When gluten-free orders get serious
Gluten-free as an ingredient claim on menus grew 127% from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2015, according to Mintel Menu Insights. One might think such growth would ease the burden of eating out for people with celiac disease, who must avoid gluten.
It’s still a problem, said Jennifer North, vice-president of Beyond Celiac, Ambler, Pa.
“While it’s much easier to eat safely in the home now, eating out and traveling is burdensome,” she said.
Ms. North does not have celiac disease, but her daughter, Holly, was diagnosed with it in 2008 at age 16. She must avoid gluten to keep from having an auto-immune reaction. Ms. North said food service operators could do a better job of recognizing the difference between people with celiac disease and those seeking gluten-free options for other reasons.
About 1% of Americans have celiac disease according to Beyond Celiac.
“It’s not intentional,” she said. “When the majority of your customers are seeking gluten-free options and do not have a medical condition, it’s very easy to equate the gluten-free diet with other lifestyle diets, like vegan. It’s less often associated with something like a peanut allergy and more often associated with a lifestyle diet. For many consumers, that is the type of choice it is, but for people with celiac disease it’s very serious, and not all food service operators recognize that, and even if they do, they may not recognize the trace amounts of gluten that can set off an auto-immune reaction.”
The appearance of “gluten friendly” menus has caused some confusion, too.
“That leaves the gluten-free consumer kind of scratching their head,” Ms. North said.
Beyond Celiac, formerly known as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, offers a gluten-free on-line course for chefs, food service managers and wait staff. Restaurants may receive accreditation as a “Great Kitchen.” A Beyond Celiac seal of approval then may be put on the window or door of an entrance.
The course covers such issues as identifying gluten-related disorders, identifying hidden sources of gluten, reading labels and taking orders from gluten-free guests.
In regard to hidden sources, Ms. North gave the example of barley malt, which has gluten. The kitchen becomes an issue, too. A grill that had a slice of meat marinated with gluten-containing soy sauce cannot be used for a gluten-free hamburger, she said. Creating a pizza may release airborne gluten-containing wheat flour into the kitchen.
Chefs have shown an interest in gluten-free items, according to the “What’s Hot in 2016” report from the National Restaurant Association, Washington. When 1,575 members of the American Culinary Federation were asked about gluten-free cuisine, 61% ranked it as a “hot trend,” 24% said it was “yesterday’s news” and 15% said it was a “perennial favorite.” The percentages in the previous year were 69% for “hot news,” 20% for “yesterday’s news” and 12% for “perennial favorite.”