Sometimes I get calls asking if we have gluten-free pizza. Until now, I’ve avoided the issue because I haven’t found a product I like and don’t know how widespread the demand is. Do you recommend going this route?
– Owner, Pizzeria, Hoboken, NJ
Demand for gluten-free products has been trending upward, due to both the rise of celiac diagnoses, and people choosing to avoid gluten in hopes of helping alleviate a variety of problems, from headaches to autism spectrum disorders.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains such as barley and rye. Guests with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, experience symptoms including diarrhea, weight loss and fatigue from eating foods that contain gluten. Other guests may not have celiac disease but may have an intolerance or allergy to wheat or may have simply decided to avoid it.
The problem from a culinary perspective, of course, is that wheat is delicious! And gluten is the key to providing the texture and stretchiness we love in pasta, bread, and pizza dough. Yes, a decent gluten-free crust can be found at a growing number of pizzerias. Gluten-free crusts are typically made from some combination of tapioca flour, rice flour, sorghum flour and starch.
In terms of whether the demand for gluten-free products exists, the numbers are pretty convincing. Some estimates are as high as one percent of the population having celiac disease, with another one percent avoiding gluten for other reasons. A number of restaurants offer separate gluten free menus, alternative gluten-free products, and, of course an entirely gluten-free operation.
There are two key points to think about in deciding whether to go this route. First, you are right to be concerned about the quality of the product. If you can’t find a gluten-free recipe or product that you can serve with pride and that your guests accept, don’t try it.
Finally, keep in mind that even if you have a delicious gluten-free pizza to offer, some gluten-free guests will still avoid your establishment entirely. They will be worried about the cross-contamination of wheat flour from your conventional offerings.