KANSAS CITY — Americans are eating more snacks, according to reports from such groups as Packaged Facts, Canadean and The NPD Group. Yet recent sales data show one traditional snack has not capitalized fully on the trend. U.S. retail sales of pretzels were $1,186,546,304 for the 52-week period ended Aug. 7, which was down 2% from the previous 52-week period, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.
To ignite pretzel sales, snack makers might consider using such ingredients as rice flour and ancient grains to create gluten-free varieties. Although not among the top five pretzel brands, the gluten-free brand Glutino rang up a 10% increase in pretzel sales to reach $14,340,742 for the 52-week period ended Aug. 7, according to I.R.I.
Firebird Artisan Mills, Harvey, N.D., offers two flour blends for gluten-free pretzel applications, said Chris Krenzel, director of sales and procurement. One blend contains both white and brown rice, starches, and xanthan gum. It may be used as a cup-for-cup replacement flour for wheat flours. The company also offers an ancient grain blend that consists of quinoa, sorghum, millet, teff and amaranth. It works well when mixed with other gluten-free flours, starches or gums.
“Rice flours are less expensive and often provide a neutral taste to the end product,” Mr. Krenzel said. “The benefits of working with ancient grains are the additional nutritional values and the more refined, robust taste of the end product. Each ancient grain comes with its own taste profile. Quinoa has a nutty flavor, while millet and sorghum are milder and more earthy.”
Formulators need to keep track of dough flexibility in gluten-free pretzels.
“Whether you’re looking for a chewy soft pretzel or a crunchy pretzel stick, getting the right dough flexibility can be a challenge with gluten-free flour,” he said. “Gluten-free flours are much more dense than wheat flours and can have some flexibility challenges when baking or extruding. Adding xanthan gum or tapioca starch (or a mix of the two) as a bonding agent makes the dough more flexible.”
Ancient grains tend to hold more water than wheat flour, said Angela Ichwan, senior director of research and technical solutions for Ardent Mills, Denver.
“The starch components of alternative flours can vary, which will require changes in the ratio to moisture and solids,” she said. “Often the moisture is increased, mix times are shortened and/or bake times have to be longer. If using these flours in gluten-free applications, they will need to be paired with starch.”
Some grain flours, including quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, have higher water absorption than others, which may be useful for the formation of workable dough, said Vanessa Brovelli, senior product applications technologist for Bay State Milling, Quincy, Mass.
“Seeds like chia or milled flax can give extensibility as well as water absorption to pretzel dough, and their gummy texture can help improve the bite of the finished pretzel, if a developer is looking to mimic the properties of a chewy soft pretzel,” she said. “Long grain rice flour can also improve the crunch of a hard pretzel. Pulses like garbanzo can be milled into flour and can be used for a nutritional boost or for increased water absorption. Functional starches and gums are usually used in combination with these whole grains, seeds and pulses for better process-ability or finished product sensory attributes.”
Pulses like garbanzo and seeds like chia, flax, pumpkin and sunflower are growing in popularity because of their high protein content, she added.
Ardent Mills offers an ancient grain mix of amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff for use in gluten-free pretzels.
“Unlike many gluten-free alternatives, these naturally gluten-free grains provide whole grain nutrition and fiber,” said Zach Sanders, director of marketing for Ardent Mills.
He said ancient grains are available in a variety of forms, including custom multigrain blends, mixes and a gluten-free, all-purpose 51% whole multigrain flour blend.
“At Ardent Mills, we also develop and produce coarse blends with the entire grain or particulates, depending on what the customer prefers,” he said. “Our mixing facility has the ability to gently combine grains to maintain piece integrity. We encourage customers to experiment with different blends to find the right combination for different applications.”
A blend of flours probably will work best in gluten-free pretzels, both for hard and soft pretzels, Ms. Brovelli said.
“A flour blend helps the developer optimize flavor, texture, nutrition and performance by choosing the ideal blend of grains, seeds, pulses, starches and gums,” Ms. Brovelli said. “Just as in the wheat world, not every flour or flour blend is ideal for every application and processing condition. So customizing a blend can work well. Some processing conditions will require more water absorption while others may require more tolerance to lay time, heat or shear.”
Challenges may occur in gluten-free doughs because they may lack the dough elasticity, extensibility and tolerance of wheat pretzel doughs, she said. More water usually is added to gluten-free doughs to produce steam and rise during baking, but this may create stickiness.
“Gums or higher absorption flours are often used to minimize stickiness and improve dough extensibility,” Ms. Brovelli said. “Finished texture and bite, whether making a soft pretzel or hard, is very important, and can be difficult to achieve if the ideal gluten-free flours and functional ingredients aren’t used in the best ratios.”