Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky

By Jennifer Wilson  |  You may have been wondering as you skim the aisles of our local groceries what the label gluten-free means. Because it is everywhere!  With the Paleo lifestyle and books like Wheat Belly, it’s as if gluten is screaming at us from the package labels. The word gluten is translated from the Latin word glue and is a protein found in foods processed from wheat and other grains including barley and rye. Gluten is what gives bread products their elastic smooth texture. Unfortunately, scientific studies have shown as a result of highly processed wheat, gluten sensitivity is on the rise and is a cause for fatigue, skin, autoimmune, and brain disorders. Those with Celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients. The idea of giving up wheat products can be quite a sad concept, but there is a happy ending to this story, laced with chocolate and cookies, I promise. 

Within the last few years, there has been a significant increase in demand for gluten-free alternatives to our favorite dishes.  As a person who enjoys buying local, when I decided to go gluten-free, I thought it would be a huge struggle. I envisioned myself up late at night searching the internet for groceries on Amazon.com as a little part of me died inside, but I didn’t want to eat flavorless cardboard food either. To my relief, local businesses such as Rainbow Foods, Wild Oven Bakery and Pie in The Sky Bakery and Cafe have provided some healthy and delicious alternatives.

For those looking to find gluten-free products for cooking at home, Rainbow Foods natural market offers a variety of products such as pasta, flour, cereal and breads. One thing I found interesting is the lunch buffet offered Monday through Friday, 11am-2pm. The menu is updated daily on their website so you can easily check what is offered before you go. The menu includes several gluten-free options and at least one gluten-free baked good every day. Owner David Ottoson makes it a priority to address the  needs of his customers.

“Part of our mission is to support people in their health and wellness, and if  their health is compromised by eating gluten, then we would like to offer an alternative. Based on what I’ve heard from many customers, they tell me they feel better after cutting wheat out of their diet. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and we have had different diet waves come through,  but I don’t think this is a fad, this is more of long term decision for people,” said David.

Pie in the Sky bakery is a little gem located next to the Canvas downtown. It is definitely a place to indulge guilt free. Andrea Mogil is an expert at making her dishes not only edible for different types of allergies, but delicious too. My favorite is the Death by Chocolate which is so good, I don’t believe most people who order it even know it is gluten-free.

“I first became aware of the need for gluten-free items while working in the Rainbow Foods deli kitchen. There were many different dietary preferences among customers, and we did our best to accommodate all of them.  When I opened my own bakery, I included gluten-free (as well as dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, etc…) treats and drinks so that everyone could get a little something special to make their days happier,” said Andrea.

I asked Andrea why it is important for businesses to accommodate those with food allergies and sensitivities. She believes that whether people are going gluten-free because of Celiac disease, an allergy or intolerance, or just to see if it improves their health, the availability of gluten-free items help people meet their needs while satisfying their wants.  It also promotes a greater awareness of food, ingredients, and health.

“My gluten-free items have always been popular with customers whether or not they need to avoid gluten. Since I tend to make things which are even better without flour and are yet more flavorful from their basic ingredients rather than flour substitutes, everyone seems to love them,” said Andrea.

Some of the store packaged breads tend to be devoid of flavor, but the Wild Oven Bakehouse produces a wide variety of flavorful breads and products that are available at Rainbow Foods, IGA-Foodland and Superbear. For those looking to purchase Wild Oven’s gluten-free products, Rainbow Foods is the only location that carries their gluten-free bread, crackers, granola, and cookies. Daniel Martin, the owner, takes great pride in delivering tasty and nutritious breads using a traditional approach.

“I built the Wild Oven Bakehouse because I wanted to make the best tasting, healthiest breads possible. We make all of our breads with wild sourdough culture, an ancient tradition that harnesses the power of fermentation by wild cultures of yeast and lacto-bacteria. I believe it is largely because modern people have strayed from these (and many other) time-tested methods of preparing food, that we suffer from many our health problems. Grains like wheat are inherently hard to digest. When they are not properly prepared by sourdough fermentation, they do not nourish our bodies. Many of my customers have told me that while they can’t tolerate “store bread,” they were delighted to find that our organic sourdough bread treated them just fine. Our ancestors have been making naturally fermented breads for over 5,000 years and it is hard to believe that a food once regarded as the “staff of life” is inherently harmful to human health,” said Daniel.

I would like to mention that although these companies offer gluten-free products, their facilities are not certified gluten-free. It was advised by all owners, those with Celiac or severe intolerances, to avoid products from any mixed-use kitchen. The goal of these owners is to cater to as many customers as possible, and is an excellent example for other local kitchens to follow. That being said, I strongly suggest readers to give credit to businesses that take steps to accommodate those with dietary or lifestyle restrictions. One of the most amazing things about living in Juneau is the diversity in our local culture. We have people who have come clear across the world bringing new ideas and innovation to our town. I believe if we keep an open mind, not only do we learn from each other’s differences but we grow stronger as a community, with or without gluten.