My previous class here at the CIA really opened my eyes to the dangers those who suffer from gluten allergies or Celiac Disease. It’s an epidemic that afflicts thousands of people in this country and sad to say, not may restaurants cater to this relatively common autoimmune disease. Luckily, it’s a fairly easy task to do. many reliable gluten-free flour blends exist on the market today, as well as the means to create your own. As the old saying goes; “Knowledge is Power.” Here’s some tips on what ingredients you need and, how to keep your kitchen/bakeshop gluten-free.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, which means it originates within your own body. Furthermore, the disease never leaves. Once you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, you have it for LIFE. What happens exactly is what’s known in the medical world as Villi Atrophy. The microvilli that line your small intestine and are responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food you ingest, have weakened and atrophied to a point where they can no longer function properly. As a result, the person afflicted can no longer consume ANY gluten-based products, and in some cases, not even products that have been in close proximity to gluten. Ongoing exposure to gluten proves highly dangerous to those with Celiac Disease. Worst of all, those afflicted with Celiac Disease (about 1% of the total population) can go misdiagnosed for YEARS. Great care and consideration must be taken to cater to those affected by Celiac Disease. These are human lives. The extra work is more than worth it.
What Does “Gluten-Free” Mean Exactly?
The term “gluten-free” means that the amount of gluten in a given product has been reduced down to 20 PPM (parts-per-million). At this level, the amount of gluten will not be enough to trigger a reaction in someone suffering from Celiac Disease. There is no standard, legal definition for “gluten-free” in the US right now, but, there will be hopefully soon.
What Do I Need To Make Gluten-Free Items?
There are some common items on the open market that are perfectly suited for making your own gluten-free flour blend:
- White and Brown Rice Flour
- Potato Starch (a.k.a. Potato Starch Flour)
- Tapioca Starch
- Tapioca Flour
- Soy Flour
- Guar or Xanthan Gum (aids in stability)
- Baking Powder and Soda (aids in rise)
With these easy to find ingredients, you can make a gluten-free flour blend that you can use at any time to substitute a normal order. Just remember: the flours, unless specified, must be kept under refrigeration. The bakeshop.kitchen MUST be free of wheat flour and flour particles. Normally, this means not baking anything for one to two days and allowing the flour particles to settle and dissipate. The oven where these items will be baked MUST be treated the same way, AND the grates/baking surfaces must be washed thoroughly to remove any trace of gluten. Finally, any refrigerator or freezer space where gluten-free items will be stored must also be scrubbed down and made absolutely gluten-free. There can be NO cross-contamination at all, or else all the hard work you put into making a glutne-free item will be for nothing.
The bottom line is this: Don’t slouch on gluten-free items or on customers who have Celiac Disease. Be proactive. Ask if anyone has Celiac Disease or a gluten allergy. Take the appropriate steps to make sure your kitchen or bakeshop is sufficiently gluten-free, even if it is just for a few hours before prep or service. Finally, be sure to store all the products correctly. These extra steps and items may seem daunting, but they are well worth it to protect human lives.
If you would like some suggested reading, I highly recommend Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America by Chef Richard Coppedge, Certified Master Baker. He was the one who taught my last class. He is incredibly knowledgeable about Celiac Disease and a whole host of other food allergies and dietary restrictions. The book is a wonderful resource for those who cater to such food-based allergies and for those wanting to learn more about the subject.