Peanuts. - Daniella Segura / <a href=''>Flickr</a> Peanuts. - Daniella Segura / <a href=''>Flickr</a>

How Food Sensitivities Drive Menu Development

From food sensitivities to full-blown life-threatening allergies, dining out for anyone with a dietary restriction can be a tricky proposition. Technology has helped to improve the situation in several ways, including sensors that can test for ingredients and allergens like gluten. And of course, chefs are trained to properly avoid cross-contamination when it comes to ingredients like dairy and gluten.

According to a recent piece in the Washington Post, “The afflictions of the minority are starting to determine the options for the majority.” Meaning: allergens and dietary restrictions are starting to influence restaurant concepts and menus, beyond just optimizing for safety. For example, burger chain Bareburger, known for its creative burgers using not just beef, announced a new vegan concept is coming this spring. Beyond dietary preferences, though, the author of that Washington Post piece (who is also the author of a forthcoming book about food allergies and intolerances) says that she’s concerned that some foods, once staples in the American diet, are going to fall off the menu. Like Gluten. (Worth noting that wheat flour, nor dairy, were a part of the indigenous American diet to begin with, according to Native American chef and educator Sean Sherman, aka the Sioux Chef.)

Anyone with a school-age kid is familiar with nut-free zones — tons of schools place restrictions on nuts in classrooms due to rising food allergies. If a restaurant chooses to build its menu around ingredients that cause trouble to many, what’s the problem? Gluten’s fall in popularity isn’t going to make the bread basket go the way of the dodo; ice cream shops won’t fall out of fashion any time soon.

The American restaurant scene, like the American palate, will continue to evolve. If creative chefs and restaurateurs are able to work within constraints, creating new recipes for healthy and delicious food, to me, that’s progress.

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