More Than Removing Wheat Flour
Consumer interest in gluten-free food products continues to grow as evidenced by sales in the gluten-free category approaching nearly $11.6 billion in 2015. Continued growth of the category is expected.
What Qualifies as Gluten-Free?
U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations require that a food labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein in grains, most commonly known for giving elasticity to bread dough.
Which grains contain gluten?
Gluten protein is technically present in all grains, even rice and corn. However the focus of gluten-free is usually on avoiding grains from certain grasses: wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats.
What’s driving the demand for gluten-free food products?
Celiac disease — An auto-immune disorder, people suffering from celiac disease are unable to digest the gluten protein found in wheat and related grains such as barley and rye. When the body detects gluten in the digestive tract, it attacks it, and in doing so, causes damage to the small intestine.
Celiac disease has no cure. The only way affected people (estimated 3 million in the U.S.), can manage the condition is to not consume gluten, which limits their food options.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity — It’s thought to arise as a result of an immunological response to gluten that differs in nature to the immune response characteristic of Celiac disease. The medical community has not come to a consensus that such sensitivity actually exists. Regardless, there is a growing population who believe they are sensitive to gluten and believe that they feel better eating a diet containing less gluten or no gluten.
Diet and lifestyle choices — People who choose to avoid gluten, perceiving for a variety of reasons that eating less gluten is simply a healthier lifestyle.
Is there a downside to gluten-free?
A gluten-free diet can lack the vitamins, minerals and fibers that are found in the grains or the nutrients that are added to fortify and enrich the grain flours, that contain gluten.
Are spices and herbs gluten-free?
Spices and herbs in their natural state do not contain gluten protein. However, gathering, cultivating and harvesting practices overseas in spice origins can cause inadvertent gluten presence.
For example, inadequate cleaning of equipment used in the fields to transport wheat, barley and rye grains and also spices and herbs can inadvertently introduce grain seeds and residue, and therefore gluten protein, into the spice and herb materials.
If whole material is ground overseas, then any gluten-containing materials inadvertently present will be ground along with it, creating risk of unintended gluten presence.
Can spices be assured gluten-free?
Yes, and like any special requirement, this assurance comes at a premium. Almost all spices and herbs come from overseas origins. There are a limited number of sources that will certify gluten-free whole or ground material and provide test-sample evidence to support that certification. Because of this, gluten-free spices command a premium.
Additional testing of spices to assure gluten-free prior to use adds peace-of-mind and also cost. Even if certified, material ground overseas can be tested in the U.S. prior to use here to verify gluten-free; whole spices brought into the U.S. for grinding, even if certified, can be tested pre- and post-grind to verify or assure gluten-free. The amount of additional testing required determines the amount of added cost.
Can seasoning blends be developed to allow a gluten-free food claim?
Yes, they can. Effective development or revision of a seasoning blend to allow a gluten-free final food product starts with gluten-free objectives being clearly communicated up-front, ideally via a detailed spec sheet. It also requires a thorough understanding up-front of the finished product in which the seasoning blend will be incorporated—not only of the final product itself, but also how it is manufactured, as well as what is expected by or intended for the consumer, along with allergen and other requirements. Understanding of the final product should also include the gluten content of other materials besides the seasoning blend.
By achieving clarity before the development process begins, the targeted flavor, olfactory, visual and nutritional qualities, as well as the gluten-free objectives for the final food product, will all be considered during seasoning blend development.
Food manufacturers benefit from the collective knowledge of gluten-free possessed by the culinary and food science teams at Asenzya and from their varied experience in helping food manufacturers achieve gluten-free objectives for their finished products.
Asenzya’s culinary and food science teams welcome the opportunity to apply their expertise to achieve your gluten-free objectives! Feel free to contact us with questions or ideas.