Gluten-free foods can be pricey. Whether there’s celiac disease in your family or you’re serious about living sans gluten, you may have noticed that gluten-free alternatives can cost 2-3 times more than the gluten-containing food! Why is it so expensive?
Part of the answer is because we plant so much wheat in here in the United States. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2011 US farmers planted 54 million acres of wheat. In addition they planted 2.6 million acres of barley and 1.25 million acres of rye that year. That’s a total of 58 million acres (over 90 thousand square miles) devoted to growing gluten-containing grains.
The same year farmers planted 5.5 million acres of sorghum and 390,000 acres of millet, two of the most common gluten-free grains. We use both of ‘em in our products, but we also use potatoes and rice, so let’s take a look at those. Just over a million acres of potato and 2.6 million acres of rice were planted. Let’s not get into corn. It’s a common gluten-free ingredient – we use it in our tortillas. Almost 92 million acres were planted – 68% of which contained genetically modified corn. Truth be told I’m afraid of corn because of the prevalence of genetic engineering and the influences of Monsanto and other companies.
So there’s a lot more wheat being grown than sorghum, millet, rice and potato combined. You can start to see why gluten-free alternatives are so expensive. Another pricey ingredient is xanthan gum, used to add volume and viscosity to gluten-free baked goods. It can cost anywhere between $8 and $20 per pound.
There are also non-ingredient reasons gluten-free products are so expensive. Gluten-free baking requires separate production equipment to avoid cross-contamination. We have to shut down our bakery and scrub everything down before we can start a gluten-free production day. Cross-contamination training and gluten-free testing costs also add to the price.