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?
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts

A Brazilian wandering spider

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

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

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past