How gluten-free became more than just a fad

Let hipsters eat gluten-free cake - it made a world of difference to those of us with coeliac disease

You’ve got to feel sorry for the poor old hipsters, really. They emerge every day, blinking through bottle-top glasses and hitching up tartan trousers, to face ridicule. They are forced to listen to records and cassettes instead of newfangled MP3 players (although you won’t have heard of their choice of music anyway). The carefully cultivated beards are becoming a heatwave health hazard. And they can’t even seek solace in a gluten-free hybrid-type cake without being vilified.

I applaud the brave hipsters, if only for the latter. When I was diagnosed with coeliac disease a few years ago, I saw a lot of doors slam shut. Doughy, flaky, delicious doors. Croissants, cookies, burgers, brownies, pizzas, pretzels, cupcakes and crumpets. And beer. Oh God, beer.

On my first day gluten-free, I wandered the supermarket in a daze, reading labels with incredulity. Gluten in ketchup? Crisps? MARS BARS? A week later, I went to dinner with friends, staring mournfully at their gluten-y goodies while I sulked with a salad. After that, I started to some research, and discovered that, probably thanks in part to the latest food ‘fad’, there were options.

Across the UK, more and more restaurants and shops are tapping into the gluten-free trend. Fad or not, most have obviously realised the business logic behind it. A good range of gluten-free options won’t just attract the coeliacs, but also their dining companions, thus tapping into quite a large market. Where once Italian was very much off the menu for coeliacs in the UK, chains like Pizza Express and Carluccios now offer extensive gluten-free menus. Starbucks, Costa and Nero have a gluten-free sandwich, as do many major supermarkets.

At so-hip-it-hurts burger chain Honest Burgers, it wasn’t just a good business decision, it was important to the company’s ethos. “We have not just introduced the product to say we do it,” says marketing manager Michael Forrest. “We are committed to developing our gluten-free options further and we are constantly on the lookout for new products which we feel would fit in to what we are trying to do. Our gluten-free onion rings have a bit of a following on their own.”

Sales of both gluten-free and wheat-free products have grown in Britain by almost 22 per cent in the past year, and the industry is now worth over £238million. For food blogger Caz Roberts, the shift has been a godsend. “In the 90s, the bread was so bad that it wasn’t even worth buying. Eating out was nearly impossible, and there really wasn’t a proper understanding of what coeliac disease or even gluten itself actually were.”

As the options across the UK started to increase, Roberts found herself relying heavily on word of mouth and online recommendations from fellow bloggers and foodies. So she set up Gluugle, an app where users can search for coeliac-friendly restaurants in their area, and add their own recommendations. She was overwhelmed by the response. “The app launched earlier this year with 1,000 listings, and this has grown to 3,000, with users adding tips on places all over the UK, and even abroad. It’s great that there’s a forum to share discoveries - say if you find a tiny tea shop in Devon with a gluten-free scone, now people can know about it.”

Roberts agrees that the ‘fad’ has been of benefit to coeliacs, but argues that it is not of the same ilk as the likes of Atkins or 5:2. “I hate that the term ‘diet’ is used for going gluten-free - it can have a negative connotation. For coeliacs, it is a medical condition, not a choice. A diabetic isn’t considered to be on a ‘diabetic diet’. For other people who have gone gluten-free, many tried it and found that they felt better. It’s not just about being trendy or losing weight.”

While there is a greater knowledge of coeliac disease in the UK, there is a downside to being lumped in with the hipsters. Go to any restaurant and ask about the gluten-free options. You will see with waiter sizing you up, trying to judge if you are the real deal, poorly or pretentious. And see them scowl when you explain you can’t have croutons on your salad, or don’t want your bread toasted. Waiters, want to know the difference? The people who really can’t have gluten will usually be the ones salivating over the dessert counter with a wistful look in their eyes. You know, the same kind of look emigrés have when talking about the fair land of their birth.

Thankfully, though, this is becoming less of a problem, and most restaurant staff will can leap to help the second you cringingly mention the dreaded ‘g’ word. There are now even restaurants that are completely gluten-free. The Truscott Arms in Maida Vale offers pub grub favourites like sausage and mash with a reassuring gluten-free label - and says their autumn menu will be almost completely gluten-free. Vozars, a sweet little eatery in Brixton Market in south-west London, boats main meals, sandwiches, WAG-free Bakery cakes (a triumph in themselves) and CELIA gluten-free lager - all gluten-free.

Martin Vozar, who set up Vozars last year in association with CELIA, says the feedback has been amazing, with the tiny restaurant scoring as high as number 13 on Tripadvisor out of 17,000 restaurants in London.

“I previously ran the first 100% gluten free restaurant in Prague, which was all about cooking delicious food that just so happened to be gluten-free rather than taking dishes and adapting them. I learnt how to promote to the gluten-free community without shouting that we are gluten-free as this puts non-coeliac customers, who love our food, off. The way we promote Vozars is ‘great food that has the benefit of being gluten-free’.”

There is a certain joy that only someone with a restricted diet will know - that of being able to walk into restaurant and be able to order anything they like off the menu. Not just the bloody salad. Now, where did I leave my fixie bike?

Read more: What is gluten and how does it affect coeliacs?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before