Whether you consider gluten-free a trend, a real health concern, or an allergy that is a figment of people’s imagination, gluten-free cuisine is quickly becoming a more widely accepted and implemented menu option in restaurants across the country. And while it may seem as simple as reprinting a menu to reflect a few changes to some of your items, properly and safely incorporating gluten-free options can be a bit more involved than you think.
For those considering adding gluten-free items to their product offerings, it’s important to keep in mind that, for a small population of consumers, gluten poses a very real health concern. To offer gluten-free menu items to this group means that, as an operator, you are accepting the responsibility to ensure the food provided to your customers is prepared as advertised.
The first foray into the world of gluten-free offerings for many businesses is typically baked goods and pasta. These can be added to a menu simply by purchasing a certified product, which also makes the back-of-house process simple. Certified items come packaged separately and can be easily isolated from other kitchen items to avoid any cross contamination. Because gluten poses a legitimate health concern for some people, it must be addressed like any other allergen, which means complete isolation from preparation through the cooking process as well as the final serving of the product.
Often times unless a restaurant’s sole purpose is to be completely gluten-free, it’s recommended to purchase from a third party and be completely confident that what you’re giving your customers is safe, as opposed to making your own and taking the risk.
For those whose health depend on it, a gluten-free diet can be hard. Dining choices are limited, typically these options are more expensive and a fear of being fed something that will make them sick are all challenges your gluten-free customers face. Fortunately, there are options beyond breads and pastas that will address these customer concerns as well as build new consumer interest in your business and be easy for you to manage in your back-of-house. For instance, have you considered a gluten-free frying program.
Gluten-free frying, which is increasing in popularity, is an easy and affordable option for many operations that already include a frying program. The recent increase in consumer approval, comes from the realization that many fried products can be produced with a similar taste and texture to traditionally fried items — a major challenge with a lot of breads and pastas. Kitchens can achieve these gluten-free versions of fried favorites by using ingredients such as potato or tapioca starch or flour, which if used properly will produced that beloved crunchy shell on items like fried chicken that consumers are looking for.
Before you go running off to buy a few bags of tapioca starch though, it’s important to understand the operational implications that adding a gluten-free frying program will have in your kitchen. For instance, to safely add fried gluten-free items to your menu, your fryers and oil will require some extra attention and custom maintenance.
The easiest and safest way to address these operational changes would be to employ two separate frying units with their own dedicated filtering systems. For those that aren’t ready to make that investment, you’ll need to adjust your filtering practices. This can be achieved by adding a separate filtration system or filter pan that can be swapped in as needed to clean your oil. This separate system or filter pan will isolate the gluten-free oil and ensures that cross contamination does not occur. It should be noted that since it can take temperatures above 600 degrees Fahrenheit to denature gluten and no cooking process are performed at that temperature, gluten is never “cooked off” and can be transferred through the filter from one vat to another, so caution should still be taken when swapping filters.
The last option is to filter your oil only once a day and as the last operation of the day with a clean drain pan and brand new filter media. This practice, however, will have a significant impact on your oil life and quality and will incur significant costs over time.
Though some see it as a trend, the gluten-free concept is really much more than that. Being able to fulfill the promise of providing safe food to those who have health concerns, or even to those who have adopted a gluten-free lifestyle as a form of healthier dieting, is essential to building the customer’s level of trust. It only takes one bad experience for a diner to never return. To not take the health and welfare of our customers seriously is to do the foodservice industry a disservice.
Interested in going gluten-free at your operation? Talk to your local Henny Penny representative about what fryer options would work best in your situation. Click HERE to find your nearest distributor.