Chefs transform menus to cater to gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian preferences.
With allergies and food intolerances on the rise, restaurants are responding with menus that serve special needs and personal preferences. Gluten-free dominates the movement and for good reason: The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) reports roughly 1 in 133 people in the U.S.—about 3 million total—have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is consumed.
In fact, May has been designated National Celiac Awareness Month and, even among the general population, the increased focus on healthy lifestyles is driving continued interest in gluten-free diets. According to U.S. News & World Report, 15 to 25 percent of consumers are looking for gluten-free products.
Gluten is a protein found in all types of wheat, including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, and farro, as well as in other grains like rye and barley. While breads and pastas are the main culprit, gluten can also be found in soy sauce, bottled salad dressings, and other processed foods.
Although gluten sensitivity is less severe than celiac disease, it can cause serious allergic reactions like swelling, rashes, and other symptoms similar to those produced by peanut, shellfish, or dairy allergies.
In response to the escalating need for foods that serve this population, gluten-free items have appeared more frequently on restaurant menus around the country—up 275 percent from 2009 to 2012 according to Mintel’s Menu Insights report. And the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey ranked gluten-free No. 8 among the top food-industry developments for 2013.