Gluten-intolerant sufferers still engage in a treasure hunt when seeking gluten-free products and foods in the UAE, but there generally are more choices out there than a few years back.
On my side of the family it was standard practice to become comatose after consuming a large wheat-heavy sandwich or a lasagna for lunch — it was just expected that like my ancestors, I take an afternoon nap. Therefore, it came as no real surprise when my son was diagnosed with wheat intolerance after a blood test.
A hunt was on to find the right food for him. UAE chains such as Lulu, Spinneys, Park & Shop, Geant, Choithrams and Carrefour have most of the basic gluten-free products. While variety and their being consistently available is often lacking, I have discovered that more new products are cropping up where you least expect them.
Take Carrefour, for instance. Two weeks ago, seven new gluten-free products, from crispy biscuits to tagliatelle were added to its shelves, brought there by Atiq Liusie General Trading, the agent for the French brand Gerblé from Nutrition & Santé. “This is the number one dietetic brand in Europe,” says Donald Liusie, director of the company, adding: “We have noticed that people in the UAE are more aware of when their body just doesn’t feel right — and they want to do something about it.”
The Gerblé range of gluten-free products is currently small but will be adding more products to its portfolio. The company is getting inquiries about their gluten-free products from places as far-flung as Djibouti, says Liusie.
Organic Foods & Café has seen an increase in sales of gluten-free products. Owner Nils El Accad says, “While the demand for gluten-free products has risen, the need was always there — only people didn’t realise they needed it.” He adds: “We are the largest caterer for gluten-free products in the area. We have a lot of these speciality products because the demand for them is still not big enough to be catered for by mainstream supermarkets. It is still way too niche.”
The inconsistent supply of gluten-free products irks UAE resident Linda Forster as well. It lead her to set up the website www.glutenfreeuae.com for she has a child with coeliac disease. Through the website, she hopes to spread awareness about coeliac disease and its symptoms. “Hopefully no one else will have to suffer like we did,” she says.