Talk of the Table: A Naturally Gluten-Free Holiday.


For many Jews, Passover is about what you can't eat. Those who observe the holiday's dietary rules must avoid chametz: wheat, rye, spelt, barley or oats. But because these ingredients--with the exception, sometimes, of oats--also happen to be the primary sources of gluten in our food, the Passover diet and the gluten-free diet actually look a lot alike. And for those who need to eat gluten-free year-round, Passover isn't about what you can't eat--it's about what you can.

As the holiday approaches, grocery stores stock up on "kosher for Passover" selections--and people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities know they'll be able to find more options than at any other time of the year. "Ten years ago, the only time you could find gluten-free stuff in a regular supermarket was during Passover," says registered dietitian and nutritionist Cheryl Harris, an expert on celiac disease who also blogs about the gluten-free diet. Many Passover foods are also devoid of soy (which some Ash-kenazi Jews avoid during the holiday) and dairy (which can't be mixed with meat). "For people with multiple food intolerances," Harris says, "Passover is a bonanza of food that isn't usually available."

For those with celiac disease--about 1 percent of the population--even tiny amounts of gluten cause intestinal damage, along with a host of debilitating symptoms. It is a serious autoimmune condition, and the only treatment is a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. Gluten sensitivity is trickier; these patients test negative for celiac but still report symptoms after eating gluten. Around 3 million Americans eat gluten-free--a number that tripled between 2009 and 2014. As more people adopt gluten-free diets, tasty gluten-free treats have become more widely available year-round--and it turns out that many of these newer, better, gluten-free options can double as Passover fare.

When cookbook author Paula Shoyer first started developing Passover recipes, she had to make the best of what few ingredients were available. The existing recipes were limited: Think lackluster brownies, sponge cake, dried fruit balls. "In the past, if you were looking for a dessert recipe, you would be googling 'Passover desserts,'" she says. But now, many gluten-free recipes can be used for Passover, and it's easy to find ingredients such as ground nuts, tapioca starch and almond milk, she says. "I like using nut flours more than I like using matzah cake meal, just because the flavor is so much...

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