According to The Gluten Free Bible by Jax Peters Lowell, one in every 132 otherwise healthy Americans has Celiac Disease, also known as gluten intolerance. This statistic is bolstered by a 2003 multicenter study that labeled Celiac Disease “one of the most common genetic diseases of humankind,” occurring in from one in 130 to one in 300 Europeans and Americans.
Surprisingly, this study was the first major attempt by the medical community to confirm the prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States. This means that most mainstream doctors have only recently accepted symptoms such as abdominal cramping, anemia, and Dermatitis Herpetifomis (an intensely itchy skin rash) as possible indicators of Celiac Disease. This increase in diagnosis rates, combined with the fact that the only treatment for Celiac Disease is a gluten-free diet, has resulted in a 14.6 percent growth rate in the sales of gluten-free foods between 2004 and 2005.
In fact, sales of gluten-free foods are projected to reach $1.7 billion domestically by 2010. Here at Willy Street Co-op, the Grocery Department is on the leading edge of this trend, offering gluten-free breads, pasta, dinner mixes, cereal, and even snacks and cookies. In order to give members some direction in this rapidly growing sub-set, I’d like to highlight some of our bestsellers.
Let’s start with bread, one of the most common gluten-free items shopped by our members. While we carry several options, our most popular are produced by Food for Life. Their gluten-free line is highly varied, ranging from Bhutanese Red Rice Bread to Millet Bread. The bestseller, however, is the more conservative Brown Rice Bread, an even-textured bread that’s great for sandwiches. Most of our gluten-free breads are located in the refrigerated case at the end of the frozen aisle.
Beyond sliced breads, the Grocery Department stocks Kinnikinnick brand gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns in the freezer, and a brown rice tortilla by Food for Life in the island cooler near the dairy department.
One cannot live on bread alone, however, so let’s move on to the most important meal of the day: breakfast. A great option here is Perky’s Nutty Rice cereal. Instead of being puffed like Rice Krispies, Perky’s is soaked in water and then toasted until it’s crunchy. It can be served hot or cold and even makes a terrific pie crust. Perky’s is a fast-selling staple among those sensitive to wheat gluten. It can be found in Aisle 4 with the other cereals.
For dinner, why not try some pasta? We stock several brands of gluten-free pasta in Aisle 3, but our best seller is Tinkyada. This rice pasta is available in all the usual shapes, including spaghetti, penne, shells, spirals, and lasagna. Tinkyada is known for holding its form well when cooked and is produced in a gluten-free facility. It is also the gluten-free pasta choice of Bunky’s Café, a restaurant known for its gluten-free menu.
For dessert, Pamela’s cookies are a stalwart choice. They have been around since 1988, and the Co-op has carried them for about as long. I’d like to suggest a more adventurous option, though, and one that many gluten-intolerant members might have previously overlooked: Jennie’s Coconut Macaroons. This is about as pure a confection as one is liable to find. The ingredient list reads as follows: unsweetened coconut, honey, and egg whites. Jennie’s macaroons are sticky and soft with a texture uncommon in gluten-free cookies. They are found on the bottom shelf of Aisle 1.
For those moments that fall in between meals, we offer a virtually endless variety of gluten-free snacks. In Aisle 1, for instance, you’ll find Sesmark Rice Thins. These light, crisp crackers come in brown rice, sesame, and teriyaki flavors, and are among our best sellers in the cracker set, gluten-free or otherwise. Aisle 5—the chip aisle—also has many gluten-free snacks such as Lundberg’s line of gluten-free rice chips. Our most popular gluten-free chips, however, are Robert’s Tings and Veggie Booty. These healthy puffed rice and corn snacks are savory and crunchy, yet still light enough to melt in your mouth.
And if you’re cooking from scratch, the bulk aisle houses many gluten-free ingredients. Buckwheat, for one, is a great alternative for those gluten-sensitive members who need a break from rice-based foods. Contrary to what its name suggests, buckwheat is a fruit in the same family as rhubarb. It is high in protein—containing an essential balance of amino acids—and has an earthy, full-bodied flavor. The Bulk Department carries buckwheat in three forms: organic raw buckwheat groats, organic roasted buckwheat groats (a.k.a. kasha), and locally milled organic buckwheat flour. The raw groats, sautéed then boiled, make a great side dish, while kasha is perfect as a salad topping or breakfast cereal. Buckwheat flour makes excellent crepes and waffles, and is also the base for Japanese soba noodles.
Finally, please be aware that not all gluten-free products are labeled as such (Robert’s Veggie Booty, for example), so explore the shelves, and read labels as often as possible. The Co-op’s Customer Service desk offers a list of gluten-free products. Hopefully, you will discover some gluten-free favorites of your own.