May 1, 2008
When challah becomes the bread of affliction
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Gluten-free products are typically more expensive than their traditional counterparts, but demand has increased steadily over the years. Sales of gluten-free items are expected to reach roughly $1.7 billion by 2010, according to market research publisher Packaged Facts.
Restaurants like California Chicken Cafe and P.F. Chang's China Bistro are now offering gluten-free menus, and Woodland Hills-based Your Dinner Secret recently launched gfMeals, a gluten-free catering service that can ship meals nationwide.
Kosher manufacturers Manischewitz and S'Better Farms have added gluten-free products as demand increases, and two local kosher bakeries are providing more choice of gluten-free baked goods.
Schwartz Bakery, which is supervised by the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), has regularly produced gluten-free bagels, hot dog buns and hamburger buns that use potato starch instead of flour and yeast during Passover. But in the next several weeks, CFO Mark Hecht plans to offer a year-round line of fresh, gluten-free baked goods using ingredients like tapioca and almond flour.
Hecht acknowledges that the growing price of wheat flour makes alternative ingredients more attractive, but he says cost isn't what drove him to consider this new enterprise. The inspiration came from a customer whose son was diagnosed with CD.
"She was pleading with me," he said. "She came up to me, literally crying, saying, 'You have to do something. There's nothing for my son to eat. He doesn't like anything.' She made this happen."
Baking gluten-free products isn't easy. Trying to replicate the taste or texture of muffins, rolls and breadsticks, let alone challah, without wheat flour takes patience and a desire to experiment.
Sandee Hier, daughter-in-law of Rabbi Marvin Hier, started baking gluten-free challahs after he was diagnosed with CD. Before long she was baking challahs for children to take to school, and families approached her about baking other products.
"There wasn't anything, and people kept asking," she said. "My father-in-law knows a celiac who has a little bit of money, we had a business plan, put this together, and it just sort of happened."
The Sensitive Baker opened in Culver City in summer 2007 and by November Sandee Hier's foccacia had been included in Los Angeles Magazine's Food Lovers Guide alongside breads from such renowned local bakeries as Le Pain Quotidien, BreadBar and La Maison du Pain. The magazine declared it "divinely gluten free."
Sandee Hier, a former assistant teacher at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, is still getting used to the full-time demands of running a bakery, which is also supervised by RCC. But she says it's been a lot of fun.
"There's been this really unexpected demand," she said.
Because her products are pareve, she counts among her clientele the parents of autistic children, who turn to gluten-free, casein-free products as a dietary intervention, as well as people diagnosed with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis.
"That's a big market for us," she said.
But baking gluten-free challah is not without some controversy.
Four of the five grains identified by Jewish law as kosher for challah and matzah contain gluten (wheat, barley, spelt and rye), and a fifth is a source of debate, depending on how the word shibbolet shual is translated (Rashi views it as oats, a naturally gluten-free grain, but Rambam interprets the meaning as two-rowed barley, which contains gluten). Since bread and matzah are ingrained in Jewish life, the inability to recite a blessing over either because it doesn't contain a small amount of the appropriate grain can impact religious observance.
While some people, like Bar Ilan University professor Yehuda Felix, have sided with two-rowed barley argument, the Hier family is confidently sticking with oats.
Rabbi Aron Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's campus outreach and Sandee Hier's husband, said he has reviewed the literature and is convinced it's oats.
"She's had stories of people coming in and crying because this is the first time they could make a Motzi in many years," he said of his wife.
During Passover and when he's observing Shabbat away from home, Rabbi Marvin Hier frequently turns to an oat shmura matzah, made in England. He says the matzah tends to crumble and doesn't compare to anything his daughter-in-law bakes.
"It may be good enough for a brucha, but not good enough for my stomach," he said.
Hier said he's had to make serious adjustments to his diet and carefully inspects food labels before he eats something.
"Believe me, it took getting used to. But I was very determined. If this is what you have, you gotta have a different lifestyle and change your food habits," he said.
Now when he eats outside of his home he asks a lot of questions. If he visits a restaurant, he quizzes the wait staff about whether flour was used in the soup. Before he digs into a plate full of French fries, he asks if anything breaded was fried in the same oil. Even minute amounts of flour can affect him.
"It required a different attitude, a change of eating habits, and now I feel tremendous," he said.
The Celiac Disease Foundation's annual Education Conference and Food Faire is meeting Sat., May 3, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Good Samaritan Hospital Mosley-Salvatori Conference Center, 637 S. Lucas Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (818) 990-2379.
For more information, visit
Celiac Disease Foundation
The Sensitive Baker
Gluten-Free Oat Matzos
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