Reduction of Gluten Allergenicity

Presented as part of Technology Transfer Seminars 2023

As the third most produced cereal in the world, wheat is used in many products and vital gluten is increasingly being added to a wide range of products because of the valuable rheological properties it can add to products without adding much to cost. This has resulted in there being an increased dietary intake of total wheat gluten over the decades, often without consumers realising it.

With up to 30% of the population having the potential to develop Coeliac disease (CD), and 15-20% of people diagnosed, it potentially leaves 80% of the population exposed to risk and complications of the disease. For other consumers non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is an issue. Up to 15% of the population have self-reported problems with consuming gluten products, including bread. It is now also a well-known marketing strategy to target consumers looking to avoid/reduce gluten intake.

So how can we counteract the negative association of eating wheat and improve overall digestibility and comfort from eating wheat-based foods? Reducing the levels of coeliac epitopes in foods made from New Zealand wheats is one strategy being investigated by Sarah Roberts and team. They are exploring the reductions that are possible through breeding, agronomy, milling, and processing techniques prior to baking.

Plant & Food NZ “Wheats for wellness” programme is developing new cultivars and processing strategies to reduce the impact of coeliac peptides. New wheats breeds have been bred with lower levels of epitopes while maintaining wheat quality. Initial milling discoveries show that combining selected flour streams could possibly produce useable quantities of flour with epitope concentrations reduced by up to 25%. The ingestion of lower levels of gluten/epitopes may have delaying effects on susceptibility of developing CD or NCGS. Severity of the symptoms may also be reduced.

Sarah presented on a series of BIRT funded research projects looking into whether different technologies could be brought together to improve consumer tolerance (improved digestibility and comfort) to gluten found in wheat-based products. This could have profound consequences for disease incidence, pathogenesis and overall consumer health.

Results from these projects so far have shown that:

Conventional wheat breeding can be used to breed wheat cultivars with lower levels of immunogenic peptides, whilst still providing commercially feasible agronomic and baking qualities.

Milling technologies could be applied to reduced epitope levels in flours used industrially.
Sourdough starter lactobacillus strains can be isolated from sourdough starters which have the capabilities to hydrolyse gluten.

Longer fermentation times (>24 hours) are required to completely degrade gluten. A 40-60% reduction in gluten has positive effects on cytokine (inflammation) production.

Dough mixing conditions, baking temperatures and baking times have no effect on the digestibility of gluten proteins in breads although large changes in gluten aggregation and gluten macropolymer structure are seen.
The addition of yeast and increased fermentation times degrade fructan levels considerably, increasing digest comfort.

Using a combinational approach could ultimately lead to significant reductions in coeliac epitopes and FODMAPS in food products made from NZ wheats.

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