By now, you’ve heard plenty of buzz about gluten-free eating. Whether to keep the unhappy effects of Celiac disease at bay or for other health-related reasons, consumers are eschewing ordinary baked goods, breads, pastas, and other traditionally gluten-laden products for gluten-free alternatives.
As someone with a professional history in the supermarket bakery, this trend intrigues me. One of my earliest job experiences was working the night shift in a supermarket in the combination Bakery/Deli department. My duties included serving customers; cleaning tables, walls and floors; and prepping food for the following day’s production of baked goods and prepared meals. After a few months of this routine, I was asked to come into work early on Saturday morning to assist the Head Baker. My co-workers teased that now I was going to be “making a lot of dough.”
Getting an up-close look at the baking process fascinated me. I enjoyed learning how flour, water, baking powder and other ingredients undergo dramatic changes in volume, texture and taste as a result of time, humidity and temperature. As an added bonus, I started wearing the “cool” bakery whites, hat and apron
(I think the uniform is what first attracted my wife to me).
Somewhere along the line, wheat and gluten developed a questionable reputation in the eyes of many consumers. It’s all about perception—even people who don’t have a documented sensitivity toward gluten still avoid it because it “seems healthy” to do so (see this Food Business News article for more information about this phenomenon).
The increasing demand for gluten alternatives has led to surprising innovations in just what goes into “flour” for baked goods and pastas. Some popular alternative flours include:
- rice (white or brown)
- nut meal (such as almond flour)
- coconut (great for retaining moisture in baked goods)
or a combination of several of these ingredients.
Ancient grains are also gaining more mainstream appreciation thanks to the gluten-free crowd. Grain options like amaranth, quinoa, and teff have emerged as whole-grain, gluten-free options that contain more protein than their popular rice or corn counterparts. Depending on why the flour is used, such as making pasta versus cake, certain ingredients work more successfully than others. See this article for helpful information on what type of alternative flour is best for your dough-making needs.
Regardless of the reason people seek out gluten-free foods, it’s definitely a trend to watch and a major growth area for retail bakers. In fact, dietitians predict that consumers will continue to gravitate toward low-wheat Paleo and “wheat belly” diets in addition to gluten-elimination diets as a way to improve health and manage weight in 2014 . It’s an exciting time for producers and retailers to get creative and find new ways to reinvent the bakery.
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And, as usual, we can’t miss the opportunity to mention something kind of weird… Check out this video to learn about another source of alternative, gluten-free, high-protein flour: insects!