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They say they've solved the elasticity problem.
The sad reality of gluten-free bread is it's very much at a disadvantage. Without the elasticizing gluten present to give the dough a soft, springy texture, most gluten-free baked goods tend to lack that familiar bread-like feel. That is, until now. A group of Italian food scientists claim to have discovered a gluten substitute that comes closer than ever to the real thing.
Virna Cerne and Ombretta Polenghi—who hail from the land of pasta, pizza, and all of the deliciously gluten-filled things—were honored at this week's European Inventor Awards in Lisbon for a discovery that could reshape the way gluten-free goods are made. The scientists, who work for an Italian-based food company called Dr. Schär, say their goal was to find an alternative for the estimated one percent of people who suffer with Celiac disease and other gluten-related medical conditions.
While grocery store shelves are well-stocked with gluten alternatives, as hoards of people who aren't necessarily Celiac sufferers take to the trend, the majority of products on the market don't hit the spot when it comes to the taste and texture of real bread. The reason for this, according to Cerne is that "today the gluten-free products include a lot of fiber but the fiber cannot be really elastic."
Now, Cerne and Polenghi have isolated a new form of protein called zein, which is found in corn and has a similar elastic quality to gluten when developed in the right temperature, moisture, and pH conditions. "Once the zein protein is isolated, it can be added to different gluten-free flours like rice or corn flour and it solves the problem of no elasticity," Cerne says.
During development, the duo tastes gluten-free products 10 times a day, and has an organized rating system around something Polenghi describes as "sensory evaluation." With the help of 10 additional taste-testers, the team makes "an objective evaluation of our products' softness, crunchiness of crust, dimensions, cereal aroma, sourness, saltiness, and sweetness." And now they say they've hit the satisfaction mark more than ever before. "We want people to enjoy our food," Polenghi adds.
Cerne, who has been researching gluten for 20 years was surprised by the recent gluten-free boom. "In the past only people who really need the gluten-free diet buy our products. Today there are people that don't need it but they want to change the taste of their food, or they think it's healthier," the scientist says. Whether or not you're going gluten-free for medical reasons or on a whim, your alternative bread of choice could soon get a major upgrade thanks to one Italian duo.