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Is Gluten Free Missing from your Menu?

contigo corn tortillas

Now more than ever, it’s important to expand your menu selection to include gluten-free options for the growing population of those who are gluten-intolerant. Thanks to some creative chefs and food scientists, a whole host of gluten-free ingredients and products have emerged in the market, allowing you to serve gluten-free Italian dishes, Latin-inspired items, and even rich desserts. In 2015 the sales in the gluten-free industry reached about 2.79 billion dollars and Statista predicts that in 2020 the market will be valued at 7.59 billion dollars.

Gluten is a combination of proteins in wheat, barley or rye. When you knead bread, you develop the gluten, which results in a finished product that becomes elastic, light and chewy. Unfortunately, it turns out that certain people have a genetic predisposition that leads to an intolerance of gluten. The resulting disease is called celiac and it’s on the rise: at least three million people have been diagnosed in this country, and it’s estimated that there are many more who haven’t been tested.  It’s speculated that the increase is due to a) better testing and b) new varieties of wheat cultivated with more gluten. 

Back in the ‘90s, those who suffered from celiac basically had to take what they could get. There were few gluten-free products on the market, and what they lacked in airiness, they made up for in lack of taste. Restaurants? Forget about it. Then, around 2009, the gluten-free stars aligned. Small artisan companies like Denver-based Udi’s developed gluten-free products – breads, muffins, cinnamon rolls - that tasted like the real thing. Sales grew from $4.3 million in 2009 to $60.9 in 2011-2012. At the same time major players, like General Mills, began to sniff the sweet smell of (gluten-free) bread-baking success. Starting with Rice Chex, the company began re-formulating their products to launch a line that would be gluten-free.

Note: If a product says gluten-free, it’s allowed to have 20 parts per million, the smallest amount of gluten that can be detected under current testing.  The gluten-free label is covered under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, although the FDA is currently reviewing the “gluten-free” standard.

Sweet Encore DessertThe trend has changed nearly every menu in town, where restaurants even broadcast their gluten-free foods as a selling point. Whether or not people are fashionably gluten-free or actually suffering from celiac disease, they want to eat out and have choices. “It’s a restaurant’s job to accommodate everyone,” says restaurant consultant John Imbergamo, “In 10 years, the hangers-on will have moved on to the next thing, but the people who are gluten intolerant are getting used to eating in restaurants, something they couldn’t do a few years ago.” He cites his client Panzano’s in the Hotel Monaco in Denver as a case in point. “Who would have thought that an Italian restaurant would have gluten-free foods, including gluten-free pastas and breads?”

Sounds like the answer to “is gluten-free here to stay?” is a resounding “Yes.”

If you’re looking to expand your gluten-free menu options, an extensive collection of rolled and extruded gluten-free pasta items are available under our Roma brand for you to incorporate into tempting Italian-styled recipes. If Latin fare is more up your alley, Contigo branded corn tortillas allow for an abundance of gluten-free Latin-inspired dishes like tacos and fajitas. Sweeter yet are our gluten-free desserts. The Sweet Encore Gluten-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake is so rich and bursting with flavor, even non-gluten-free customers love it.

Contributed By: Performance Foodservice staff