Bakers Journal

Technical Talk: December 2006

November 7, 2007
By Technical Talk

Gluten-free Baking Without Grains or Cereals

Question: What problems are associated with gluten in our diets; and what are the challenges in producing gluten-free baked goods?

Answer: Gluten is a protein present in certain cereals and grains. Gluten is the most functional component of flours used for the baking of bread and other baked goods.  A certain portion of the human population is sensitive to gluten and suffers Celiac disease. This disease is basically a disorder of the intestinal track that manifests itself upon exposure to gluten.

Many cereals and ingredients produced from grains, including barley, wheat, durum wheat, einkorn, emmer, spelt, kamut, rye, bulgur, couscous, semolina, wheat bran, wheat germ and others, contain the portion of gluten responsible for the reaction. In the case of oats, also thought to affect sensitive individuals, it is now believed that their effect is due to contamination from other grains. However, in North America, oats are still not recommended for individuals suffering from Celiac disease.

The disease gradually affects the small intestine surface (villi) and restricts the absorption of nutrients. At first, it affects the areas where the absorption of iron and folic acid takes place; then, progressively, other areas where nutrients such as vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates are absorbed. The disease will also, as a secondary effect, due to the damage to the site of the production of the enzyme that breaks down lactose, resulting in lactose intolerance. Celiac disease affects the autoimmune system, and therefore can affect many other diseases that are associated with this system. Celiac disease is recognized as hereditary and affects many individuals worldwide. The odds among individuals with a family history of Celiac disease are much higher, ranging from one in 22 up to 39, depending on the proximity of the relation. The prevalence is huge, and it increases as more and more people become aware of the symptoms, and the diagnosis becomes more advanced. On an average worldwide, it could take 10-12 years to diagnose. The onset of the disease can happen at any age, contrary to what was believed — that it normally began with children when they were fed cereals and grains. 

In trying to develop food products for people with Celiac disease, the baked goods sector is the most challenging one. The challenge is the effect that gluten has on the performance of baked goods – especially breads and other yeast-raised products.  The characteristic visco-elastic properties, and the ability to form matrices that give structure to baked goods, cannot be found in any other commercially available plant protein.  Some research has shown that some plant proteins, such as Caroubin, found in the germ of the Carob bean, have similar properties to gluten. However, it has not been commercialized and its effect on the Celiac diet has not been determined.

The demand for more gluten-free baked goods has also increased the need for specialized ingredients that can enable manufacturers to produce acceptable products.  The action of many of these ingredients is unique, and needs to be well understood in order to optimize their performance. As discussed above, it is obvious that these ingredients must be completely devoid of any traces of gluten. The ingredients can be divided into two functional types: a) actual ingredients; or b) modifying ingredients that interact with others, or facilitate the interaction of ingredients in the system to achieve the desired functionality. The basic replacement of the wheat or other gluten-containing flours can be achieved with the use of other flours such as rice, soy, white bean, and flours from other conventional and exotic grains. In addition, starches from other sources such as corn, rice and potatoes can be used. Other proteins such as soy, milk and egg may be used in the case of cake and cookie products. Several micro-ingredients can assist in the development of systems that mimic the matrices formed by the action of gluten. For example, the retention of gas in the bread can be somewhat achieved by the development of a system using various gums such as xanthan, locust bean gum, guar and cellulose. The use of enzymes in the gluten-free baked goods is also critical. Several enzymes can assist in enhancing the performance of the various ingredients. For example, the enzyme Transglutaminase links different amino acids from different proteins together to form complexes.  This action can simulate the functionality of gluten in a gluten-free system. It has been demonstrated that complexing the proteins in eggs using this enzyme can achieve good results.

One of the difficulties with gluten-free baked goods is achieving a reasonable shelf life.  Due to higher moisture content, these products are prone to microbial spoilage. Microbial shelf life may be extended by incorporating both natural and synthetic antimicrobials. Staling can be prevented by the use of enzymes and surfactants, each of which can influence the starch behaviour.
The development of good quality baked goods without gluten is a challenging task. Progress has been made, but manufacturers are still encountering many difficulties.

For more information, or fee-for-service help with product or process development needs, please contact the GFTC at 519-821-1246, by fax at 519-836-1281, or by e-mail at

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