A NETWORK of 'gluten-free' restaurants in the north-eastern region of Aragón is planning a major expansion across the three provinces of Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca – in addition to its existing 250 branches.
Probably the perfect region to live in for coeliacs, who will have no problems in trying to find somewhere to go out for a meal without feeling ill for days afterwards, Aragón is gradually becoming famous for its 'gluten-free' restaurants – all of which bear a kitemark so that they are easily recognised.
Regional minister for citizenship and social rights, María Victoria Broto, says her team has been working alongside the Aragonese Coeliac Association's chairwoman María Carmen Tricas to raise awareness of the 'gluten-free' network.
At least 2,000 leaflets have been handed out to help parents and other relatives of coeliacs, and assist restaurants in preparing dishes suitable for those with a wheat or gluten intolerance.
This is particularly crucial given that for those who cannot eat products with gluten – which cover a surprisingly high proportion of supermarket groceries – end up having to pay a fortune for their weekly shop to ensure they get food which will not provoke unpleasant reactions such as tiredness, sickness, bloating and 'flu-like symptoms.
“We wanted to protect the rights of coeliacs and give them an immediate response, with easy access to gluten-free dishes in restaurants so they don't have to keep asking questions or scrutinise everything they order, nor feel 'different' when they go out to eat,” Sra Broto explains.
“Tourism is a major part of our regional economy and those who visit us need to know that, if they suffer from gluten allergies, they have somewhere they can eat safely.
“We're hoping that many more restaurants will sign up to the scheme, so that when people are walking through the streets and see the relevant kitemark, they will know they can find dishes they can eat and will be able to go out and enjoy themselves – or go out for business lunches – and will get to know which restaurants support them with their advertising, information, training and recipes.”
Sra Tricas, for the Aragonese Coeliac Association, says the scheme in the region is 'pioneering' in the country and even Mediaeval markets in the city of Teruel have gone 'gluten-free'.
Jaca, in the Pyrénéen province of Huesca, and Huesca city itself are the 'capitals' of gluten-free, says Sra Tricas.
Medical studies reveal that 1% of the population is coeliac, but as yet only one in 10 sufferers have been diagnosed – in reality, the total could be as high as 15%, especially among adults, and immediate blood relatives of them may also have symptoms.
Even a tiny amount of food containing gluten – such as wheat, barley, oats, bran and its derivatives – can spark a reaction, meaning a coeliac has to eat a diet completely free from these ingredients.
Under EU law, restaurants are obliged to tell diners about the ingredients used in all dishes and help those with food allergies or intolerances decide what is safe – including nut, soya and dairy allergies, vegetarians and vegans.
Tricas says at present, gluten-free food is more expensive because it is prepared by specialists, but she wants to see these groceries reduced in price eventually.
So far, the association has successfully lobbied for staple foodstuffs to be subject to IVA at 4% rather than 8%, but as yet this has not extended to treats like chocolate biscuits.
Joining an association, however, can sometimes help with the costs – members of the Aragonese branch get up to 35% off supermarket food.
Restaurants in the region which are not completely gluten-free but have signed up to the scheme have pledged to offer at least two starters, two main courses and two desserts, or a set menu with at least two choices for coeliacs.