June 11, 2012

Gluten-Free Pizza: Is This Pie For You?

Ordering a pizza can involve more than just figuring out the difference between pan pizza, stuffed crust pizza, and hand-tossed pizza. If you have celiac disease - a condition that prevents your body from absorbing the gluten content in food - you also have to worry about your health. The only known treatment for the condition is a gluten-free diet. This means no foods containing rye, wheat, or barley. This amounts to a pizza with your choice of some toppings, but no crust and probably no sauce if it contains gluten. While this may not sound very appetizing, some fast food chains are making an effort to offer delicious gluten-free choices.

Rainbow Pizza

Finding the Right Substitute It's not always easy trying to find substitutes when it comes to certain ingredients used in the preparation of food. This is especially true of pizza, because it has to have a certain consistency and flavor, otherwise it would be called a rice cake. Potato starch, rice starch, and rice flour are the common substitutes used to create a pizza crust that looks and tastes like the real thing. There is no "standard" recipe though. Each restaurant chain currently offering gluten-free menu items uses a different combination of substitute ingredients. Then there's the taste factor. Even Stevie Wonder can tell the difference between regular and diet cola, but you won't really notice the difference when it comes to your pizza.

Chains Offering Gluten-Free Menu Choices So far, five national restaurant chains are offering gluten-free pizza as well as other gluten-free menu items. Each chain has its own methods for achieving this goal, but at least they get an "A" for effort.
  • Domino’s Pizza - Domino's is one of the largest chains offering the gluten alternative.
  • Chevys Fresh Mex - Several gluten-free items can be found on the menu here. The chain also trains its staff on how to prepare these items.
  • Chuck E. Cheese - Currently only six Minnesota restaurants are currently offering gluten-free alternatives as part of the company's testing phase. However, you have to give them credit for being serious about getting it right.
  • P.F. Chang’s China Bistro - The chain offers several gluten-free menu items, including some of their common sauces.
  • Fresh Brothers - The California pizza chain has offered a gluten-free menu since 2008. Be Careful Where You Bite
Be Careful Where You Bite
Not all gluten-free foods are created - or prepared - equally. Each restaurant chain currently offering gluten-free items has a different method for how they prepare these items. This means you may not be completely escaping gluten when you take a bite. Domino’s Pizza, for instance, recommends that you avoid the crust if you want to make sure you're not getting any gluten. This is due to cross-contamination from making all pizzas in the same location. It's not called fast food for nothing! Fresh Brothers takes some precautions to avoid this, but they still bake all pizzas in the same oven. P.F. Chang’s uses separate appliances to make its gluten-free items. Chuck E. Cheese has a special facility where they are testing and making their gluten-free products. However, you're not likely to know any of this unless you ask. If you're not sure, it's best to err on the side of caution and watch where you bite.

A gluten-free diet isn't just for those with celiac disease. In recent years, a diet free of gluten has become a popular choice for those trying to shed pounds or get a little healthier, since those on such a diet tend to eat more fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that cutting gluten from your diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. While it's good that some restaurants are embracing the trend, you still have to do some homework to ensure that you're getting a healthy alternative. If grades are going to dished out, Chuck E. Cheese and P.F. Chang's earn extra points for their testing efforts and preparation methods, respectively. Now let's see what they can do about anchovies.

Renee Varney is a freelance blogger who occasionally writes for delivery.com, a site she loves using to find Local Pizza Delivery and Order Restaurants Online.

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  1. I've been gluten free for years and have never seen anything gluten free at dominoes. Is it only at certain locations? PF Changs has a very limited selection especially if you're vegetarian. I wouldn't eat at Chuck E Cheese if you paid me. They always had terrible pizza and I don't know about the others but my sons still eat gluten and they eat Dominoes frequently. At our locations isn't not available.

  2. Anonymous9:56 PM

    According to Domino's PR department, their gluten-free product is available at all 5,000 locations. I don't know why it's not available at your local store. I'd ask the manager. I can tell you from my research that one of the issues with Domino's product is that it's made on the same counter, with the same tools, in the same oven as their regular product thus exposing you to at least some degree of gluten. You might want to check out Pizza Hut. I believe they're now offering a gluten-free pizza as well.


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