CHICAGO — Gluten-free claims attract a variety of consumer categories, most notably those with celiac disease. But those with non-celiac gluten sensitivities, along with a growing number of consumers who are trying to limit consumption of refined grains, also may find the gluten-free claim helpful when shopping for baked foods, cereals, pastas and snack foods.

“Health and wellness issues have a strong influence within the bakery industry,” said Kalyna DeAngelo, social media and marketing coordinator, Abe’s Vegan Muffins, West Nyack, NY. “For some people, gluten has been shown to contribute to health conditions, and therefore there are more people continuing to make the switch.”

The 2022 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), Washington, showed 9% of Americans claim to follow a gluten-free diet (up from 6% in 2019). That’s approximately 30 million people. The population size makes the claim a highly attractive one in food marketing.

Fortunately, the taste, texture and even nutrition of gluten-free baked foods have improved over the years as consumer interest has increased; however, the industry recognizes there is room for further improvement. Continued efforts are in place so gluten avoiders no longer have to settle for inferior quality when they want a bagel for breakfast, a bun for their burger or a slice of birthday cake.

Gluten-free claims appeal to people following certain dietary lifestyles, such as keto, low carbohydrate and paleo. IFIC data show 7%, 6% and 3% of Americans followed these diets in 2022.

Unlike the names of the diets, the gluten-free claim is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA set a limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) for the unavoidable presence of gluten in foods that carry a gluten-free label. That is the lowest level that can be consistently detected in foods using valid scientific analytical tools.

To effectively eliminate wheat and other gluten-containing grains from flour-type formulations, product developers often will turn to proteins and fibers, nutrients that appeal to health and wellness lifestyles. Some of the proteins and fibers come with added benefits. For Fair & Square, Los Angeles, the primary alternative flour used in its namesake gluten-free crackers benefits both.

“Our crackers are gut friendly because they are free from ingredients known to disrupt the gut and full of prebiotic fiber to nurture it,” said Alex Duong, founder and chief executive officer. “Our prebiotic fiber comes from our No. 1 ingredient, which is green banana flour. The green bananas are harvested before they mature in size, before their starches change into sugar. The flour does not taste like bananas.”

Green banana flour also helps reduce environmental waste by using surplus and unwanted green bananas, according to the company. It also allows for a no-added-sugar claim.

Citrus fiber ingredients often are found in gluten-free baked foods and snacks, as the fibers have superior water-holding capacities and assist with texture and slow staling. The extra fiber benefits the consumer while inclusion of the ingredient reduces food waste, as citrus fibers are an upcycled ingredient from fruit juice production.

Boosting nutrient density

Nut flours may be added to gluten-free formulations to add textures and boost nutrient density. Almond flour, sometimes called almond meal, is one of the most common replacements for wheat flour in baked foods.

The flour made with skin-on almonds has a darker color and is suitable for rustic bread or baked foods that also have a dark color, such as chocolate desserts or gingerbread. Almond flour without the skin is made from blanched almonds and has a light ivory color. It may be used in light-colored cakes and muffins. Both function well in crackers and other snacks. One ounce of almond flour contains about 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of plant protein and 4 grams of fiber. Almonds also contain vitamin E and calcium.

Almonds play a role in formulating products for the keto diet because of their nutritional profile, said Charice Grace, manager of trade marketing and stewardship for the Almond Board of California, Modesto, Calif. The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, with noteworthy amounts of protein.

Boston-based Wonder Monday is rolling out refrigerated, keto-friendly, gluten-free mini cheesecakes. Founders Candace Wu and Jonathan Weinstein start with dairy ingredients to make the cheesecake base, and then use almond flour in place of all-purpose flour.

Evan Wyss, founder, Why? Snacks, St. Petersburg, Fla., identified almond flour as the best wheat flour replacement for his keto-friendly, grain-free cheese crackers that launched six months ago. The flour has a great texture and nutrition profile, said Mr. Wyss. He also was attracted to the fact almond flour comes from a whole food ingredient that is minimally processed. The crackers are mostly almond flour, sharp cheddar cheese and butter.

Better-for-you tortilla company Maria and Ricardo’s, Canton, Mass., offers keto-friendly tortillas made with almond flour that contain 4 net carbohydrates per serving.

Rice flour may be used to make gluten-free pastas that visually resemble semolina pasta. The challenge is they overcook quickly and become soft. Jovial Foods Inc., North Stonington, Conn., overcame this by working with a pasta maker that presses the rice flour pasta through bronze dies and then slowly dries it. The old-world touches give the pasta a texture that may more easily hold sauces, said Allison Houle, vice president of marketing.

Raised Gluten Free, Humboldt, Calif., has developed cookie mixes for young bakers to prepare in the kitchen. The vegan and certified gluten-free mixes are also free of the top allergens.

While rice flour may substitute for wheat flour in pasta and some baked foods, it is mostly void of nutrients. Hence why a growing number of gluten-free pasta makers rely on legume flours, which contribute protein and fiber, but may be too hearty for children’s palates. Another option when formulating with rice flour is to add plant protein.

That’s what The Good Flour Co., Vancouver, BC, does with its new children’s pancake and waffle mix called Patty Cakes. The mix combines rice flour with buckwheat flour and adds potato protein.

Harvest Snaps, a brand of Fairfield, Calif.-based Calbee America Inc., focused on nutrient density when formulating Selects Baked Navy Bean Snacks. The baked, gluten-free plant-based chips feature navy beans as the first ingredient. One serving provides 7 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and no added sugars. With 12 grams of net carbohydrates per serving, the snack is comparatively much lower in carbohydrates than similar crunchy snacks, according to the company.

Nunda, NY-based Once Again Nut Butter uses nut and seed butters to formulate its line of gluten-free graham cracker sandwiches. The crackers are made with a blend of sorghum flour, oat flour and cassava flour. The nut butters contribute protein.

Several ancient grains, including amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff, are gluten-free. Bakers will use ancient grain flours when they want to add more whole grains for nutrition enhancement. The flours, however, tend to have strong flavors and may not be ideal for some applications.

Going grain free

A grain-free claim is not to be confused with a gluten-free claim. A product may be gluten-free and still contain grains, such as ancient grains, as well as corn, rice and oats. Some bakers choose to go grain-free and gluten-free in order to attract not just the keto dieter, but the paleo dieter, too. With paleo, all grains, even those void of gluten, are excluded.

“The paleo diet is a nutritional approach that focuses on eating only foods that are nourishing and unprocessed. It is rooted in foods that were available and eaten by people in paleolithic times, and excludes dairy, grains and legumes,” said Jordann Windschauer, founder of Base Culture, Clearwater, Fla.

The company uses nuts, seeds, eggs and various minimally processed plant starches to formulate its line of paleo-certified bread. Until now, Base Culture’s bread has been limited to frozen distribution to maintain quality and shelf life. The company is preparing to launch three ambient sliced bread varieties: white, honey and simply seeded. The bread is produced in a company-owned facility that’s gluten-free, grain-free, paleo certified, dairy-free and peanut-free.

“The plant was built so we can control every step of our product quality and create products you can trust,” Ms. Windschauer said.