Living and Eating Gluten-Free… and Loving it!

1 Jul 2007   .   by Sue Roberts

Not long ago, following a gluten-free diet was tantamount to a kiss of death as far as pleasurable food and eating were concerned.

Why? For the simple reason that most foods made without gluten had objectionable tastes and were dry and dense. Acceptable alternatives simply did not exist. Because gluten is found in so many processed foods, avoiding it certainly put a damper on dining pleasure.

Not so anymore. Eating gluten-free has become more mainstream as advancements in food product development have let to the availablity of many high-quality, gluten-free foods.

What is gluten, and who needs a gluten-free diet? Let’s start at the beginning with a short lesson in food chemistry. Gluten is a protein group found primaily in wheat-but also in rye and barley and to a lesser extent in oats.

Composed of two other proteins, glutenin and glaidin, gluten is responsible for both the elasticity and strength of dough in baked products. This is important because gluten holds carbon dioxide within its structure during baking, which allows for leavening.

Without gluten, the even, open texture characteristic of quality breads becomes quite compact, dense and basically undersirable.

Wheat flour is used in many other processed foods in addition to baked goods. Individuals following a gluten-free diet have to pay close attention to food labels, omitting any foods from their diet that contain even the tiniest amount of wheat.

Who needs a gluten-free diet? Individuals who have gluten-sensitive enteropathy, also know as celiac disease or gluten intolerance. When those with the condition eat foods containig gluten, they experience uncomfortable gastrointestinal disturbances such as gas, bloating and diarrhea.

Recently it has also been speculated that at gluten-free diet may be helpful in other medical condition such as multiple sclerosis, autism and even depression.

Keep in mind that insufficient scientific evidence exists to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between gluten and these conditions, but certainly omitting gluten from a diet cannot hurt anyone wishing to improve their health.

Although wheat is the principal type of grain used in breads and other baked goods, it should be easy to just substitue another type of flour, right?

Wrong, grains differ in their protein profiles, so when another flour is substituted for wheat in baking, the amount of gluten is either absent of quite low. This caused an inablity of the dough to rise normally, resulting in a dense, course, undesirable texture. It takes an extensive amount of food product development work to get just the right of balance of ingredients to produce a quality food product using substitue flours.

What type of flours are used to replace wheat? Grain flours from corn, potatoes, tapioca, amaranth, arrowroot, millet, quinoa, teff, beans and nuts are the ones most commonly used.

In the Tri-Cities, anyone who wants to try gluten-free foods has a number of options. Health-food store such as Highland Foods, located in both Richland and Kennewick, stock a wide variety of wheat-free products such as pasta, bread mixes, and sauces.

Grocery stores such as Safeway and Yoke’s also stock these specialty foods. In fact, many offerings at Yoke’s are identified as such by a “No Gluten” symbol found on the store shelf.

K & J Delectable Gourmet in Kennewick also carries several gluten-free items such as rice flour and chocolates.

The newest venue for obtaining a variety of high-quality gluten-free foods and mixes is Giggles Gluten-free Bakery and Deli in the Uptown Shopping center in Richland (946-8000).*

Giggles offers an assortment of homemade breads, muffins, cookies, and the like in addition to sauces, dips, salad dressings and other specialty items, all made sans gluten.

Gayle-Marie Noga, owner and chief baker, combined her love of baking and a need for her own gluten-free diet into a food store that is truly one of a kind in the Tri-City area. Giggles caters to the lunch crowd, too, offering an array of sandwiches as drinks for carry-out or to eat in. Gluten-free foods can also be ordered direct from Giggles on the Web at Gluten Free Bakery.biz.*

Now you can truly be gluten-free and loving it.

*Please note: Giggles no longer operates a retail deli. The current contact info is: