Following the opening of a new gluten-free outlet in Mercato Mall, Penelope Walsh explores the options available for a gluten-intolerant gourmand in Dubai.
It is estimated that approximately one in every 100 suffers from coeliac disease, a condition that makes gluten an absolutely no-go zone. The effect of gluten, commonly found in wheat based products such as pasta and bread, can vary wildly, with as many as 300 symptoms associated with this ingredient. For those with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance, buttered toast or a slice of birthday cake may seem like more hassle than they are worth, but that is no longer the case in Dubai, where the gluten-free food scene has been growing. Dubai now has two dedicated gluten-free bakeries, Skinny Genie and Sweet Connections, while a growing number of restaurants in the city have become more intolerance aware, offering to tailor dishes on request, and even serving gluten-free menus.
In June, Milk and Honey introduced a new range of gluten-free products, and in May, gluten-free bakery Sweet Connection opened its first retail space at Mercato Mall. Based out of a bakery in Dubai Investment Park, until now the products have been available to buy online, as well as Milk and Honey, the Ripe Store, and the Saturday Ripe farmers’ market in Al Quoz. According to Areej Jomaa, the Lebanese baker behind this project, the new stall came about in answer to the growing demand for a central Dubai location where gluten-free products could be purchased. ‘I liked Mercato, because it is accessible and a family mall.’
Sweet Connection started in Dubai in October 2011, but the project’s roots were created because of a family member, Areej tells us. ‘My sister was diagnosed with coeliac disease more than 20 years ago and I started baking for her. When I started baking back then, there was nothing available on the market and I had to experiment constantly. Now there are so many amazing gluten-free varieties of flour for me to work with.’ Now, Areej comments, the awareness of gluten-free eating has grown, but that was not the case when she first arrived in Dubai: ‘I saw there was a big niche for gluten-free food that is made fresh, rather than something that comes out of a packet.’ In contrast, at Sweet Connection everything is freshly baked each day, using no preservatives, additives or colours, and using organic ingredients where possible, she tells us.
Sweet Connection identifies itself as 100 percent gluten free and safe for coeliac sufferers, and those who are gluten intolerant. While gluten is the focus of the business, Areej explains that the company also creates items free from dairy, eggs, sugar, nuts and soy, depending on the allergies of individual customers. ‘I work with doctors and nutritionists, who send me the test results for patients, along with an intolerance list for them. If you are allergic to gluten, eggs or dairy, then I would devise bread and cookie recipes that work according to the ingredients on your list.’
‘It’s not just gluten free but very nutritious because of the ingredients we use. I use the best gluten-free flours and I do immense research to get the best ingredients’. Areej explains that she does not use ready-made gluten-free flour mixes, but creates her own, specific to the dish. She uses flour varieties such as millet, buckwheat, almond meal, flaxseed meal, amaranth, and sorghum, which she says each have significant nutritional benefits of their own – indeed, more than rice or potato flour, which are more commonly used in gluten-free breads. Sorghum, for example is higher in anti-oxidants than blueberries. Other ingredients commonly used at Sweet Connection include extra virgin organic coconut oil as a lactose-free substitute for butter, and raw organic agave nectar as a healthy replacement for sugar – for those who want to reduce their intake.
Gluten-free products available at Sweet Connection’s Mercato store include five to six varieties of savoury bread and four types of sweet loaf including banana bread, plus cookies and muffins. There are also an egg and dairy-free chocolate and almond biscotti using agave nectar. But we’re keen to try the dairy-free pure cocoa chocolate brownies, since Areej tells us they ‘sell out and disappear everyday’. With the Mercato store now open, Areej tells us there are plans for more in the future. ‘We might open a bigger venture, but definitely we’ll open another store very soon.’
Sweet Connections, Mercato Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road. www.sweetconnectiondubai.com.
More to try
The Italian restaurant can serve a choice of dishes made with gluten free pasta, including spaghetti pomodoro, spaghetti peperoncino, penne arrabbiata and paccheri pasta.
Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111).
Baker and Spice
This café, which bakes its own artisanal breads and pastries fresh everyday, also offers gluten-free options of almond and orange tea cakes (made with corn flour) or chocolate fudge cake.
Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 425 2240). Other locations: Dubai Marina, behind Marina Promenade Building (04 362 4686), Dukkan Al Manzil, Downtown Dubai (04 427 9856).
Try the traditional Brazilian pao de queijo (or cheese breads), which are made with gluten-free cassava flour. You can also sample the unique pao de queijo pizzas, which are made on a base using the same dough. Toppings include pepperoni, catupiry, Margherita and carne seca.
Dubai Ladies Club, Jumeirah Beach Road (050 669 4058).
Big kids can tuck in to this confectionary brand’s range of gluten-free jelly beans, which are also fat, nut and gelatine free and come in more than 30 flavours.
Ibn Battuta (04 363 1602).
The Italian eatery offers a dedicated gluten free menu (they have a diabetic friendly selection too). The selection includes a choice of classic sauces teamed with gluten-free brown rice pasta, as well as mushroom risotto and sautéed prawns with cherry tomatoes, garlic and herbs.
The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 434 1320). Other locations: Mirdif City Centre (04 284 3728), Dubai Marina Mall (04 399 7844).
Dubai’s first entirely online supermarket for gluten-free products sells breads, pastas, items for children, as well as ingredients for gluten-free baking at home, and even beauty products, since gluten can apparently be absorbed through the skin. In fact, not just a problem for those who consume it, gluten is also the cause of allergic skin condition
Dermititus Herpetiformis. www.glutenfree-supermarket.ae
If you’re a sucker for cupcakes, head to Kitsch, which stocks a gluten-free recipe made with white chocolate and caramel.
Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqueim 1 (04 395 6963). Other location: DIFC (050 336 8280).
The selection of gourmet gluten free items at Lafayette Gourmet includes organic corn flour fusilli pasta, shortbread cookies and breakfast cereals such as the nicely nutty muesli and also the cranberry macademia variety, made with buckwheat, rice bran, puffed brown rice, puffed buckwheat, amaranth and dried fruit.
Galeries Lafayette, The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 339 9933).
Milk and Honey
The store has introduced a new gluten-free range for June, including cereals, flour-mixes for baking bread, pasta sauces and chocolate desserts.
Meadows Town Centre 1, Emirates Hills (04 435 6363).
If you’re hungry for a pizza, NKD offers all the usual suspects on the menu, made with a ten-inch gluten-free base.
Various locations, www.nkdpizza.com.
Guests can request for some pasta dishes on the menu to be made with gluten-free rice flour pasta. The selection is paccheri ai frutti di mare (paccheri pasta with mixed seafood, chili, garlic and tomato) or spaghetti all’astice (spaghetti with lobster, chili, garlic and tomato). We hope you like seafood.
Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Dubai’s other dedicated gluten-free bakery creates sweet items such as cookies and muffins, with a sugar-free range available too. Skinny Genie’s products are stocked in several Dubai cafés including RAW, The Archive, Caribou Coffee and Caffé Nero.
www.skinny-genie.com (04 338 8898).
The cupcake specialists and bespoke cake bakers offers an indulgent gluten-free option of chocolate truffle cake.
Shop 14, Rawdat Al Karama building, Karama (04 357 9333).