UNLIMITED OATS: GLUTEN-FREE MADE TASTIER

This article has been published in The World of Food Ingredients.

 

Meeting consumer values and wants is a prerequisite for any successful brand. While consumers are also seeking healthier foods and foods for special diets, no one is really willing to compromise on taste. The gluten-free category has grown beyond consumers with diagnosed medical conditions, and with tastier products the opportunities are unlimited.

Consumer demand: gluten-free that is a fit for all

Even with dietary restrictions and desires for healthy and ethical food, people still want to enjoy eating. Gluten-free foods and particularly gluten-free breads have traditionally not been very appealing for those without a physiological need While there are a growing number of gluten-free products that also taste good, according to Invenire Market Intelligence’s research there is a lot of room for great tasting gluten-free products that “everyone can eat”.

One big driver for people without celiac disease to go gluten-free is to make it easier within families and in social occasions to serve only one type of product that everyone can enjoy. In addition to better product formulations, the branding of gluten-free products should be appealing and convey the message that the product is for anyone – not only for those with medical conditions. (Invenire Market Intelligence. 2018. Market brief – Foods free from gluten).

Oats are naturally gluten-free

Oats (Avena sativa) are a cereal grain grown around the globe in temperate regions. Oats are naturally gluten-free, belonging to an altogether different cereal family than cereals containing gluten. When certified and inspected seeds are used in cultivation, and when cross-contamination is prevented in the value chain, oats are a cereal crop suitable even for coeliacs as part of their gluten-free diet.

In the EU, oats were officially accepted as a gluten-free grain in 2009, and gluten-free oats are also endorsed by the Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS Gluten Free Standard). According to the regulations, the statement ‘gluten-free’ may only be made when neither the oat raw material nor the final product contains no more than 20 mg/kg of gluten (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 828/2014).

Finland is the forerunner

Oats have been a stable part of the gluten-free diet in Finland for over 20 years. Over 80% of celiac patients in Finland use oats as part of their diet, including children. A recent study confirms that diversifying a gluten-free diet with gluten-free oats is not harmful for celiac patients, but on the contrary is safe and even beneficial for health.*

For those on a gluten-free diet, Finnish oats provide a clean, safe and high-quality cereal source. With long traditions in oat production, Finnish farmers are particularly cultivating higher quality oat varieties intended for food use. Oats grow well in the harsh northern conditions and they don’t need a lot of fertilisers or pesticides to grow – the use of glyphosate on oats is actually forbidden in Finland during the growing season. Overall, the carbon footprint of Finnish oats is very low. According to the statistics from WHO, Finland has better air quality than any other country in the world. This pure growing environment further contributes to the safety of gluten-free oats.

*www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/6/611 The Long-Term Consumption of Oats in Celiac Disease Patients Is Safe:
A Large Cross-Sectional Study. Nutrients 2017, 9(6), 611

Tastier gluten-free foods with oats

According to Invenire Market Intelligence’s Market Brief, the opinion of many food industry experts is that most gluten-free bread and cakes still look and taste like cardboard. Gluten-free products also tend to feature quite long ingredient lists, thus not matching the consumer demands for shorter and simpler ingredient lists.

These issues can be solved by using oats in gluten-free foods, such as bread, pasta, crackers and biscuits. This is because oats can maintain moisture, provide a pleasant mouthfeel and enhance the structure. High levels of glyco- and phospholipids in wholegrain oats can function as a natural emulsifier in oats-based dough. The properties of oat starch and the high fibre content bring additional excellent water retention capacity to baked goods, which helps to maintain desired moisture level and provide potential benefits to structure, mouthfeel and shelf life.

Choosing Finnish gluten-free oats provides further benefits for food formulators. Finnish oat varieties combined with the northern growth environment also has an effect on taste, making Finnish oats nutty and soft-tasting with a fresh aroma. Finnish oats are also known for their beautiful pale colour and large grain size, attributes which are important for oat flake production.

Various oat ingredients such as high-fiber oat bran, bran concentrates and oat endosperm flour can be produced with dry fractionation process, which is a natural processing method with minimal processing steps. Having a variety of oat ingredients is extremely useful for tailoring recipes and optimising manufacturing processes. Furthermore, oat endosperm flour is a very potential white flour to replace wheat flour or starches in cereal-based recipes. It has a good taste profile and contains approximately 4 % dietary fibre and 2 % beta-glucan.

Oats take gluten-free to a new level nutritionally

Packaged gluten-free products frequently only use refined flours made from rice, corn or potato. The products often lack good quality carbohydrates and fibre. The benefit of using oats for gluten-free products is that compared to many other gluten-free cereals oats have a more balanced nutritional content. They are higher in fiber, higher in protein and contain good healthy fats, as well as a variety of important micronutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, vitamin B1 and folic acid in significant amounts (see table).

HEALTHY BETAGLUCAN

The fact that oats are undisputedly healthy is especially due to betaglucan, the special fiber component of oats. Additionally, wholegrain and fiber are widely understood by consumers as being healthy. The benefits of oat fiber include satiety, balancing blood sugar levels and supporting the digestive system. Due to the unique fibre composition, oat is also suitable for the FODMAP diet.

Oat betaglucan is the only substance with four different EFSA approved health claims: for cholesterol lowering, for maintaining normal cholesterol levels, reducing blood sugar response and aiding digestion. While oat has many health credentials, the biggest benefit of all is that the person eating it can actually feel the afore-mentioned health benefits – for example improved digestion or energy levels.

Supply considerations for oats

In 2016, tiny Finland was the fifth biggest oat producer globally, with over one million tonnes of oats produced (Source: FAOSTAT). The value vs. cost ratio is appealing for Finnish gluten-free oats. The price is at the same level or even lower than other special gluten-free grains such as millet, buckwheat and tapioca.

While oats have a positive halo based on their health and sustainability credentials as well as having appealing benefits for gluten-free applications, successfully formulating with oats requires more know-how than with your average food ingredients. Therefore, it pays off to choose a supplier who also has a long track record within consumer foods and oat formulations.

With the right supplier, oats are a relatively inexpensive raw material with stable high-volume supply. Choosing a supplier with high production capacity is advantageous, as it means secure supply, shorter lead times and competitive pricing.

It is also highly advisable to choose a supplier who controls and owns the value chain. This means for example that the supplier has own contract farmers. In Finland, farmers dry and store the oats directly in their own silos. This means that the value chain has fewer steps and is highly traceable, which is of utmost importance with gluten-free oats in preventing any cross-contamination.

Opportunities beyond gluten-free

Opportunities with oats are not limited to mere gluten-free. It is a great fit with many other significant trends we can see on the market, such as natural, clean eating and plant-based nutrition.

While the term “natural” is quite vague and not clear-cut – what one person considers natural may be different from another one’s perception – oats will likely fit almost any definition of natural. It has an easily understandable and recognisable origin in the natural world growing in the fields, it can be minimally processed and then used in wholesome real foods. Clean eating – with as few artificial additives as possible and minimally processed – is possible with oat-based foods.

Plant-based nutrition has also become a growing phenomenon in the past few years, with consumers placing increased emphasis on both the ethical and health benefits of plant-based nutrition. Much like gluten-free, plant-based nutrition has previously meant limited choice and less tasty options, but that’s changed with plenty of new, easy to use and delicious vegetarian/vegan products being launched to the market lately. Oats fit easily into products such as meat or dairy alternatives, bringing nutritional quality, taste and structure.

What makes gluten-free oats special?

#1 OATS HAVE A BALANCED NUTRITIONAL CONTENT:

They are high in protein, nearly equivalent in nutritional quality to soy protein. They are also high in fiber and contain good healthy fats and a variety of important micronutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, vitamin B1 and folic acid in significant amounts.

#2 OATS CONTAIN A SPECIAL INSOLUBLE FIBER COMPONENT – BETAGLUCAN:

This oat fiber is the primary reason for the multitude of health benefits oats provide. Oats help to lower cholesterol, maintain optimally functioning digestive system and balance blood sugar.

#3 OATS HAVE A LOW CARBON FOOTPRINT:

Oat crops are sustainable. It can be farmed in relatively modest conditions. It doesn’t require much water or pesticides.

#4 OATS ENHANCE TASTE OF GLUTEN-FREE FOODS:

Oats have fresh, mild and nutty taste and they can also maintain moisture in gluten-free foods such as bread, pasta and biscuits.