Getting creative in the test kitchen can satisfy the growing demand for flavorful, wheat-free products.

KANSAS CITY — There was a time in recent memory when most consumers hadn’t even heard of gluten intolerance, or the autoimmune disorder celiac disease, which is triggered by the consumption of the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Certainly, preparing gluten-free foods — especially baked goods — in restaurant kitchens or manufacturing facilities was rare. The challenges of cross-contamination were insurmountable in facilities without a dedicated gluten-free zone or certified capabilities. Options were scarce, and the “taste factor” took a back seat to the seemingly complicated needs of this special diet.

How times have changed. Research from Mintel shows that in 2015, even though nearly half of consumers agree that gluten-free diets are a fad, one quarter of consumers report they consume gluten-free foods — a 67% increase from 2013. Consumption continues to trend upward, driven by health concerns and the perception that foods touting free-from claims are both healthier and less processed.

“Gluten-free is not a trend; it’s a choice now,” said Susanne Ross, vice-president of product design and innovation for The Original Cakerie, Delta, B.C., Canada. “And a lot of people want choice. Our job is to meet those demands without compromising a great eating experience.”