Researchers at Teagasc Food Research Ashtown are producing tasty, nutritious gluten-free breads for coeliac disease sufferers.
The research focused on using the so-called 'pseudocereals' amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat to replace wheat in bread formulations. These cereals are gluten-free, and are also rich in nutrients; therefore, their incorporation in the gluten-free diet could not only add variety but also improve nutritional quality.
"Greater public awareness and improved diagnostic procedures have combined to highlight the prevalence of coeliac disease and gluten intolerance in the general population, which is estimated to affect 1 per cent of the population. The only accepted treatment for coeliac disease is a strict, life-long elimination of gluten from the diet," explains Dr Eimear Gallagher, Teagasc Food Research Ashtown, who is leading the research project.
Many widely consumed staples, such as bread and pasta, are made using gluten-containing grains such as wheat, which must be avoided by coeliac patients. Although gluten-free alternatives are readily available in the market, these products are often characterised by a crumbly, brittle texture, and are perceived as being of inferior quality compared to the wheat products they are intended to replace. In addition to quality defects, gluten-free foods are also characterised by an inferior nutritional quality. They have been reported to contain lower levels of essential nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and fibre, than are contained in wheat products. This is mainly due to the fact that gluten-free products are generally formulated with starches and refined flours, and are not usually fortified.
Research at Teagasc Food Research Ashtown has addressed some of the nutritional needs of coeliacs by formulating palatable, gluten-free breads with enhanced nutritional properties. It has focused on using the so-called 'pseudocereals' amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat to replace wheat in bread formulations. These cereals are gluten-free, and are also rich in nutrients; therefore, their incorporation in the gluten-free diet could not only add variety but also improve nutritional quality.
"Other characteristics of these seeds, such as their high protein, fibre and mineral content, as well as the presence of many bioactive components (compounds with beneficial effects on the body), make them attractive alternatives to traditional gluten-free ingredients (such as rice, potato and corn flours/starches) in the production of high quality, healthy gluten-free product," explains Dr Gallagher.
Tasty nutritious gluten-free bread
"All pseudocereal-containing gluten-free breads had a significantly softer crumb in comparison with the gluten-free control. Nutritional studies revealed that gluten-free breads containing pseudocereals had significantly higher levels of protein and dietary fibre in comparison with the gluten-free control. The nutritional value of these breads was also in line with the existing nutritional recommendations for coeliac diets and coeliac products. Also, all of the pseudocereal breads showed significantly higher antioxidant activity and polyphenol content compared with the gluten-free control," explains Dr Gallagher. Antioxidants prevent food oxidation during cooking and storage, and can also protect the body from degenerative diseases.
Dairy as gluten-free ingredients
Teagasc food researchers working at Ashtown and Moorepark are investigating the conditions required to produce a dairy-based ingredient with properties similar to gluten in a gluten-free dough system. So far, the researchers have found that under optimum conditions of pH and calcium concentration, casein aggregates and forms a protein network capable of retaining gas in gluten-free dough, similar to wheat dough. This work is still in progress.
Benefits to industry
Dr Gallagher said that the ingredients, formulations and technologies that have been studied and developed in these projects have yielded novel information, which will help to provide the industry with healthy, viable alternatives to the more traditional approaches in gluten-free formulation and baking.