Most Passover keepers dread tossing all traces of bread products from their homes and hunting for suitable substitutions. But, if you ask a person with celiac disease (or gluten intolerance) how she feels about the search for wheat free non-leavened food during the Passover season, you’ll likely hear a sigh of relief. This holiday provides a rare opportunity to stock up on additional gluten-free foods.
Passover begins at sundown Monday, and the supermarkets have been preparing to accommodate celebrants’ dietary restrictions.
Brief history lesson: This eight-day holiday commemorates the Jews’ hurried escape from more than 200 years of slavery in Egypt under Pharoah’s rule. They had little notice of their release and, therefore, no time for their bread to rise. To commemorate these hardships, Jews abstain from eating bread (or any product made with a leavening agent). Any food that is derived from grains (e.g., wheat, oats, spelt) is prohibited on Passover unless it is in the form of matzoh. That means no baked goods, bread, bagels, cookies and cakes.
As a substitute for grains, some Passover foods are made with potato starch and can, therefore, be gluten-free. (Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and their products.) Potato starch can be used to make cakes, pasta, puddings, cookies dried soups and even candy.
Today, the demand for special foods has grown beyond the kosher crowd. According to a 2009 Mintel report, Americans value kosher products even more now because of the additional supervision and perceived quality. So, whereas 50 years ago, kosher for Passover foods were scarce, now there’s a steady rise in availability. This is a boon to the about 1 in 133 people who have celiac disease (an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine from the protein gluten) or are gluten intolerant (sensitive to gluten) that is found in wheat, rye and barley, and some oats. Since their bodies cannot properly digest gluten, they can experience severe gastrointestinal problems (gas, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea), malnutrition, and neurological problems, especially in children. Untreated, celiac disease may lead to GI cancer and death. The only treatment is a lifetime of gluten free eating which requires a Sherlock Holmes—vigilance when it comes to label reading, since gluten can be found in unexpected places—vinegar, malt, spices, dressings, cereals, soy sauce, MSG, seasonings and soups, just to name a few.
The choices for gluten-free Passover products are more proliferous in certain communities (a drive to Pomegranate in Brooklyn is always a safe bet), but there are finds to be had in local supermarkets too.
We checked out Pelham Fairway first—the store that caters to foodies and goes beyond the traditional kosher gefilte fish and matzoh. Some of the more exciting choices include: Haddar Gluten-Free Teriyaki Sauce, Stir Fry Sauce and packaged soups. We were also pretty stoked to see Dr. Prager’s gluten-free Broccoli Pancakes, Streit’s Vanilla Cake Mix and Hagaddah sugar-free and regular cookies. Costco has supersized bags of gluten-free potato chips and Stop and Shop carries Macabee gluten-free Passover pizza.
The best selection in Westchester that we found is at Seasons Kosher Market (formerly Supersol of Scarsdale). The list is large and especially satisfying if you have a sweet tooth. Here are some highlights: in the stack of baked goods from Schick you can find Raspberry and Apricot Rolls and Strawberry Shortcake. Other displays include Hagaddah chocolate frosted cupcakes and brownies, Shabtai Vanilla Cream BonBons and Black and White Cookies and Oberlanders Sandwich Cookies.
In the frozen department check out Tuv Taam for Macaroni and Cheese, Pasta and Mushrooms and two brands of gluten free pizza—Macabee and Hulachmu. Then head over to the refrigerated section and pick up some Mother’s Margarine and Butterry Spray—that is low-cal, gluten- and dairy-free to spread on Kestenbaum’s gluten-free oat matzoh
When shopping, be sure to look for a label that says "Non-Gebrokts" or "Gluten-Free” and remember that "Kosher for Passover" does not necessarily mean that a product is gluten-free.
But shop now. Most stores do not restock and by mid-holiday week all you will see is the store’s Passover doily shelf lining.
Laurie S. Goldberg, M.S, R.D. is a registered dietition and practices in Manhattan.