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Gluten-free baked goods? They're real -- and local

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Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 12:42 pm | Updated: 11:22 am, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

A Ruckersville woman has turned her undiagnosed food intolerance into a new business venture.

Linda Newman, the owner and operator of Mixing It Up, offers a variety of gluten-free baked goods for sale to the public. Her products, which range from banana bread to muffins to a newly created pizza crust, are available at businesses in Charlottesville.

“I’ve been eating a gluten-free diet for five or six years,” Newman said. “But I just started baking [for profit] in January. I thought about it for several years, but I just really started … and now I’m hustling.”

Gluten is a substance found in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. In recent years, there has been an increase in people diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, and a push has been made to create better gluten-free food items.

According to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine and can lead to additional health problems. The only cure for celiac disease is to stop eating gluten.

People with gluten intolerance have less adverse reaction to eating gluten, but they still must eliminate the substance from their diets to relieve their symptoms.

“When I first eliminated gluten from my diet, there wasn’t a lot of gluten-free items on the market,” Newman said. “But now, there are more and more products available in stores. It’s a good time to be starting this type of business.”

Newman said she spent two years testing recipes and trying out different ways to make good-tasting, gluten-free food. She bakes all of her foods in her own kitchen, which is totally gluten-free, and she inspects everything that comes out of her oven.

“I’m glad I didn’t start this two years ago, because I didn’t have the recipes perfected yet,” Newman said. “Everything I sell has been through a long process. … I won’t sell it if it isn’t good.”

Newman bakes all her products herself and freezes items until delivering them to the businesses. She suggests that her products remain frozen until they are ready to eat.

“These products have no shelf life,” Newman said. “All my vendors know they get it frozen. … It’s all better if you freeze it.”

Newman has been working hard to serve all of the stores where her products sell and add new businesses to her client list. She also continues to work on expanding her menu, and several products are in the “production-perfection” phase.

“I’m working on a bread that tastes really good, but is still a little too crumbly,” Newman said. “I’m still working on that one.”

Jon Gordon, kitchen manager at Timberwood Grill in Charlottesville, said the restaurant added two of Newman’s products to its dessert menu. Diners seeking gluten-free items there can have either a Bananas Foster or a brownie and ice cream dish featuring Newman’s pastries.

“We had such an influx of customers wanting gluten-free items, and we wanted a few desserts for our menu,” Gordon said. “I’ve tried them both, and they’re good.”

Although Newman never has been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, she stopped eating gluten foods several years ago after her sisters were diagnosed with the intolerance.

“They hounded me for months to go off the food, and I went off it in October [2006], mainly to lose weight for a wedding,” Newman said. “Then, at Christmas, I ate everything in sight with flour in it and thought I was going to die that night … and I have not knowingly touched it since.”

Newman said her health has improved greatly since giving up gluten, and she’s excited to be offering foods that will help others who live gluten-free to have great-tasting food options.

“I want people to know you can still eat great foods that are gluten-free,” Newman said. “There are people buying my products who are gluten intolerant, and they don’t even realize it’s gluten-free because it tastes so good.”

Sharon C. Fitzgerald is a correspondent for the Greene County Record.

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