Gluten Free – The Next Big Thing

Photo: Jim Orsini/Flickr

I am not gluten intolerant nor do I eat a gluten-free diet.  In fact, I am gluten-full, perhaps to my detriment, I don’t know.  But, as someone who has written eight books about bread in all of its incarnations, I can’t ignore the food trend tsunami called gluten-free.  It’s all over the media, on the morning shows, in major magazines, and, most notably (from a trend watchers perspective) all the rage in Hollywood.

Here’s what I currently know about gluten-free: possibly 1% of the world’s population may have a genetic condition called Celiac Sprue, which causes a major health crisis if left undiagnosed.  For a long time most the medical community was rather unaware of this condition, probably assuming the number of “celiacs” was far less than 1%.  But now, in a major about-face, gluten is becoming implicated in all sorts of health concerns, such as autism, auto-immune and neuro-motor conditions.  In other words, you don’t have to be a celiac to be vulnerable to the ravages of gluten.  Gluten, which is a protein found primarily in wheat and, to a lesser degree, in rye and barley, may or may not be the true culprit but, as least for now, is an ingredient of interest (like a “person of interest” in a crime) and many people who have eliminated gluten from their diets report noticeable health improvements – the circumstantial evidence could lead to a conviction.

It certainly seems an ingredient of interest to me and, for this reason, we recently held a discussion on the subject on Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins with a couple of experts on the subject.  The caller board lit up and we barely scratched the surface but the surge of interest confirmed for me how suddently this subject has tipped over into major news.  Just as we, and by we I mean the bread baking community of America of which I’m a part, has come pretty darned close to mastering artisan bread baking (and, as I write this, Team USA is getting ready to compete in the bread Olympics, the Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie, against the defending world champion French team as well as teams from all over the world, and we have a pretty good chance of winning the gold medal).  How ironic, just as we’re getting so good, we’re finding out it may be so bad.  What’s a baker to do?

Here’s what I’m doing: I’ve just started writing a new book on gluten-free baking.  It’s already a crowded field, even though a few years ago there were practically no books on the subject.  Writing this book requires research and, as I learn more, I am becoming more and more convinced that this trend is not a fad – it is not going to go away but will only get bigger.  I have a hunch that we’ll be seeing more and more news from the medical research world linking gluten to various ills.  It will probably also be a scapegoat for things that aren’t its fault, but it is already no longer a small alternative, crying in the wilderness community.  Gluten-free is now mainstream; a small percentage of the population has influenced the whole loaf ( like yeast, which is only about 1% of the make-up of bread – see what a great metaphor bread baking is!).  Who knows, we may be headed for a Coupe du Monde du Gluten-Free.  If we do, remember, you heard it here first.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Gluten Free – The Next Big Thing

  1. James

    Excellent post. Thanks

  2. i started avoiding gluten last year when my boyfriend was constantly complaining of stomach pains after eating. i had never had a complaint about a big ol’ hunk of doughy goodness, but i wanted to be supportive. though i don’t have celiac disease, i found that eliminating gluten seemed to make my whole body work better–from the inside (intestines) out (skin). my rational mind leads me to believe that what i’m experiencing is a placebo effect. nevertheless, i continue to limit gluten, and when i do choose to eat it, i feel it.

  3. Sam

    I was diagnosed with Celiac about 3 years ago. Medically, I am the only one in my family to have it, however, you can be gluten intolerant on various levels.

    My theory is that it is an issue of overexposure. When over 3/4s of commercially available foods contain gluten, it becomes a problem, especially when it’s present in things that don’t need it (Twizzlers, anyone?). In a country where people hate reading subtitles, it doesn’t seem likely that they will start to read ingredient labels, so unfortunately nothing will change until people realize what they are eating.

    And yes, I know there are plenty of GF options out there, but I miss a true loaf of crusty sourdough bread. I always will.

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