Three months ago, Gigi's Cupcakes instituted "Gluten-Free Fridays."
Each Friday, says Michaela Mahlo at the Gunbarrel Road Gigi's, customers are assured of finding at least three -- and possibly as many as five -- cupcake choices that contain no gluten.
And since these treats come in Gigi's signature flavors of Wedding Cake, Birthday Surprise, Midnight Magic, White Midnight Magic or Strawberry Shortcake, customers coping with special diets don't feel deprived, he says.
Bakery owners across Chattanooga say they are receiving more requests for gluten-free products, which exclude foods containing a protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye. The gluten-free diet is a medically prescribed treatment for celiac disease or patients with allergies; but in recent months, it has taken on almost a fad status followed by folks not dealing with either, just wanting to lose pounds.
Jennifer Downey of Jackson's Bakery in Brainerd Village says her business has added coconut macaroon cookies on a daily basis as its first step into the gluten-free market.
Toni Repko, who opened her new Sweet Angel Cakes location on East Brainerd Road at the end of February, says she has just started dabbling in gluten-free cakes.
Her cousin in New York, who has a gluten-free child, sent her recipes that she has been using in kitchen experiments. The challenge of adding gluten-free cakes to her inventory, she explains, is that their texture and taste are different from what customers expect.
"I know this [gluten-free products] is on the horizon for us -- within a month or two we'll have a couple of flavor options," she predicts.
Repko also has worked with Sharon Caylor of Flaky Baker in Eastgate Town Center to create gluten-free wedding cakes.
"I do allergen-free, not just gluten-free," says Caylor, adding that her cakes may be special-ordered without gluten, eggs or dairy products.
"I've made allergen-free doughnuts and brownies," says Caylor, who also is a vendor at Chattanooga Market. "I've been testing those items at the market and they do very well."
Caylor advises that gluten-free baked goods will taste different "because I'm not using wheat flour, I'm using garbanzo bean flour and potato starch.
"I also use flaxseed meal, which is good for you, but it adds a different texture. It's a different taste, but it doesn't taste bad."
John Sweet, owner of Niedlov's Breadworks, says he receives requests for gluten-free items but does not plan to offer them because of facility limitations.
"In order to produce them in a manner fit for someone with celiac, gluten-free baked goods must be produced in a gluten-free facility," he explains.
But he suggests an alternative for folks on the gluten-free diet.
"Many people who can't tolerate regular bread might consider looking at naturally leavened [especially whole grain] options," he says. "True sourdough breads that are made with a long fermentation time and without commercial yeast are more easily digested by the body, facilitate a greater nutritional uptake and have a much lower glycemic index.
"Whole grain breads are the healthiest breads as long as you choose '100 percent whole grain' over 'made with whole grain' and stay away from ingredient lists that include high fructose corn syrup, 'gluten powder,' 'vital wheat gluten' or anything else you can't pronounce," he says.
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6284.