Ah, yes, a holiday favorite: bread. Whether you love the soft, warm rolls straight out of the oven or the stuffing with the perfect amount of crisp to it, we all have a soft spot for bread. But if you have Celiacs or gluten sensitivity, bread can be a sad subject. Not to fear, though, there are gluten alternatives! And how gluten-free bread is made is quite interesting - and includes cleanrooms.
Cleanrooms are used throughout the food production industry. As regulations become stricter, they are being used more and more. Since they are sealed off from the rest of the production facility, it is easier to control the food. The nature of cleanrooms, as well, makes them easier to sanitize and control exposure. They are often used in meat and poultry production, pack
aged, and gluten-free foods.
To be a Certified Gluten-Free product, the company must not only show that the ingredients in use are gluten-free, but they must also demonstrate the cleanliness of equipment, document cleaning practices, and test regularly for gluten contamination. This is most easily accomplished when using a cleanroom, which is why they are common in the industry!
So how exactly do manufacturers make gluten-free bread?
Yeast is what makes bread light and fluffy. Manufacturers use activated dry yeast to achieve the right consistency and airiness, just like for normal bread. Yeast is often dehydrated to improve shelf life and then added to warm water to activate it before baking.
Bread is generally made with very few ingredients. Usually, it is some variation of warm water, flour, yeast, and salt. With those four ingredients, you can do a lot! Additions here and there can elevate your dish, but those four are the foundation. Now, the secret is that gluten is what allows for so few ingredients.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. It works as a glue and bonds ingredients together. So when we look at gluten-free foods, we can expect to see additional ingredients that replace the bonding agent.
Instead of glutinous flour, gluten-free bread uses a mixture of gums and starches. You might see xanthan gum, which is allowed to ferment on sugar until it is a gel that is then milled into a powder. Another commonly used gum is guar gum. This is a plant-based gum. The gum is extracted from the seed and turned into a gel once mixed in with water.
In addition to the gum, you will also see some form of gluten-free starch. These commonly include corn, tapioca, arrowroot, or potato starch. Extracting starches is a complex process and requires its own intense amount of equipment! In general, the starch is separated from the plant, then it’s washed, refined, and dried.
Some manufacturers might choose to substitute in a gluten-free flour substitute - such as oat flour or almond flour. These typically change the taste and still require some sort of binder.
After mixing the right dry ingredients, manufacturers will fold in the wet ingredients.
In a standard bread recipe, you won’t see many wet ingredients! In many recipes, the only wet ingredient is the warm water used to activate the yeast! But for gluten-free recipes, you will often see oil, salt, and vinegar.
Since the activated yeast is usually in water, this is the point in the process when the yeast would be added, as well. If you don’t add the yeast at the right time, it might not mix in evenly and cause issues in the proofing process. It won’t rise properly in the oven or bake evenly.
The next step is to allow the yeast to do its job while proofing! Different manufacturers have different proofing practices, but usually bread proofs for a couple hours. The term proofing can be interchanged with fermentation. Still, some breads, such as sourdough, don’t use yeast and require a fermentation period for the starter that serves as the rising agent. So, typically, the term proofing is used when talking about yeast breads having the chance to rise.
Because that is exactly what proofing does! It allows the bread to relax, the yeast to grow, and the bread to expand. It’ll rise more in the oven, as well, and the heat from a pre-heating oven can help the proofing to go faster and the bread to grow more.
Now, don’t think that this step is one that can be done outside of a cleanroom. When the dough is set out to proof, it’s important to cover the loaves or keep them protected somehow. If they are left out to proof in a facility where glutinous products are made, any flour in the air that might settle on the bread can cause problems. If someone is susceptible to gluten and cross-contamination, this can result in illness. Testing positive for cross-contamination can cause the loss of the gluten-free certification, too.
Whether the bread is left to proof in a filtered cleanroom or inside a proofing oven, manufacturers must operate with a cleanroom mindset!
Lastly, the tastiest step! It’s finally time to break the bread. Cross-contamination in ovens can become an issue for gluten-free products. Using exclusive gluten-free ovens or carefully cleaning ovens is an important step in the process. Always think with a cleanroom brain!
Cleanrooms are constantly impacting our everyday lives! They are used in the food we eat, the cars we drive, the phones we play on, the computers we work on, and everywhere in between. While consumers might not enter a cleanroom every day, it’s fascinating to know how they impact the end user’s life and are used in different industries.
If you want to know more about cleanrooms in our everyday lives, check out our Knowledge Center! It’s a free resource that breaks down everything you need to know about cleanrooms and particle counters.
Photo Credit: Standard Tech