Passover Is Time for Gluten-Free Gluttony

Wider Array of Foods Available for Observant and Non-Jews

Plenty of Choice: The shelves of Manhattan’s Fairway supermarket are filled with gluten-free kosher-for-Passover food products.
shulamit seidler-feller
Plenty of Choice: The shelves of Manhattan’s Fairway supermarket are filled with gluten-free kosher-for-Passover food products.

By Paul Berger

Published March 19, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
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But her suffering underscores the lengths to which some celiac sufferers used to have to go, even recently, to get the food they needed.

Nowadays, people who want to avoid gluten can choose from much more than matzo. This Passover, stores are stocking a wide — and ever-growing — array of kosher food products labeled gluten-free, from crackers and cakes to noodles and matzo ball mix.

FreshDirect, the online food retailer, has doubled its gluten-free Passover offerings to more than a dozen items this year, including cake mixes and panko flakes. Joshua Spiro, FreshDirect’s senior supply chain manager, said the company sold out of gluten-free matzo so quickly last year that he has bought in twice as much — about 720 pounds of the stuff — this year.

The rise in gluten-free kosher products is just part of a broader national sales boom for gluten-free foods. Sales for foods with a gluten-free label are projected to rise to $8 billion this year from $4.8 billion in 2009, according to the market research company Mintel. (Mintel makes the distinction “labeled gluten-free” because some manufacturers label as “gluten-free” foods that never had gluten in them in the first place.)

Menachem Lubinsky said that five years ago there were just a handful of booths showcasing gluten-free foods at the Kosherfest trade show, which he founded. This year there were about 35 such booths.

Lubinksy, a kosher marketing consultant, said that about 40% of annual kosher sales take place during Passover. So this holiday more than any other is a time when many companies like to introduce new lines.

Manischewitz, for example, is offering about 20 new products labeled gluten-free this year, according to Paul Bensabat, the company’s co-owner. These products include 15 different types of macaroons, two cake mixes, crackers and matzo-style squares.

The irony of kosher manufacturers launching such a plethora of gluten-free products at Passover is not lost on people with celiac disease. Due to their disease, they must avoid wheat-based matzo, the festival’s ubiquitous symbol. Yet traditionally, Passover has been a bountiful time for gluten-free foods.

The timing of the push is attributable to the practice of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who avoid matzo that comes into contact with water. So, manufacturers produce an array of other goods for the holiday — including cakes and cookies — that use potato starch as a base.

Elissa Strauss, whose mother has celiac disease and who was diagnosed with the disease herself nearly 15 years ago, recalled springtime expeditions into ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods years ago to stock up on kosher-for-Passover cakes and other delights.

“[Passover] is supposed to be a time when you limit what you eat,” Strauss said. “But for me, Passover was an indulgent time.”


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