By Micah Cheek
With gluten free diets making headlines, food companies are putting more focus than ever on their wheat free alternative products. Irene Gottesman, Director of Marketing and Sales at Blends by Orly, credits the shift to the new availability of gluten allergy testing, which has led to children being tested earlier in life. She adds, “When one child is gluten free, often the whole family becomes gluten free.” Parents will start consuming gluten free products make sure their child doesn’t have to eat a different meal than the rest of the family. An added benefit to this is a greater ease in meal planning. This increased consumption has placed gluten free breads, cookies and pastas side by side with their wheat filled counterparts in grocery aisles.
The pre-made foods being produced are a great help to people with gluten sensitivities or allergies, but they still suffer some significant shortfalls. The shelf life of unfrozen gluten free baked goods is generally shorter than baked goods with wheat. This causes many baked goods to come out of their package already stale. Some companies have to resort to using more preservatives to maintain shelf stability. Flavor and texture issues have also cast a bad light on the gluten free market, and discriminating consumers are now driving demand for products that match or exceed the palatability of wheat based baked goods.
Rivaling wheat products is where baking mixes most stand out from other gluten free products. Janine Somers, Director of Marketing at Stonewall Kitchen, says, “Using high quality ingredients and never sacrificing on taste, we develop our gluten free products with the same standards we use for every other Stonewall Kitchen product. Quality and flavor are never compromised.” Due to the popularity of these mixes, gluten free recipes from pizza crust to doughnuts are now being offered. The homemade aspect of these products offers a greater sense of quality and freshness. “Since everything at Stonewall Kitchen starts and ends with quality, we believe the rise in this category for us in particular is due to the fact that our gluten free products are just as tasty and satisfying as our traditional mixes,” Somers says.
The ability to replicate the texture and flavor of wheat based products is determined by the careful mixing of different flours. As the market for gluten free flour blends and baking mixes grows, producers are trying new combinations of grains and starches in an effort to more accurately replicate wheat’s behaviors. Somers says, “While most mixes use potato, rice and tapioca flours, developers are looking at oats which also offer a nutritional quality. Another trend in mix development is the use of bean flours and other grains such as sorghum, chia and millet, which are being used in a combination with other gluten free flours.” Blends by Orly has a collection of flour blends which are designed as one to one wheat flour substitutes in any recipe, rather than a single product mix. “The reason we’re able to say it rivals wheat products,” says Gottesman, “Is because we tested them against wheat recipes.” Blends by Orly baked classic recipes with their flours, taste testing them on people who regularly ate gluten. This helped to eventually match the familiar qualities of the original product.
The emotional motivator for making gluten-free products at home comes from how customers feel they are perceived personally. Buying gluten free products can make consumers feel like their eating habits or restrictions are on display. Gluten free packaging is often distinct from other packages, and is marketed primarily for health rather than flavor. Gottesman says, “When you’re buying something for a dietary issue, you don’t want to feel like you’re in a pharmacy all the time.”