ‘gluten-free’ if they meet the definition and otherwise comply with the final rule’s requirements.”

More specifically, the final rule defines ‘gluten-free’ as meaning that the food either is inherently gluten free; or does not contain an ingredient that is: 1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); 2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or 3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food. Also, any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm.”

This year the EU, recognizing the increased consumption of GF foods, has moved the gluten-free labeling laws into the Food Information for Consumers (FIC) regulations. This has allowed these products to be better represented in the mainstream food categories.

Many analytical tests are available for testing the presence of gluten in foods. Some of these are quick, involving immunoassays as well as other new technologies. These tests can be performed by food manufacturers for screening their own products. In addition, various laboratories are now providing more accurate analytical services.

Scientists are also continuing their efforts to find the actual cause of Celiac disease. Recent studies have shown that a specific human protein plays an important role against the inflammatory reaction relating to Celiac disease. Continued research investigations may eventually result in a better treatment for those who are suffering.

For more information, or fee for service help with food technical and processing issues and needs, please contact Dr. John Michaelides at John Michaelides Consulting. He can be reached at 519.743.8956, at Bioenterprise at 519.821.2960 or by email Bionterprise is a company of experienced professionals that coach and mentor emerging agri-technology companies from planning to start-up to profitability and beyond.

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