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Is Gluten-Free Here to Stay?

Written By Peter Reinhart
Tuesday, 08 March 2011 Peter's Blog

I just returned from a project working on creating new gluten-free breads and I must say, gluten-free is the big buzz these days. A few years ago, when I tried to convince a large product company to produce gluten-free products they told me the market wasn’t big enough. Then, a few years later, they called me back and said “Guess what–the market is there and we’re ready to produce those gluten-free products.” And they did!

My book publisher also told me that their gluten-free category is growing faster than any other section, which is why I’m now working on a gluten-free baking book–more on that in a few moments.

No one seems to know if all the people who are eating gluten-free diets are really sensitive to gluten or if they just think they are. Gluten has taken the fall for a lot of problems, including autism, obesity, ADD and ADHD, schizophrenia, and all sorts of other maladies–maybe yes and maybe not. Many people do get healthier when they drop the gluten from their diet, but many of them also improve the nutritional quality of the other food they eat, so it’s hard to know which change is making the difference. On the other hand, there are a lot of people discovering they truly have genetic Celiac Disease (aka Celiac Sprue) and must stop eating gluten, no if’s and’s or buts. I can’t help wondering why all of a sudden there are so many people with Celiac Disease? The seemingly obvious answer is that there always were this many folks with it but they went undiagnosed, or maybe were even misdiagnosed, and now we’re finally catching up to the reality of its existence (thank God!). But we must also ask, is this condition actually growing and, even if it isn’t, is gluten really a villain even for non Celiacs? If true Celiacs only constitute about 1% – 1.5% of the population in this country, which is a reasonable ballpark estimate, then why is the gluten-free section of grocery stores and the output of many food manufacturing companies growing so dramatically?

I don’t have the answer yet (though I do have theories) but, as a bread guy — gluten-full, not gluten-free–I am concerned. Not that wheat and rye bread will go away–bread has been around for 6,000 years so I doubt that it’s going away–but I’m concerned that we are probably in for more bad news about gluten in the coming years as research digs deeper and deeper into the situation. But, I am also concerned that many gluten-free eaters, especially those with Celiac Sprue, are now consuming even more carbs than is good for them because gluten-free breads and baked goods are fully loaded with starch carbohydrates. I’m also concerned about the potentially negative impact of gluten-free products on diabetic and other health issues; and I say this knowing that we are in the glory days of new and delicious products that make eating gluten-free products a joy and not a hardship. That’s why the focus of my next book, along with my co-author Denene Wallace, is on gluten-free AND carb-free baking. To meet the need of diabetics, or people with pre-diabetic symptoms (and that includes a lot of people, an epidemic of people according to the reports I’ve seen), as well as the growing number of gluten-free eaters, we’re working away to create a collection of recipes that use no sugars or starch-based flours–no rice flour, corn, oats, potato starch–nada! How do you make bread without starch? Well, we’re getting there, as our 150 recipe testers are discovering.

Denene has already created a special proprietary blend of gluten-free flour called Proseed, which I hope will soon be available to the public–the need is there. In the meantime, we’ll be working on helping readers make their own blends via the recipes in the book. A few years ago I couldn’t convince a company to make gluten-free products and now they’re doing it. I think the time will soon be upon us when we’ll be seeing carb-free (or, at least, carb-reduced), as well as gluten-free, as the next wave in healthful eating. When it happens, remember, you read it here first.

PS For updates on the book’s progress, log onto my baking blog from time to time. The link is posted on the menu bar to the right.

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Peter’s Books

American Pie
Artisan Breads Every Day
The Bread Bakers Apprentice
Brother Junipers Bread Book
Crust and Crumb
Whole Grain Breads

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