The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, D.C., reports that scientists at its Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grain Quality and Structure Research unit in Manhattan, Kan., developed a process to produce high-quality, gluten-free bread, optimal for millions of consumers who are unable to digest gluten, a protein found in flour from grains, such as wheat, barley and rye.

Chemists Scott Bean and Tilman Schober 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.

Bean and Schober had some success developing gluten-free pan bread from other grains, but 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.

They 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.

Bean reported that while the experiment made a 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.

The ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of USDA.