Stop me if this sounds familiar: Gluten-free will be one of the hottest trends in dining this year.
The general awareness of the effects of wheat protein on people with sensitivities, intolerances and diagnosed Celiac disease and resulting demand for gluten-free products will continue to grow in the coming year. This will drive a market that increased by nearly a third between 2009 and 2011. Conservative estimates see it at $8 billion in consumer food purchases alone in 2013.
Restaurant operators have already felt the impact of the growing popularity of a gluten-free lifestyle. Diners are seeking out establishments where everyone in their party can find something on the menu they can enjoy. Savvy chefs and owners have taken the necessary steps to ensure that their operations, in both the kitchen and the front of the house, serve their patrons safely and with confidence.
But there is still some confusion about where gluten comes from, and how you can help your diners — and your bottom line — by highlighting their best choices. Gluten is obviously found in wheat in all its forms: cracked wheat, sprouted wheat, wheat berries, bulgur, durum, semolina, kamut, spelt, emmer and farro. It's also in barley, rye, oats, triticale and some ancient grains, including einkorn and freekeh.
The tricky part is that these grains or their byproducts — think flour — are used to thicken or make a wide range of prepared ingredients. For example, soy sauce doesn't sound like something that would contain gluten, but it does. It's traditionally made by fermenting soybeans and wheat with salt and water (although rice alternatives may be found).
The good news is there is no gluten in a number of grains, including rice and wild rice; corn in all its forms such as popcorn, corn meal and corn starch; buckwheat (ignore the name); millet; sorghum or milo; and the ancient grains chia, quinoa, teff and amaranth.
There's also no gluten in meat, milk, eggs, vegetables or most oils (check the label on canola). A broiled steak with potatoes fried in sunflower oil and steamed broccoli is a gluten-free meal. As long as you keep the dinner roll off the plate, make sure the oil hasn't also been used for gluten-bearing items, and don't season the steak with a dash of soy sauce.
So, take a look at your menu and your recipes. There's a good chance that 2013 could be the year your restaurant debuts a new line of gluten-free options, just by letting diners know what's already in there.
If you need help getting started, or doing an in-depth analysis of your menu items, Kitchens with Confidence can help. Our MenuTrinfo service has been breaking down dishes to identify potential food allergens and gluten since 2010. We can also help find tasty alternatives if you decide to rebuild your recipes to create better-for-you choices for your patrons.
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.