Feb. 14, 2010
When it comes to pizzerias catering to customers with food allergies or diet restrictions, gluten-free crust is so 2009 – or rather, that goes for what's usually employed to make it. Celiac Disease concerns are in fact growing, but those afflicted want more from their food.
Luckily, the ingredients used to make more healthful crusts are getting optimized. There's an emphasis on exciting new "superfood" components, which are more nutritious than rice flour, the old gluten-free stand-in for bread. And wheat grain or flour, the usual go-to for overall healthier crusts, has been one-upped as well.
The new healthy and non-allergenic crusts aren't about subtraction, but adding nutritionally multifunctional ingredients, like healthier grains and flours or even antioxidant-rich berries. The result is food that's nourishing in every sense of the word.
More than multigrain
The Naked Pizza team out of New Orleans recently rebranded their former "multigrain" crust as "ancestral" to get away from the ubiquitous former label, which owner Jeff Leach believes has less meaning in the marketplace. For anyone can mark their crust that way while incorporating little more than nutrient-stripped wheat flour, rather than whole grains in the mix. "It's not like the term is regulated," Leach said.
Naked's new crust contains a blend of more than 10 seeds and grains. Leach said an ingredient might be added or subtracted based on its availability. Buckwheat was recently added to the lineup, and bean flour replaced soy because the latter is a potential allergy risk. Leach said the blend of ingredients offers a rich variety of carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients that no one single one could offer.
The company's rebranding reveals another trend of these ingredients' use. Recognizing that people want more healthful components to make up their cuisine, operators are showcasing those items first. RedBrick Pizza exemplified this principle in January when it promoted a new acai berry-enriched multigrain artisan pizza crust as the "world's first." Acai has surged in popularity lately for its unusually high antioxidant content.
A grander gluten-free
Not all people can eat multigrain crust, however. The gluten-free movement, popularized by books like Elizabeth Hasselbeck's "The G Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide," has made more people look at a possible allergy to this ubiquitous wheat protein.
"Gluten sensitivity is a growing concern," said Peter Reinhart, author of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and owner of Charlotte's Pie Town pizzeria. Reinhart also helped the Amy's Kitchen retail brand develop its gluten-free pizza crust.
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"Some wheat products like spelt and kamut, however, don't work for everyone since they still contain gluten, though perhaps in a more digestible form. However, folks with Celiac disease should avoid these, as well as rye and barley."
But according to the master baker, there are plenty more nutritious alternatives to the standard rice flour for the afflicted, including several plant, nut and bean flours. For example, buckwheat, flagged by the National Restaurant Association's 2010 forecast as one of the hottest starches of the year, can be made into a flour that is high in fiber and B vitamins. It is also said to be good for high blood pressure and being researched for regulating the blood sugar levels of diabetics. Quinoa is NRA hot ingredient; flour from this grain-like crop provides a complete set of essential amino acids and high protein levels.
When it comes to new flour types, chefs curious enough to get their hands dirty are finding more options to suit most customers' demanding dietary needs.
*Flickr photo by Eglantine