Local bakeries expand to satisfy gluten-free customers

The phrase "gluten-free bakery" might seem oxymoronic. 

Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats. It's part of what gives baked goods their light, fluffy texture, and is a common component in breads, rolls, cookies and other bakery staples.

But a growing body of evidence suggests too much gluten may cause problems for some people. In extreme cases, such as people with Celiac disease, a genetic disorder, the protein gliadin, which is found in gluten, sets off an autoimmune reaction that destroys cells in the small intestines. Severe reactions can be life-threatening, and those who suffer from the disease have limited opportunities to eat outside of their homes. Even products advertised as gluten-free might have traces of gluten, given the difficulty of creating a gluten-free environment in a bakery or restaurant that sells gluten products. 

Given the growing public recognition of gluten-free dietary restrictions, bakeries that offer low-gluten and gluten-free products are popping up in storefronts and farmer's markets across Cincinnati.

Amber Jones, owner of AJ Creations, the only completely gluten-free bakery in the region, suspects that the growing number of people with gluten intolerance comes from greater awareness and better diagnostic tools. "Before, people were often told they had a weak stomach," she says. Her bakery, located in an historic storefront in downtown Covington, offers a variety of baked goods, from muffins and fresh biscuits to cookies, candies and coffee cakes, many of which are also dairy-free. Instead of wheat or rye flour, she uses a wide variety of alternatives, like garbanzo bean flour, rice flour, potatoes, tapioca, corn flour and almond meal. 

In Over-the-Rhine, Madison's at Findlay Market sells several gluten-free projects, from Udi's bread to Tinkyada pasta and Sesmark crackers. Neighboring bakery Skirtz & Johnston's Fine Pastries and Chocolates offers a low gluten bread. Called Dinkelbrot, this dense spelt flour bread with sunflower seeds, flax seeds and oats, is based on an old German recipe. The bakery also offers a low-gluten chocolate torte with only four ingredients: chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar. 

The Cincinnati Celiac Support Group lists eight bakeries in the region with gluten-free offerings. And with a host of restaurants throughout the area offering gluten-free menu items - or even full allergen-sensitive menus - it's becoming easier for people sensitive to this common food item to enjoy the smells and tastes of fresh-baked goods.

By Becky Johnson

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