Sunflower Market Jumps on the Gluten-Free Bandwagon

​Sunflower Market is the latest in a long line of restaurants, food manufacturers and grocery stores catering to the gluten-free market. No, they're not ditching the Bertolli pasta and burning whole wheat tortillas in effigy.

But they are labeling all of the gluten-free products in the store with special "Smart Tags," offering gluten-free store tours and handing out Celiac Basics booklets in honor of National Celiac Disease Awareness Month (May 2010). Pretty cool if you're sensitive to gluten.  

According to a 2003 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, about 1 in 133 people have Celiac Disease, which means wheat, rye barley and other gluten-containing products damage their digestive systems. It's possible that an even larger number have unreported mild stomach discomfort when downing gluten-filled products.

On May 10, Valley locations of the Melting Pot unveiled their gluten-free menu. You wouldn't expect to find wheat in cheese fondue or chocolate, but apparently there's a lot going on behind the scenes with restaurant food that you can only appreciate when it's revealed. Here's what the Melting Pot had to alter in order to make their fondues Celiac-friendly:

  • Cheese fondue: The cheese is normally floured; the gluten free version, available on request, uses cornstarch instead and replaces dipping bread with more veggies. Red Bridge gluten-free beer by Anheuser Busch is used as a regular beer substitute in some of the fondues.
  • Salads: No croutons.
  • Entrée course: Avoid the teriyaki sirloin and spring vegetable dumplings and you're fine.
  • Dessert: Avoid the Cookies n' Cream Marshmallow Dream and Chocolate S'mores due to the cookies/graham crackers. Cheesecake, pound cake, Rice Krispie treats and brownies for dipping are a no-go, and are replaced with more fruit and plain marshmallows. 

Sprinkles, P.F. Chang's, Caffe Boa, True Food Kitchen, Luci's Healthy Marketplace, Babaloo's Cuban Cafe and the new Nourish restaurant in Scottsdale are among the tons of local restaurants offering gluten-free dishes.

I admit I'm a little suspicious of businesses cashing in on the growing number of gluten-intolerant Americans. Considering all of the South Beach/Atkins/low carb/low fat/100 calorie fads that have passed through stores and restaurant menus only to disappear months later, can you blame me? Let's hope this one sticks like starch to pasta.  

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