Interview: Authentic Foods

Authentic Foods

1) What is your personal experience with gluten intolerance or celiac disease?

Many people who got started in the gluten-free food industry 20 years ago did so because they had celiac disease. I became involved because I was an experienced baker with a background in biochemistry responding to a challenge. Friends and colleagues kept asking me to experiment with “alternative” flours and find out how to make gluten-free bread worth eating.

At that time I had very little experience with gluten intolerance, so I sampled many of the packaged gluten-free breads and other baked goods then available. There was nothing I could say about them that was positive. The flavors were terrible, the textures were beyond undesirable, and they had little or no nutritional value. It’s small wonder that gluten-free food earned a bad reputation in those early days.

As a result, I founded Authentic Foods in 1993. The first product I introduced was Authentic Foods Garfava Flour. I designed it specifically to increase the protein and fiber in a gluten-free diet. A flavorful blend of nutritious garbanzo bean and fava bean flours, it was the first of many innovative gluten-free flours and mixes that were to follow.

Two decades later, I’ve finally solved one of the main complaints made by an ever- growing audience—the texture of gluten-free bread. After extensive research, I’ve finally developed a flour blend that produces authentic bread with a familiar taste and feel.

There is no other gluten-free bread flour blend on the market that performs like it in terms of structure, mellow flavor and sound nutrition. This multi-grain, ivory-colored blend is an excellent source of fiber, but you’d never know it by tasting the results.

Using my new bread flour blend, it’s possible to make gluten-free yeast breads that look and taste as though they came from an artisanal bakery, including ciabatta, focaccia and braided challah. After all, useful as it may be, bread does not begin and end with rectangular, pre-sliced sandwich loaves.

2) Most gluten-free baked goods contain xanthan gum. Why doesn’t Authentic Foods contain any xanthan gum in its gluten-free flour and baking mixes?

Traditionally, gluten-free baked goods require some kind of binder to emulsify the dough, hold it together and keep the baked results from being dry and crumbly. Most gluten-free “all purpose” baking blends tend to rely on xanthan gum or guar gum for this action. Without such moisture-retaining binders, bread in particular would be (and sometimes still is) unpalatably heavy. Unfortunately, if over-used, these gums can also make bakery items unpleasantly slimy or rubbery.

I have always felt that such gums were not a long-term solution. But thanks to my background in biochemistry and via extensive bakery experience, I eventually found the solution. By studying the fiber components of various gluten-free grasses, grains and even trees, I finally created a good-tasting flour combination that supplies its own natural structure. The first time I tried baking with this new combination, my yeasted gluten-free and xanthan gum-free bread dough actually rose—and tasted—like real bread. I could hardly believe it myself.

3) Some of your other products do contain xanthan gum. Are you working on any recipes for those products so that they won’t require xanthan gum?

We are currently reformulating our entire product line of baking mixes and flour blends to exclude xanthan gum. We expect this work to be completed toward the latter end of this year.

4) How does dough made from Authentic Foods flour maintain the proper texture if no binders are used in the ingredients?

The unique high-fiber, mixed grain formulation of our new gluten-free bread flour blend actually mimics the results obtained when baking with wheat flour. It forms a true, fast-rising dough with an airy, web-like structure that results in authentic, honest bread.

5) The market is saturated with gluten-free products that contain xanthan gum. If/when the pendulum swings away from the consumption of xanthan gum, how do you anticipate the demand for gluten-free products changing in favor of naturally gluten-free products? For example, cooking eggs for breakfast instead of pancakes.

The truth is that most raw foods are naturally gluten-free: only wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten. That said, there will always be a demand for bread, pasta, pizza, and other baked goods because they are such a huge part of the American food culture. In any case, foods made from grains form an essential part of a balanced diet around the world. What will change is how gluten-free versions are formulated. Using natural, nutrient-rich ingredients without sacrificing flavor and texture is key.

6) Gluten-free foods are starting to taste better and better. Is your company still experimenting with different recipes for your gluten-free flours and baking mixes?

As a USC alum, it goes against the grain to quote Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, but he was absolutely spot-on when he said, “If you’re not getting better you’re getting worse.”

Seeking to improve is vital to growth. At Authentic Foods we are constantly experimenting in our test kitchen with new flour blends and baking mixes. From time to time, we provide new recipes on our Facebook site, Authentic Foods Gluten-Free.

7) The gluten-free diet can be an unhealthy diet if foods that provide the proper nutrients are not consumed in place of foods that have been cut out. Do your products offer any additional health benefits aside from being gluten-free?

There’s a popular misconception that all those regular breads, breakfast cereals, bars and snacks that line grocery shelves contain beneficial nutrients thanks to helpful FDA regulations. The packages are awash with health claims, but what most of them have in common is a lot of high fructose corn syrup.

If a consumer simply replaced such items with gluten-free, high sugar brownies and muffins, then yes, that would be an unhealthy diet. On the other hand, they may well have been on an unhealthy diet in the first place.

Happily, the gluten-challenged consumer is becoming far more aware of the need to replace empty calories with a truly healthful diet that incorporates a wide range of natural raw ingredients.

In the early days, say 20 years ago, there were few bakery options available for those who could not eat gluten, and the limited selection was frankly awful. I founded Authentic Foods to meet the needs of home bakers and gluten-free bakeries with products that are not only gluten-free, but that taste appealing and offer sound nutrition.

We source all our ingredients with care. For example, our whole grain brown rice flour is California grown, lightly baked for more flavor and keeping qualities on the pantry shelf, and extra finely ground to eliminate any hint of grittiness in baked goods. Our whole grain millet is selected for its high protein content as well as its flavor, and the list goes on.

Authentic Foods’s new bread flour blend opens up all kinds of hitherto undreamed-of possibilities for the gluten-intolerant consumer. In addition, we are currently working on specially-formulated gluten-free pizza, pasta, and pastry flour blends. We anticipate a brighter future for all those who must avoid gluten in order to enjoy optimal health.

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