Susanna Black's ravioli were so popular with friends that she rolled her family's traditional recipe into a small business.
This month, Black's Heartsong Pasta Co. filled another, smaller niche for specialty foods when her daughter perfected gluten-free ravioli to sell at local farmers markets.
Heartsong Pasta Co., www.heartsongpasta.com, 530-340-2868.
Resources on the Web
For links to online gluten-free resources, click the link in this story at www.mailtribune.com
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"I basically came to the conclusion that it just couldn't be done," says Black, a 55-year-old resident of Montague, Calif. "Everything we tried was just horrible.
"She was pretty determined that I wasn't trying hard enough."
Diagnosed three years ago with celiac disease, Shaina Tinvall persisted despite her family's skepticism of "newfangled" foods. Tinvall's alchemy of potato and millet flours with tapioca and arrowroot starches yielded a dough that could be rolled, filled and shaped into seven types of ravioli — including beef, cheese, mushroom, butternut squash and Swiss chard with currants — plus three kinds of noodles.
"People who can't have gluten deserve to have good food," says Black.
A wider variety of foodstuffs that accommodate gluten-free diets are available at local farmers markets. At Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters markets, one-quarter of this year's new prepared-foods vendors have a gluten-free focus, while numerous others offer shoppers a range of products that are naturally gluten-free.
"We look for specialty items that will serve a niche market," says Mary Ellen DeLuca, manager for the growers market's Tuesday and Thursday sessions.
Local entrepreneurs are claiming their piece of the gluten-free pie. The industry, worth approximately $4.2 billion nationwide last year, only stands to see more growth as an estimated 1 percent of the population with celiac disease — and a greater number of people suffering from wheat allergies and intolerances — purchase gluten-free versions of mainstream foods.
Also fueling the industry's rapid acceleration are the one-third of Americans who want to reduce or eliminate gluten in their diets, according to consumer research by the NPD Group. Many consumers try gluten-free products without professional medical advice, say experts, who also note that a diet of processed gluten-free foods is not necessarily healthful.
"A healthful consumer learns to prepare their own foods," says Michael Antonopoulos, who sells hummus and gluten-free cookies at farmers markets and several local grocers.
"If you want a treat, yeah, buy my cookie."
Containing coconut flour, almond meal and tapioca starch, TonTon's cookies are not only gluten-free but devoid of any grain, says Antonopoulos, adding that they were his "reward" for following a "cleansing" diet for the past two years.
"I knew it made me feel good," says the Ashland resident of cutting out grains, glutenous and otherwise.
A naturally occurring protein, gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). In people with celiac disease, the protein causes inflammation — often life-threatening — in the small intestine. Symptoms include digestive problems, anemia, fatigue, headaches and joint pain.
Gluten sensitivity can lead to inflammation in other areas of the body, as well as digestive discomfort. An allergy to wheat can trigger skin or respiratory ailments.
Because his 6-year-old daughter has numerous allergies, Zach Kuhlow developed an organic, gluten-free snack that he could give her without guilt. Kuhlow's Popcakes are an updated version of rice cakes. Containing no oil, salt or other preservatives, Popcakes are made with organic brown rice and, in one variation, organic quinoa.
"We can't make enough of those," says Kuhlow, who devised Popcakes last year in his Talent home's certified commercial kitchen.
At Medford's Saturday farmers market, the Popcakes stall is in close proximity to TonTon's, Heartsong and other gluten-free vendors Sistas4Life and Sherry's Pasta, which has been selling handmade, gluten-free quinoa pasta for more than two years. Also sold through the online farmers market Rogue Valley Local Foods, Sherry's recently added gluten-free brown-rice pasta and white-rice pasta with chia seeds.
"I've had people buy the quinoa just because they like quinoa," says Sherry B. Henney. "Having that option is really nice."
Providing a gluten-free option within a more mainstream product line has spelled success for several small, local businesses, says Wendy Siporen. When locally made gluten-free foods came on the scene about seven years ago, the first forays failed, says Siporen, executive director of Thrive, a nonprofit advocacy group for small Rogue Valley businesses, particularly food producers.
"The type and variety of products have expanded."
Wider availability, however, hasn't done much to bring down consumers' cost for gluten-free foods. Black says she'd like to offer her gluten-free ravioli for the same price as regular ravioli. But the expense of gluten-free ingredients compels her charge $10 for a dozen dumplings, while customers get twice the number of regular ones for $12.50.
Cooking gluten-free meals, says Black, involves a lot of vegetables with some meat and gluten-free grains. Beans, the base for TonTon's hummus, are naturally gluten-free and became a staple for Antonopoulos, who says he also eats a lot of salads.
While preparing gluten-free dishes from whole foods is fairly easy, says Siporen, more local businesses are allowing diners who usually skip bread to eat it without concern. Organicos, a Phoenix-based organic, vegan, gluten-free bakery, recently furnished hamburger buns for a Thrive event, she says.
"It's a treat to be able to have a sandwich on bread."
Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon can be reached at 541-776-4487 or email@example.com. For more tips, recipes and local food news, read her blog at mailtribune.com/wholedish, see www.facebook.com/thewholedish or follow @thewholedish on Twitter.