On a roll: Making gluten-free tasty

Rebecca Roll's passion for breadmaking was seeded 25 years ago.
Rebecca Roll's passion for breadmaking was seeded 25 years ago.

Rebecca Roll's passion for breadmaking was seeded 25 years ago when she baked her first loaf in an old coal range in a Northland hut with no electricity.

Now the artisan breadmaker produces more than 450 loaves a week in her new Levin bakery, catering for a burgeoning gluten-free market.

About seven years ago she started selling wheat loaves to raise money to buy her son a computer. She used traditional methods, including stone-grinding wheat, using an old German wheat grinder, and hand kneading the bread.

Thoroughbread's bread.
Thoroughbread's bread.

"I love the old slow way, making quality nutritious breads using traditional methods," she says.

Launching her label "Thoroughbread" six years ago, she responded to inquiries from customers for gluten-free products.

Her first attempts were "sort of low and sunken", but she continued to experiment, determined to create a loaf with good texture and taste, similar to a wheat loaf, more than a substitute loaf.

"I wanted to cater for the need, make something that tasted like bread," she says. After two years of experimenting, she produced moist, soft loaves with a good taste and crust, quite different from other gluten-free breads on the market at that time. Selling her bread at markets in Paraparaumu and Wellington, the demand for her gluten-free loaves grew so much that she decided to concentrate exclusively on them. She found it exciting to start with a base product and combine and manipulate different ingredients to create new food ideas.

Using freshly ground brown rice as a base, other ingredients included plain rice and tapioca flours, fresh eggs, extra virgin olive oil, honey, sesame, linseed and yeast. Replacing wheat with gluten- free bread in her diet, Rolls discovered she was gluten-intolerant herself because she no longer felt "foggy and fatigued" in the afternoon.

Picking up fresh vegetables and produce from the markets, she started experimenting with different tastes and created a wide variety of breads, including carrot and fennel, olive and rosemary, natural, walnut, herb and garlic, honey and corn, sesame and linseed and sourdough.

She has expanded her range to include pizza bases, chocolate chip biscuits, cakes and her most recent new product is hamburger buns. The Coeliac Society is a keen supporter of her products, Rolls says.

She has been approached by companies showing interest in her recipes and proposed joint production but her desire to keep the recipe secret has meant she has declined the offers.

Employing four staff at her factory, they bake the bread and using newly designed plastic packaging, work through the night one night a week to get the loaves ready to be sold at markets and outlets throughout the North Island, including cafes and supermarkets.

Without traditional marketing, word of mouth has seen her business grow steadily, with new orders from supermarkets including New World in Thorndon, Pak'nSave in Lower Hutt, Pak'nSave in Napier and a chain of Commonsense Organics stores throughout the Wellington region.

Despite large companies recently venturing into the gluten-free market, she has secured a niche position and is working hard to meet the growing demand for her products.

Selling about 24,000 loaves a year, Rolls' annual turnover is about $200,000.

She says she may have to employ more staff but at present is concentrating on getting the orders out and developing new gluten-free taste sensations.

The Dominion Post