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Part 3. The Evolution of Gluten-free

Part 3. The Evolution of Gluten-free

Gluten, the ingredient that gives bread its texture, shape and resilience, is now blamed for a host of mental and physical ailments, everything from mood swings to migraines, bloated bellies to nasal congestion, itchy skin, and brain fog. Though only a small percentage of people suffer from celiac disease, great swaths of the bread-eating public now claim gluten sensitivity. Who among us does not feel foggy or stuffy or grouchy or itchy?

I lived with chronic sinus issues for half a century before seeking help from a naturopath. She suggested an elimination diet as a way to determine whether or not my sinus problems were related to food sensitivities. For two weeks, I did without that little glass of wine, my favorite wheat bread, soy products, potatoes and pasta. In addition to being hungry for the duration of those two weeks, I also found breathing easier. Reintroducing one food at a time led me to the inescapable conclusion that gluten was the source of my stuffy nose, the cause of my congestion.

After years of enjoying bread in every manifestation from the white puffy loaves of my childhood to the nutritious artisanal offerings of the Bread Revolution, I was now reduced to eating bland imitations of the real thing. For the next decade, I made do with these gluten-free options, filling the freezer with crumbly baguettes made with tapioca and rice, spongy bagels, sliced loaves wanting in taste and texture. Unpalatable unless toasted or grilled, they were useless in bag lunches.

Of course, I’m only human and over those barren years of commercial gluten-free abominations, I succumbed weekly to the temptation of Friday night pizza. I tried gluten-free alternatives, but pizza crust is meant to be chewy, a characteristic neither rice flower nor cauliflower can deliver.

And then there was the last trip to Italy. There we encountered bread no less transcendent than Donatello’s David or Botticelli’s Primavera. Pardon the hyperbole, but one memorable loaf, served in an ancient sandstone cave at our walking tour’s final lunch, is unparallel in my experience. Round and golden brown, it sat Buddha-like at one end of a long table surrounded by a selection of salamis and pepperonis, roasted vegetables, and artfully molded forms of the region’s famous Burrata.

I had no interest in the pork loin or potatoes, the bowls of steaming vegetables, but I ate more than my share of that glorious bread piled with every combination of meat and cheese. Admittedly, I suffered sinus congestion, sneezing, and runny nose for the next several days, but that could easily have been from the unseasonably cold and rainy weather that followed. Besides, what’s a trip to Italy without a little indiscretion?

On the home front, there is new hope for the gluten-sensitive bread lover. In the spring, my friend visited from Maine bringing along two delicious gluten-free loaves, one oatmeal the other a seeded loaf, made at a bakery in her area. And recently I discovered a beautiful, locally-made gluten-free Boule at the coop, crusty sourdough, moist and flavorful enough to satisfy any bread aficionado.

Gluten-free bread has come of age.

1 Comment

Mar 25, 2023

Lovely. piece!

Ron Thompson

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