By Torri Singer
Gluten free. What once sounded like a grim dietary restriction requiring someone to eat bland imitations of beloved breads and baked goods now has more dietary options than ever before.
As demand has grown, so has supply. Local businesses in Monmouth County are responding to the growing request for gluten-free menu options as celiac disease awareness and diagnosis has exploded in recent years. With more than 200 million gluten-free and wheat-free requests made in restaurants within the past year, according to the NPD Group, adapting to these customers’ needs has become a smart business move.
Celiac disease is defined as an autoimmune digestive disease that causes damage to the villi of the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food that contain the protein gluten found in such grains as wheat, barley and rye.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), as many as one in 141 Americans has celiac disease and 83 percent of Americans who have the disease still remain undiagnosed.
Beckee Moreland, director of Gluten-Free Industry Initiatives at the NFCA, believes, while improvements have been made, there is still a need for improved awareness surrounding celiac disease.
“There is great confusion right now in the foodservice industry about why people eat gluten free. Many people believe it’s a choice or a weight loss diet and have little knowledge that people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity have no choice,” Moreland said. “A strict gluten-free diet is their only choice. It’s a prescription they must follow at every meal.”
Kind Burger in Fair Haven recently was awarded the Great Kitchens Gluten Free Training Seal from the NFCA. Kind Burger took the GREAT course that teaches the essentials of gluten-free food preparation and cross-contamination prevention to foodservice professionals in restaurant, hospitality, school and institutional settings.
“This past year, over 500 people have been educated or are in the process of completing the GREAT Kitchens or Schools course,” Moreland said. “To date, 10 locations have earned this recognition in 2013; previous GREAT grads from 2010 to June 2013 extend to more than 500 additional locations.”
Those looking to satisfy a sweet tooth can head to Red Bank to sink their teeth into cookies, brownies, cakes and more – minus the gluten. Matthew Pytel co-owns one of the newer additions to Red Bank’s bakery scene, Posh Pop Bake Shop, with girlfriend Krizha Bayacbacao. Their products are 100 percent gluten – and wheat – free, made with ingredients that are organic and contain no artificial food coloring.
Pytel who is gluten free himself, says he and Bayacbacao wanted to change the stigma that gluten free equals “not as good” or “bad tasting” as compared to traditional products.
“People around here have utilized the shop. It’s easy because it’s local. We even have customers that travel far; there is one woman from North Jersey that will come down and buy dozens at a time,” Pytel said.
Pytel believes that the commitment of customers who travel near and far to purchase their products is a testament to the lack of variety gluten-free dieters have.
Despite the fact that many gluten-free dieters agree that the food industry needs to expand its dining options, there are a number of restaurants making the change to accommodate customers.
Richard Schlossbach, co-owner of Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, said customers who suffer from gluten allergies are always pleasantly surprised when they discover menu options that fit their diet. “I think some restaurants become set in their ways and perhaps get too busy or forget to adjust to current circumstances. For us, meeting guests needs is always paramount.”
Some of the area restaurants that offer gluten-free options for customers include: Gaetano’s, Front Street Trattoria, Earth Pizza, Good Karma Cafe and Via 45 in Red Bank; McLoone’s Pier House in Long Branch; and Little Silver’s Zoe Bistro. Additionally, The Cinnamon Snail, a vegan food truck, visits the Red Bank farmers’ market every Sunday with many gluten-free alternatives for customers who line up early to get their fill.
To learn more about gluten intolerance, diagnosis, or becoming GREAT certified, visit www.CeliacCentral.org.