At the age of 17, Teresa Langen received some devastating news regarding her favorite hobby.
The prognosis was wheat intolerance. Langen, an avid baker, tried to ignore the fatigue and discomfort she experienced when she ingested wheat for a few years, but finally came to terms with it shortly after moving to the area in 2000.
“At the time there wasn’t much going on in the gluten-free market and I’ve always loved to bake, so I was really sad because nothing bakes like wheat bakes,” she said.
The denial of something she loved so much led her to pursue baking sans-wheat. Her pies, muffins, breads, and other tasty creations will soon be available for wholesale at the new Bingen location of Columbia Gorge Gluten Free.
“Wheat is very common for people to be allergic to, so I think it’s something that’s here to stay and if you can make things taste really good people don’t mind buying it and eating it instead of their typical gluten-type products,” Langen said.
Located in what was previously Big River Diner and Big T’s, Columbia Gorge Gluten Free is set for a soft opening in March with wholesale and retail online orders available at www.columbiagorgeglutenfree.com beginning in April.
This isn’t Langen’s first business venture. Her other business, Bio-Creations, produces a line of soaps, candles, and cosmetics and she works with the company her husband founded, EZkem, as well.
Through it all, Langen’s background in chemistry and biology has helped. Prior to moving to the Gorge, jobs in quality assurance in the food industry paved the way for successfully putting together gluten-free goodies.
“Baking is a science. It all has to do with chemistry and the way foods interact with each other and baking, probably more than other cooking, is really affected by the way things react, so understanding chemical reactions and acids and bases has helped me to understand baking and when something doesn’t work out to be able to analyze why,” Langen said.
That said, Langen recognizes the challenge of her business in that it lacks “the thing that is best for baking, which is gluten,” leading her to use white rice flour, potato flour, and tapioca starch in everything from her pie crusts to red velvet muffins with cream cheese icing.
In searching for a substitute for gluten that matches its ability to absorb moisture and gelatinous nature that allows for the stretchy, puffiness found in the typical loaf of bread, Langen uses xanthan gum and guar gum, both of which are plant-based.
“People see that word on a label and they panic and ask ‘what are you putting in my food’ but those are both natural substances that are plant-based. They mimic that sticky, gelatinous form and hold things together,” Langen said.
While she recognizes that finding gluten-free options on restaurant menus and in grocery stores has gotten easier over the years, Langen said she also knows how difficult it can be to make gluten-free baked goods at home.
“The difficult part is that gluten-free baking requires you to have a lot of ingredients. You don’t just buy a bag of flour like you do when you’re making regular muffins. You have three or four different flours that go into the mix, so having the space to store everything is difficult if you’re baking for yourself,” she said.
Sourcing as many of those ingredients as possible from the Gorge is important to Langen. Her chickens provide her with eggs and orchards throughout the Gorge will give her the apples or other fruit that fill her tarts.
“My intent is to use as many local ingredients as I can, which is also getting easier. You can get everything from eggs to honey here. You can’t get rice flour, but you can get all the good stuff that goes in the pie or muffin,” Langen said.
Eventually, Langen would like Columbia Gorge Gluten Free to be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but that process takes time and there is still a lot of work to be done to her new facility, which will be 100 percent gluten free with no potential for contamination since she will be the only one baking there.
“I’m hoping to bring some good alternatives to wheat in the baking world and maybe give more people a chance to try it and see if they feel better if they go on a wheat-free or gluten-free diet,” she said.