The competition between traditional and gluten-free bread in France

By Riley Schmidt:

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NICE, France — An old-fashioned French baguette – the kind that has been a staple here since the 19th century — consists of fewer than five ingredients. All it takes is a little bit of special flour, salt, yeast and water.

Now, many boulangeries in Nice are incorporating extra ingredients, such as olives, nuts and cheese, along with gluten-free breads into their bakeries. This transition to gluten-free options will allow locals and travelers with dietary restrictions to experience a new way of eating.

Catherine Illiaquer, part owner of Boulangerie Au Bon Pain, jumped from counter to counter to show me their traditional bread recipes, like Campagne, made with froment (wheat) and seigle (rye), and their ciabatta baguette, made with olive oil and whole olives. She also shared the store’s tourte de blettes, which is a “Nicoise special” that is “made with vegetables, like spinach.”

Illiaquer was interested in baking gluten-free breads in their bakery to attract more customers. She was discouraged because “it was not possible because flour is volatile” and their shop’s machines cannot prevent the gluten-free flour from mixing in with glutinous bread flour.

The family business at Boulangerie Au Bon Pain embodies France’s current transition of juggling traditional and gluten-free bread recipes.

Other boulangeries have had more success with introducing gluten-free products to their stores. Jean-Baptiste Todesco is the co-owner of Bread: Boulangerie Responsable. His organic bakeries have locations in many popular areas of France, including Nice, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Saint-Laurent-du-Var, and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The stores started including gluten-free products six months ago because “people are looking for that.” His bakery’s expansion was influenced by his travels around the world, particularly Australia, where he noticed that gluten-free lifestyles were beginning to make an appearance.

Because of the growing need for celiac products, Bread: Boulangerie Responsable is planning on making a gluten-free laboratory, where their products can be certifiably labeled “celiac.” For now, they make their gluten-free bread and desserts with rice flour as opposed to wheat flour, as well as cornbread and buckwheat. Todesco says that one major setback to developing a gluten-free laboratory is that gluten-free wheat flour is “very different than regular wheat,” so many of their recipes must be adjusted and tested out by both employees and customers. Despite this challenge, the store’s employee, Cèline Colombier, says that it will be worth the extra effort to be able to accommodate their gluten-free and celiac customers.

Todesco does not want his store to go completely gluten-free. He intends on keeping many of the store’s wheat bread recipes because “gluten-free is a good seller, but not the best seller.”

Coralie Urbain, a regular customer at Bread: Boulangerie Responsable, has tried her fair share of gluten-free breads. After struggling to stick to a gluten-free and lactose-free lifestyle, she opted for healthier food choices instead. Urbain has found some of her favorite gluten-free products at Bread: Boulangerie Responsable, saying that the Riz-Sarassin bread is “not like any other bread [she’s] tried.”

The combination of rice (riz) flour and buckwheat (sarrasin) creates a texture that is not commonly found in many gluten-free bread products. Urbain says that having more gluten-free options at restaurants is a good way for businesses to keep up with the growing trend in France.

At a traditional artisan bakery, such as Florentin le bon pain, there are many challenges to being located in the center of a gluten-free bread trend. This bakery is fighting to stick to tradition and still set themselves apart from the mass of gluten-free connoisseurs with their traditional loaf of “1895 bread.”

This original loaf of bread is handcrafted in the bakery and symbolizes their 120 year anniversary. The bread itself is imprinted with the year “1895” and sprinkled with flour. Unlike their other breads in the store, the 1895 loaf contains a “special kind of flour” (translated from French) and does not have ascorbic acid added to the recipe.

France has started to join in on the gluten-free trend that is very prevalent in the United States, Canada and Australia, but what exactly does gluten-free mean? There are many types of gluten sensitivity and it all depends on how your body reacts to wheat. People who suffer from celiac disease experience the worst side effects to eating wheat. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder […] where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.” Although celiac products are still in development in Nice, France, there are many gluten-free options that people with gluten-free lifestyles can enjoy.

Travelers have also gotten the chance to witness France’s transition to more gluten-free products. Veronica Newbury is a student from Ottawa studying in Nice and has been gluten sensitive for almost 5 years. She was apprehensive about coming to a country that is surrounded by gluten, but noticed that gluten-free diets and celiac disease are becoming “more and more prevalent” in Europe. She came to France with the intention of trying to ease gluten into her diet.

After settling in with her host family, Newbury decided to throw her gluten sensitivity to the side. She was pleasantly surprised to find that she did not notice the side effects that she normally experiences after ingesting gluten, and was just fine for the first week or so. She did say that the mass amounts of gluten intake “caught up with [her] after a while.”

If you often experience gluten sensitivity or have celiac disease, Newbury says to “just do what you can” and, like Urbain, says there are many options available at restaurants to accommodate your diet.

Another bakery that is developing a gluten-free laboratory is Moulin de Flor. Patrick Augier, the CEO and director of this bakery chain, wants to introduce gluten-free options to his bakeries to be able to stand out against the multitude of shops in Nice that pose as competition.

While Moulin de Flor is introducing gluten-free products, they are still making improvements to their traditional recipes as well. This boulangerie has a lot of seasonal bread recipes that can be paired alongside foods generally served during the holiday season. Fig bread is made especially to go alongside foie gras and rye bread can be paired nicely with oysters and other seafood.

Augier says that summer time is when their traditional baguette recipes become most popular. They are still trying to make new recipes, which involves a lot of research and testing. Augier is hopeful that a gluten-free laboratory will be introduced to their bakeries in six months.

France is not the only country that has made gluten-free options more widely available. For those that experience severe side effects after ingesting gluten, there are celiac options and gluten-free laboratories in development. In the words of Newbury, enjoy one of the major staples of French culture while you’re travelling abroad and “treat yourself a little bit.”


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