When it comes to delivery gluten free pizza, Domino's leads the pack

Domino's gluten free pizza - a great leap forward or a sign of the end?

The much-publicized announcement form the Domino's Pizza company this week that they would be offering pizza with a gluten free crust at all of their locations has been met with a hail of comments. The nationwide chain will be the first large pizza franchise to make such a product available for delivery or carryout. While gluten free pizza has been offered for a few years at the regional level by local chains and individual restaurants and in certain limited areas, this event marks the first time a person with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance can pick up the phone in almost any city in America and get a delivery pizza made without wheat flour - at least, that is, a pizza with a crust made without wheat flour.

Gluten Free(79356)Credit: clker.comNo WheatCredit: PDClipart.org

And therein lies the rub, and the range of comments online. Domino's warns potential consumers of the gluten free pie that they should be careful and knowledgable about the product. The problem is that the pizzas are not made in a seperate prep area from the wheat crust pizzas, so wheat flour may be on utensils, hands, and in ovens where the pizzas are made. This means that there is a high probability of cross contamination, the public enemy number 1 of those who suffer from celiac disease in its most severe form.

Sufferers of celiac disease can have varying degrees of sensitivity on a superficial level, meaning that for some people, a tiny bit of gluten sends tham reeling to the commode, while for others, a pinch here and there doesn't seem to bother them immediately. However, for the true celiac, getting sick is no way to judge how much gluten can be tolerated. Gluten for these folks is like a very small razor blade that gradually destroys the small intestine's ability to digest food and bring nutrients into the body. In addition, just a small amount of gluten causes an autoimmune reaction, and the body attacks parts of itself, casuing serious health problems sooner or later. For those with true celiac disease, it is best practice to stay completely gluten free. Then there is a group of people who are gluten intolerant or wheat sensitive. For these people, eating a bit of gluten now and then doesn't do any long term damage, but it might give them some intestinal distress or queasiness. For this group, cross contamination is usually not an issue. But for those with celiac disease, any trace of gluten is to be avoided - like Dominos Pizza.

There are a few pros about the Domino's announcement that even celiac sufferers should see as cause to celebrate. The first is a heightened degree of public awareness that wheat and gluten are problems for a substantial number of people, children included. Education in this case is probably a good thing, no matter what the cost for some. The second pro is that where Domino's leads, others will follow, and someone is bound to improve the process so that cross contamination isn't an issue. Third, when others jump into the market, the variety will go up and costs will go down. Currently, the only gluten free pizza available from Dominos is a 10 inch, but you can get whatever toppings you want. It would be nice to have the option of larger pies, or even deep-dish versions. Finally, children with celiac often feel left out and different. While this product may be too big a temptation for highly sensitive celiac sufferers, it could be a godsend for others.

But there are a few disadvantages to the gluten free Domino's as well. In addition to and in conjunction with the possible cross contamination, there is the temptation problem - how do you explain to a child who has never had delivery pizza from the company that it is still too dangerous to eat? The cost is also somewhat prohibitive - a 10 inch with 4 or 5 ingredients can cost at least $15.00, and a small pizza only feeds one or two at the most. But maybe the biggest drawback to being able to have Domino's gluten free pizza is a boost to the fast food mentality. Many parents of celiac children and older celiacs themselves pride themselves on eating healthier, fresher, and avoiding the fast food plague that many see as a modern epidemic. Being able to order a Domino's gluten free pizza will increase the desire for less healthy fast foods, and that can't be a good thing.

But gluten free pizza, Domino's and many others, is here to stay. Many smaller chains like Monical's, Naked Pizza, and Godfather's have made wheat-free pizzas available to their customers. Every major city also has pizza makers that have seen the trend and offer an alternative. An old Chicago pizza maker, Lou Malnati's, makes a large deep-dish pizza with a crust made of sausage - so much for celiacs eating healthy. But for pizza lovers who are gluten sensitive and for celiacs, all of these developments should be greeted with cautious enthusiasm.