MANHATTAN, KANSAS, U.S. — Two chemists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) based in Manhattan, Kansas, U.S. have developed a process to produce high-quality, gluten-free bread, the agency announced on Dec. 23.

Chemists Scott Bean and Tilman Schober at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grain Quality and Structure Research Unit found that by removing a certain amount of fat from a corn protein called zein, they were able to produce a dough more similar to wheat dough, and free-standing, hearth-type rolls that resemble wheat rolls. Roughly 1% of Americans are affected by celiac disease, and they are unable to digest gluten, a protein in flour from grains such as wheat, barley and rye.

Bean and Schober had some success developing gluten-free pan bread from other grains, but they couldn't make free-standing rolls because the rolls spread out too much. According to Bean, the bread was considered lower in quality than comparable wheat bread. Gluten-free grains include corn, sorghum, and rice.

Bean and Schober discovered that removing more of the fat from the zein protein's surface allowed the proteins to stick to each other much like wheat proteins do, giving the zein-based dough the same elastic properties as wheat dough, according to USDA.

Bean said that while the experiment made more acceptable dough, sorghum may prove to be a better grain to use since it is a gluten-free grain. Bean used corn as an intermediate step toward achieving the ideal in gluten-free breads: a wheat-like dough using non-wheat proteins, resulting in products with a fluffy, light texture, according to USDA.

This research may prove useful for the 2 to 3 million Americans who have celiac disease, a condition in which the human immune system attacks gluten proteins, causing severe diarrhea and inability to absorb nutrients. Gluten-free palatable rolls from corn, rice and sorghum would be a welcome addition to their diet.

The research results were published in theJournal of Cereal Scienceand in the November/December 2010 issue ofAgricultural Researchmagazine.