Gluten-Driven Innovation, and Entrepreneurs
Posted by Plish on April 19, 2009
I think we all have a tendency to sometimes take food for granted. We go to a store or restaurant, see what we like and eat it.
Unfortunately there are foods that make peoples’ lives miserable. Beyond the world of more well known allergies (as many have to peanuts), there are many less well known food sensitivities- less well known but no less prevalent – or less dangerous! Some estimates say that one in a hundred of us is sensitive to, or intolerant of, gluten – perhaps even to the point of having celiac disease.
Today I went to the Thrive Allergy and Gluten-Free Expo in Chicago. It runs through Sunday.
I went because a family member was recently diagnosed with gluten sensitivity/intolerance.
Far from being a place of suffering, the expo was filled with a community of people who offered support, hope and direction for those with allergies, celiac disease (and other gluten related illness), and asthma (I did a lung function test and rocked! but I digress).
I was struck by how people have invented entirely new ways of making cookies, breads, and other foods – all without recourse to egg, dairy, gluten or nuts. I sampled every chance I had, and rarely was I disappointed. The comestibles tasted good!
These foods are a testimony to the ability of people to find new ways of making things that have, in some cases for centuries, been made according to certain tried-and-true recipes. It was fascinating to hear of the trial-and-error going on in kitchens around the world – the homespun R&D that creates delectable tidbits from raw materials that aren’t usually thought of as palatable.
And people didn’t keep the results of this R&D to themselves. The exhibit hall was filled with testimonies to the human entrepreneurial spirit, to people who saw a void filled it.
Of these, I had discussions with two folks in particular and listened to a presentation from a third.
The first gentleman was Joel Dee, the President/CEO of Edward & Sons Trading Company. While on a business trip in Europe over 30 years ago, Joel sampled a cup of prepackaged miso soup that rejuvenated and recharged him in a way that changed his life.
He returned to the US but couldn’t find this product anywhere. He asked the company who made it in Europe to sell it to him but they wouldn’t.
He saw the void for healthy foods and decided to fill it himself. What started out with miso soup is now a thriving company that supplies the world with tasty and healthy vegetarian products.
Next I spoke with Derek Green, a textile business retiree and celiac sufferer who wanted a beer without gluten.
To the amazement of his wife, he went to Belgium and found a brewery that shared his vision. The result?
As we chatted about everything from soccer to union labor to celiac, I was impressed with Derek’s love of beer, a love that can now be consummated because of his entrepreneurial capabilities.
How was the beer?
As a home brewer myself, I enjoyed it. The heavier beers were better, and as they reached room temperature the flavors came alive, creating a body and fullness in my mouth. (Another review can be read here.) Derek shared how he prefers to store his beer on the garage floor so it’s cool, but not too cold.
This beer, brewed without the standard malts and barleys, ages beautifully and doesn’t spoil through the same mechanisms as traditional beer. After 5 years (from his first batch) the oldest beer still pleases the palate, even those of the brewers in Belgium!
Finally, I listened to a talk by Jules Shepard, author of The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Her topic was outfitting the kitchen to make it gluten-free-friendly. Amidst her wonderfully sensible advice, she shared how gluten free bread can’t be “beaten down” like traditional breads because it will be solid and won’t rise – a tidbit that came from the home-based R&D kitchens where thousands of gluten sensitive people cook and eat for themselves and their families every day.
Today was a confirmation of something I’ve believed all along.
If people have problems that they need to solve, get out of their way and let the magic happen.
Joel Dee – Derek Green – Jules Shepard
Corporate America doesn’t have anything on these folks.
What problems are you going to solve?