Researchers from an EU-funded project used new innovative ingredients and techniques to replicate the taste and texture of gluten in gluten-free food, said the European Commission in a press release on Tuesday.
While eating "gluten-free" products such as pizza, bread and pasta has in the past meant having to sacrifice flavor, the GlutenFree project developed commercially viable bakery and pasta products that are both nutritious and tasty, a breakthrough that promises to improve the lives of celiac disease sufferers.
The disease currently affects around 1 in 100 people, caused by the immune system reacting to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Once diagnosed, the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.
The project worked with ingredient providers and research institutes in order to develop a range of alternative ingredients from plant proteins which were then trialed in a variety of bakery products and pasta.
"This enabled us to naturally improve the nutritional quality of the final products, and also prolong shelf-life without the intervention of chemical preservatives," said project coordinator Juergen Bez of the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.
The project then worked with small to medium-sized food manufacturers across Europe to take better-tasting gluten-free food from the lab to market. While many innovative small companies have carved out a niche in the gluten-free market, capturing the texture and flavor that gluten gives has been an issue in terms of market appeal.
"Gluten-free bread and pasta has shown continuous improvement during the project in terms of consumer acceptance and sensory perception," says Bez, "at the end, the latest formula was accepted by consumers as being comparable to the market leader."
After the project ended, a small food processor in Italy has used the research to develop a gluten-free spaghetti product that is now commercially available. The company also improved another of its products, a buckwheat gnocchi.
"The bottom line is that some products developed during this research project received higher acceptance ratings than comparable available products," said Bez, "some consumers even described some products as being 'very much like gluten-containing bread,' indicating that we achieved our objectives of attaining high consumer acceptance."