Wild Oats and Senza Gluten

Hudson Library NYC

The fact that many cars have indicator lights the same colour as their brake lights (red). The fact that light-switches and taps work opposite to the way I am accustomed. The fact that there is a dearth of roundabouts here and at each intersection without traffic lights there is a polite little silent tussle when more than one car comes to a halt at roughly the same time.
“You were here first, you go…”
“No, it’s fine. You go first.”
“Well, we did kind of both stop here at the same time, I wonder which of us should go first?”
“Hmmm, let’s have a little think about it.”

GET ROUNDABOUTS. Then you simply give way, in this case, to the left. Always. No discussion.

All of the above I can put up with. The OATS are the thing I cannot overlook. Up with them I can not put. The first time I walked down the cereal aisle I was thrilled by the amount of gluten free breakfast options. Delighted! Until I looked closer. Oats. Ninety six percent of them had oats. In real life (outside America) it is known that oats are an issue for people with coeliac disease.

My theory is that oats are so cheap, that when gluten free cereals became more widely produced, oats were not supposed to be included – but without oats as a bulking agent, cereals would require more (and more expensive) ingredients. So then (so goes my scenario) oat farmers leaned on the breakfast cereal producers and, because of the seemingly opaque nature of the Oat Rule (more on that in a minute), they were only too happy to keep whacking oceans of oats into their granola et al.

Which was a shock to me, arriving from Australia, where oats – as dictated by the Coeliac Society – are most definitely not considered gluten free.


Oats and the gluten free diet
Gluten is the general descriptor used to describe a prolamin protein fraction that affects those with coeliac disease. This protein occurs only in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Technically the gluten fraction from each grain is named differently in each grain, as the amino acid sequence is slightly different, yet these fractions still contain the sequence that will trigger symptoms and intestinal damage in those with coeliac disease. The gluten fraction is called gliadin in wheat, harden in barley, secalin in rye and avenue in oats.

Food can be tested by laboratories to determine the presence and a certain level of gluten content, however, the current tests for gluten can only measure gliadin, harden, and secalin but not avenue due to its slight difference in amino acid make up. As a result FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand) prohibit any form of oats to be defined as gluten free, hence all oats, pure oats and oat containing products cannot be labelled or advertised as gluten free in Australia and New Zealand.

…Limited clinical studies have shown that as many as 4 in 5 with coeliac disease can tolerate uncontaminated oats in small quantities without causing symptoms or damage to the small intestine, but this statistic does translate into 1 in 5 (20%) will still react to uncontaminated oats. Since there is no simple test to determine who falls within this 20% of reactivity, it has been recommended by leading researchers and gastroenterologists that oats should not be included within the gluten free diet.

It is recommended that should an individual wish to consume oats as part of the gluten free diet, a biopsy prior to and 3 months during regular oat consumption be done to determine its safety on the individual.

Coeliac Australia (November 2015) Oats and the gluten free diet: position statement, Australia: Coeliac Australia.

There I stand, inwardly seething, in front of a million cereals labelled GF – that have OATS OATS OATS…and ‘ancient grains’… and OATS… and buckwheat and… OATS! The only granola I could find with no oats cost $14US/$20AU. Still cheaper than getting breakfast out, but GAHHHH. I have the furioso.

Thus, I was more than excited to see a restaurant in NYC called ‘Senza Gluten’. They had zero gluten. No OATS. No danger… On my last night in the city I found myself nearby, and decided that I would love to just sit and eat a pizza and drink a glass of wine, because I actually could. In I went. It was a lovely little place – I belatedly realised that I wasn’t actually in the restaurant – I was in a little cutdown version of the same venue (the bakery on Sullivan St) that also sold a lot of cakes and scones etc. That was fine.

I got my glass of wine. I ordered the quarto fromaggi pizza. The serving guy was enthusiastic. “And how about trying a specialty? It’s baked bread, hollowed out with three different types of melted cheese in the middle…” he lowered his voice, “…with an egg cracked and cooked into the middle of it.”

“Wow,” I said, imagining some kind of fondue cheesy finger food to nibble on while I waited for my pizza and took small sips of wine. “That sounds cool. OK. Thank you.”

Twenty minutes later, I was happily immersed in my book and he put in front of me a plate with a pasta-bowl shaped baked bread with side about 3/4 of an inch thick surrounding a centre melted cheese and the illustrious egg.

“Mix it all around,” he prompted. “Then it all mixes together and goes solid and you can eat it much easier.”

It was bigger than my head.

“Um – is this as well as the pizza?”

“What do you mean?”

“Am I getting pizza as well, or just this?”

“I not understand.” (I was forcibly reminded of Manuel in Fawlty Towers)

“OK. You tell me what my order was.”

“Ah… this?” he motioned to the bowl made of bread filled with cheese. “You want the pizza too?”

“No! No, no thank you. I couldn’t eat pizza as well as this.”

I stared mutinously at my cheese soup. “Mix it!” he encouraged again. I began to mix – it created some kind of chemical reaction rendering the cheese and the egg into a kind of dense but still drippy yellow sponge. I hacked a little chunk of the bread from the side, realising only belatedly that I’d just broken the levee. Out flowed the yellow, pooling gently on to the plate.

I didn’t feel I could do anything but eat it. How had this happened? My appetite – still minimal from shingles, had thought pizza might be good – but it rebelled at more than a third of my cheese soup with edible bowl. Nor could I stomach the thought of taking the leftovers back to the apartment. I summoned my zen, sipped my wine and tried to focus on reading about Michael Caine instructing me, in vain, how to blow the bloody doors off.

NOTE: all of the above was written while I was still in the US. Now, in order to find the correct title of ‘bowl made of bread with cheese in it’ I went and checked out their menu – both the restaurant and the bakery. WHAT THE HELL? That dish is mentioned NOWHERE… I just…. maybe they didn’t want to make me a pizza?

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