Digesting Gluten Free

Gluten Free Findings & DiscoveriesAs a vegetarian foodie, I gladly gravitate to restaurants with dedicated vegetarian menus such asFood & Soulin Auchenflower QLD (a Brisbane suburb).My eyes are always open for restaurants that clearly display their dietary options right on the menu, as sometimes it feels like an extra effort to ask the server for alternative menu options. It comes as no surprise that Food & Soul’s sister company, Soul Bistro in Milton QLD (also in Brisbane), has a similar take on menu design so when you are looking for specific information as in gluten free or dairy free, it’s spelled out for you.As their restaurant names imply, patrons who are particularly mindful with their dietary preferences will find these two establishments (and others like them) refreshing discoveries that are truly good for the soul.

Digesting Gluten Free

Looking at Food & Soul’s vegetarian menu, for example, they clearly include gluten free and vegan (dairy free) options amongst the seasonal listing of dishes. Knowing I can order an entrée of wok tossed vegetables & tofu to share and lentils risotto as a main – worry free – is a luxury.If I head north to Soul Bistro, perhaps for a light lunch on less conventional fare, I can read their menu and know straight away that homemade gluten free bread awaits me amongst a plethora of other tantalising entrees, such as beer battered chips, and a vast selection of mains such as sesame crumb whiting with rocket and roast pumpkin salad and tomato chutney – granted, this isn’t vego but you get the point.

Health consciousness is no longer a new age hippy trend, rather it’s a mainstream norm and savvy marketers are onto it. Product package labelling and print advertising are now emphasizing catch phrases such as ‘fat free’ and ‘low carb’. Consumer awareness groups publish educational articles about what is really ‘healthy’ because sometimes these labels are misleading. Since many foodies out there are considering their health and listening to dieticians, we are finding more and more that menus are being designed with certain ‘tags’ which makes ordering easier where dietary requirements are concerned; this is also a sign of changing times and customer demand. Considering labelling as such, I realised that some phrases that appear in menus and on products may still be unclear.

Digesting Gluten Free

Even though I see the ‘gluten free’ symbol in menus and on product labels, to be honest - since I neither have coeliac disease nor frequently dine or cook with someone who does - I really don’t know much about it. Yet my general sense is that this is something good… As such, I’m captivated by this phrase offering a glimmer of hope that this ‘gluten free’ option is a mini miracle for optimum vitality. Since there’s a sucker born every minute, and I’m one of them, I confess to having purchased many a ‘gluten free’ goodie without really knowing why – that goes for menu items.

It’s pretty obvious that gluten free foods don’t contain gluten. But what is gluten? Years ago I was a regular at a local vegetarian diner because they served the most amazing gluten dish over rice; this simple and satisfying dish had a desirous brawny texture and I’ve yet to meet it’s match in any other meatless environment. Gluten is actually the protein found in wheat and other grains such as barley & rye; that may explain the chemical compound behind that chewy texture and why it can be used as a coagulant.

When you head out for a bite and consider gluten free options, knowing what you’re excluding – basically grain & flour glutens from wheat, barley & rye – can be helpful in differentiating which foods suit your diet.Gluten free baking and cooking includes many grains and starches that are perfectly acceptable in this type of diet, including amaranth, millet, quinoa & buckwheat. Gluten free delights will then be characterised by alternative starchy ingredients such as rice, corn, potatoes & tapioca as well as protein fillers like beans, soybeans & nuts.

In theory, the ‘gluten free’ phrase is not supposed to be associated with food that doesn’t typically contain gluten in the first place, which would be misleading (possibly for commercial purposes). Those with coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, and wheat allergies rely on this labelling as a gluten free diet is considered the only acceptable medical treatment for these ailments.

Even for general heatlh freaks like me, gluten free living can be beneficial as it rules out the majority of convenience foods and popular comfort foods, such as breads & pastas (though obviously not at fine ‘gluten free friendly’ establishments). Since gluten-containing flour is most often found as a thickening agent in gravies, custards, soups and sauces, serious ‘gluten free’ eating can be quite challenging.

The legal definition of ‘gluten free’ varies from country to country though the latest research indicates that the maximum safe level of gluten in a finished product for coeliacs is 0.02% (200 parts per million). Australian standards are really strict, reserving the label for foods that contain no gluten or the smallest detectable amount, 5 parts per million. We are amongst a few other countries with our progressive product labelling standards which are now requiring ‘gluten-containing’ ingredients tags.

When it comes to eating out, a diversified group of restaurateurs understands the value in promoting the gluten free health factor in their menu design and display, most often addressing other dietary specifications along the way. For foodies with dietary concerns, it’s a welcome trend that locally sourced cafes, Ma & Pa establishments, and award winning gourmet restaurants have a commonality in that they keenly highlight their menu features including vegetarian, vegan, organic, and you guessed it, gluten free options when that type of cuisine is available for ordering.

From our conversations with the proud owner of both Food & Soul and Soul Bistro, there is merit in designing gluten free menus and clearly stating dietary facts in print for easy reference; as the trend persists, foodies with particular dietary requirements may see this approach being used more and more. In the meantime, establishments that cater to health conscious types are quite specialized and discovering them – for those with dietary concerns – can be soothing to the soul.

By AGFG staff writer Kelly Korpesio