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Everyone has their weaknesses, especially when it comes to food. Some of us will attack anything and everything chocolate, like my daughter and mother. We always joke that it must have skipped a generation because I am NOT in the chocolate camp. I reside in the salty camp, like my dad does, and can cave for things like chips.
But my ultimate weakness is delicious, not very nutritious, french fries. I just absolutely devour them when the occasion arises. I do my best to restrain myself from ordering them most of the time so that I don’t blow my entire caloric intake for the day. However, finding them at restaurants lately has been a bit of a challenge because of the whole gluten free thing. Let me explain.
French Fries Aren’t Gluten Free?
The thing I hear when I go out to restaurants, pretty much ALL the time, is that their french fries aren’t gluten free. Why aren’t they? More often than not, the server is unclear as to why they would contain gluten in the first place, if they even know what gluten is to begin with.
I feel bad for them, because it is not their fault that they don’t know, it is simply a lack of training. Here is where I come in as a Restaurant Consultant that specializes in gluten free. If their restaurant had hired me, or would like to, their employees would have the answers to these questions and wouldn’t feel so embarrassed about their lack of knowledge. Please, for the love of all of us who follow a gluten free diet, approximately 39-44% daily, hire somebody who knows what they are talking about. This person will come in and train your FOH and BOH staff properly, as well as go through your menu and ingredients so that everything is properly labeled.
Since the server is usually unclear, the next person I speak with is the manager. If the manager doesn’t know either, then I ask to speak to the chef or the line, and have been in a few kitchens this way. This is a huge sign that there is still a giant disconnect when it comes to what gluten is and what is gluten free on their menu. This is an issue that really must be remedied.
But, that being said, the tale that I get told time and time again is that the french fries aren’t gluten free because they are put in the fryer. Uh huh, yes, that is usually how that works. So let’s talk about commercial fryer’s and how they operate.
We all know that restaurants use commercial fryer’s and that in order for the health department to let them stay operational they have to meet a certain criteria for how often they clean their fryer’s. Depending on how busy the restaurant is, it can vary. But even when they aren’t cleaning the fryer’s, where does the excess product go?
Well, that is a good question since it seems to be the main reason I am told that I can’t eat french fries. Ultimately, it can go to one of two places.
Sometimes it will stay at the top of the fryer for a short period of time. When food particles break off during frying, they instantly begin to carbonize.
What this means is that the food particles begin to quickly change into straight carbon, or tar, which means that their chemical composition has been strongly altered. You can see this same effect when a steak is charred on the outside, which has been a topic of debate regarding an increase in the possibility of cancer, for quite some time now. But ultimately, when food particles float to the top and carbonize, whoever is manning the fryer is supposed to scoop it out. This is to be done so that it doesn’t degrade the frying oil, which will begin to change the flavor of everything being put in there.
However, the most common place for any excess “debris” to go is straight to the bottom. This is the main reason why fryer’s are supposed to be cleaned regularly. Because if they aren’t, then this excess food “debris” will begin to clog the pipes and the fryer will stop working.
In either scenario, floating to the top and carbonizing or sinking to the bottom, gluten cross contamination is not an option. The disconnect here seems to be regarding a lack of understanding as to how commercial fryer’s operate as well as the fear of potentially being sued. Both of these are not great reasons for me to have to go though this over and over again at practically every restaurant, when I really just want some good french fries!
Ultimately, restaurants started saying their french fries weren’t gluten free because they were afraid of being sued. Which I understand, but it makes me extremely frustrated. I am thrilled that so many places have begun to understand what gluten free is and give me so many more options that I have ever had in my life.
Negative Feedback Loop
But, and there’s a but, I am tired of having to explain this simple stuff to them because a group of people with Celiac, gluten allergies or intolerances decided to sue some of them for monetary gain. For me, that is something that I would NEVER do. And I am sure some of you are going to get ticked off about this, and that is fine, but here’s the deal.
When you, as a consumer who needs something special so that you can live, decide to sue a company that didn’t know any better or was just trying to help offer you some options, you create a negative feedback loop.
By this, I mean that you create the opposite response. A company who has been sued for millions of dollars doesn’t really have the desire to help us anymore, and I don’t blame them. So instead, they just won’t offer any options to avoid the possible financial pain again. Or they will go to the opposite extreme, and say that everything could contain gluten due to cross contamination.
For those of us who have worked in commercial kitchens, like I have, I know that this isn’t the case. There are plenty of things that aren’t cross contaminated. And if you let the restaurant know that you can’t have gluten, they can easily make sure to not cook your food next to or with any food that may contain gluten. It really isn’t that difficult to do. This is the same with french fries.
Gluten Free French Fries
Almost NOBODY has a dedicated fryer for gluten free foods. And they really don’t need to have one, if they are cleaning it regularly. As long as they aren’t cooking your fries with somebody else’s fried chicken, you should be good. I have eaten at more restaurants than I can count, in and outside of the US, and have NEVER had a negative reaction to french fries. Period. And I have had Celiac since I was 6 years old, so my reaction is extremely strong. If I have never had a reaction, then you shouldn’t either.
Now please keep in mind, this article is just regarding french fries, and that is not to say that you couldn’t get something else that contains gluten accidentally. So always double check with your server, manager or kitchen staff, because gluten could be hiding in other food products. But unless they roll their french fries in flour, they are, in fact, gluten free. For the love of ALL french fry lovers, please pass this along.
Where have you found the best french fries? Were they labeled gluten free or did you have to inquire?