Gluten-free on the rise


Gluten-free food is becoming a hot seller for Queenstown cafes.

Like other fads blacklisting dairy and sugar, the idea of avoiding gluten – a protein source found in grains – has spilled over from magazine articles into the mainstream.

Eating this way is necessary for those with coeliac disease – caused by a reaction to gluten – but Forge Cafe owner Katherine Lawrenson says many people just feel better eating that way.

“I get customers coming in and buying gluten-free products even if they aren’t allergic to wheat,” says Lawrenson, who’s been baking gluten-free bread for two years.

“Some people just choose to [avoid gluten] – they think it’s a lighter option.”

Vudu Cafe manager Sally Walker also reckons more customers have been demanding gluten-free food for a year or so.

“A little while ago everybody was asking for no dairy. Now people ask for gluten-free,” she says.

Walker says the craze stems from magazine articles on gluten intolerance and alternative health practitioners recommending gluten-free diets – plus word of mouth.

“People hear about other people who aren’t even coeliac or hugely allergic but who’ve still felt benefits from eating that way.”

Vudu has catered accordingly, she says, serving up gluten-free brownies, cupcakes and a nut loaf, as well as polenta (cornmeal) and gluten-free bread.

But Forge’s Lawrenson has gone further, now supplying small orders.

“With the first cake we did, people came in and asked if we had other things so we’ve just branched out into muffins and cakes and slices. Over the last few months we’re selling to customers outside the store. It’s just grown through word of mouth.

“We’re not coeliac – we just saw a market for it and decided to go for it.”

Lawrenson and her mum Marilyn Knowles bake the goods in Forge’s small kitchen. The pair are happy keeping business small-scale but Lawrenson hopes to publish a gluten-free cookbook within two years.


Flour power: Katherine’s tips for gluten-free baking

  • Use flours made specifically without gluten
  • Remember to use gluten-free baking powder
  • Don’t use as much butter as the recipe says and never melt butter because your mix will just turn soggy – just keep it soft
  • Basic pastry made using gluten-free mixes can taste powdery, so add a couple of drops of vanilla essence to mask the texture
  • Be careful when buying ingredients because they may include gluten. For example, with chocolate use good-quality dark chocolate because it has more cocoa than additives
  • Different products contain different types of gluten. Oats, for example, have gluten but don’t affect people the same way as wheat so you may not need to avoid them


Gluten-free chocolate & almond biscuits

  • 1/4 cup castor sugar
  • 1/4 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 1 1/2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 125 grams soft butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180degC. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and add butter, egg and vanilla. Mix with your hands until a dough forms.

Divide dough into 10 portions and shape each into a flat circle about 1-1.5cms thick. Place on baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool slightly before transferring to cooling rack.

Katherine Lawrenson is the owner and baker of Forge Cafe