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D.C. restaurants adopt the gluten-free trend

With the rise of superfoods like kale, pomegranates, and green tea in the last five years, the healthy foods landscape has no shortage of choices for those who want to eat healthier. Now, a different food trend that began as an alternative for those without a choice, has been gaining traction for its health benefits. Gluten-free (GF) foods, typically consumed by those with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and gluten sensitivity, have seen a 36 percent sales growth rate from 2010-2015, according to a 2016 report by Packaged Facts, a leading food market research firm.

Previously consumed in large part by those with dietary restrictions, GF options are now being sought out by a much wider audience. In this article, we’ll break down this new trend and share how restaurants can take advantage of the popularity of this movement to attract more customers.

Part of the popularity behind GF foods is their versatility. There are GF alternatives for just about every type of traditional grain, and most come with much more health benefits, including lower fat content and higher protein and fiber levels. In 2016, GF options were present in roughly 33 percent of fast casual restaurants, 25 percent of fine dining restaurants, and 13 percent of national chains (Packaged Facts, 2016). As more and more consumers embrace the healthy eating trend in general, we can expect these figures to rise in the coming years.

The rise in demand for GF foods has big implications for the restaurant industry. Instead of offering one or two thrown-together options, if any at all, for the minority of customers who used to request them, restaurants are now showcasing more GF menu items, knowing that the demand is coming from those with gluten intolerance as well as those who prefer this type of food for its health benefits. Here are some local eateries that are putting a GF twist on traditional favorites.

The Happy Tart

Entirely devoted to GF treats, this Virginia bakery has locations in Alexandria, Falls Church, and Del Ray (currently under renovation). Cakes, crepes, cookies, cupcakes, macarons, and fresh bread mean there’s no shortage of irresistible sweets for any palette.

Sweetgreen

For those that need a quick, accessible, and tasty bite, Sweetgreen has you covered. With locations all over the DMV (and USA, for that matter), a fresh and filling salad or protein bowl is never out of reach. Diners can enjoy premium GF ingredients and dressing options that pack a healthy kick.

Firefly

This Dupont Circle staple has always been a favorite brunch spot for many due to its ability to recreate classics like hamburgers, reubens, and shrimp and grits, and make them accessible to GF patrons.

For restaurateurs who haven’t taken a step into the world of GF gastronomy just yet, the possibilities are endless, but the clock is ticking. With so many eateries in the area following the national trend toward sustainable, healthy, and inclusive ingredients, the time to make a mark in the District’s GF landscape is now while the trend is still developing.

Because we’ve moved past just offering salads and soups to those who are gluten-intolerant, restaurants now have to think creatively to remake classic dishes using GF ingredients, such as millet and teff, while preserving every bit of the flavor that makes diners crave these dishes to begin with. Additionally, chefs have to keep pushing the boundary and think up fascinating, new recipes that will surprise customers while incorporating GF ingredients into the mix.

Take for example, the Little Beet’s Sweet Potato Mac N Cheese and Beet Falafel–healthy food never sounded so tasty! Finally, by incorporating local and seasonal ingredients into their dishes, restaurateurs can create a revolving menu selection that can cater to almost every palette out there.

Author credit: Roshan Thomas

Photo credit: Jo Sonn

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