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Lose the Wheat: Gluten-free baking is on the rise in Bend 

A few weeks ago, a new bakery called Gotta B Gluten Free that serves only gluten-free products opened on the corner of Hill and Florida streets in the former Pure Skate Shop location.

A few weeks ago, a new bakery called Gotta B Gluten Free that serves only gluten-free products opened on the corner of Hill and Florida streets in the former Pure Skate Shop location. Gotta B is the latest bakery in Central Oregon to service the gluten-free sector. Call it a fad or trend, but one thing's for certain: the gluten-free foods' sktock is on the rise locally.

Less than a decade ago, finding gluten-free products was a difficult task, and the foods that were available were often dry and bland. But recently, gluten free has become a buzzword and a hot-ticket item in coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants. Both the Pine Tavern and Zydeco offer gluten-free menus, 10 Barrel and Pizza Mondo serve gluten-free crusts and Pastini includes gluten-free pasta on its menu. Gluten-free baking at home has taken off, too, and blogs like glutenfreegirl.com offer tried-and-true gluten-free recipes.

But, especially in Bend, the places where gluten-free foods are the most prevalent are bakeries. Strictly Organic, Nancy P's, Ida's Cupcake Café, and Angeline's Bakery in Sisters are just some of the bakeries that offer gluten-free items. And two bakeries, Tula Gluten Free Baking Co. and now Gotta B Gluten Free, serve only gluten-free products.

Both gluten-free bakeries were started because of celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

But gluten-free products aren't just for those with celiac disease, a condition that causes a damaging immune reaction in the small intestines when gluten is ingested. While celiacs must eat gluten-free to avoid major health problems, there is a growing population that identifies itself as "gluten intolerant," claiming that it suffers from adverse, but less serious, symptoms from eating gluten. There are also people who just want to eat fewer wheat products. The research firm Mintel estimates that nearly 10 percent of shoppers currently seek gluten-free foods and they forecast a 15 to 25 percent growth in gluten-free product sales in coming years.

Tula Baking's Mieke Johnson is gluten intolerant. She owns Tula with her husband, Caleb, and they currently sell their products in "around 15" coffee shops and restaurants in Bend, and while they don't currently have a storefront, the couple is looking for a dedicated retail space.

"I love to bake," Johnson says. When she started baking gluten free six years ago, she says there weren't many gluten-free options. "It seemed like everything was day-old and not very accessible," she says.

But a lot has changed since then. With Gotta B Gluten Free, Bend has its first exclusively gluten-free retail bakery. The baker is Susan Walker, whose husband, Tom, was diagnosed with celiac disease 13 years ago. What started as a mission to re-create her husband's favorite treats evolved into Gotta B Gluten Free, which serves not only cookies and cupcakes, but rolls, muffins, soups and take-home dinners like Italian polenta.

While there are now many gluten-free recipes available online and in cookbooks, Walker tends to adapt standard recipes, using trial-and-error until her test team, including Tom, agrees on the final product.

"I like the challenge," says Walker, who primarily uses a high-protein garbanzo and fava bean flour instead of the standard rice flour. "It's just basic chemistry. You need a base and you need an acid, which creates the chemical reaction that causes things to rise. Too much base and it'll taste salty. Too much acid and it's bitter. It's a matter of balancing."

Both Tula Baking and Gotta B Gluten Free have mastered the chemistry, yielding treats that are hearty and not too sweet. And the community has taken notice - Walker says her business has been booming in the short time she's been open, and Johnson has noticed an increase, as well.

"We have the potential of servicing 100 percent of the population," says Johnson. "We're finding that people are trying our stuff and saying, 'Oh, this is really good. If I have the choice, I'll take gluten free.'"

Gotta B Gluten Free, 215 NW Hill Street. Monday - Friday, 6 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. - 1 p.m.

For a list of current Tula Baking retailers, visit tulabaking.com

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