Mexican Food: The Perfect Gluten-Free Cuisine
Most traditional Mexican food is gluten free. As corn is such an integral component in Latin cuisine, it is a natural replacement for flour. Though Mexican fare is not necessarily regarded as a health food, those following a gluten-free diet due to allergies or insensitivities are certain to find appropriate, and delicious, menu options at Mexican eateries.
“The entire menu, with the exception of our burger, is gluten free unless a guest specifically orders flour tortillas,” says Israel Delgado, executive restaurant chef at Lona in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The burger can be served in a lettuce wrap, making our entire menu gluten-free.”
Such is the norm for Mexican restaurants due to the presence of corn in almost every dish. “A high percentage of our menu—I’d say 75 percent—is gluten free,” asserts Joe Quintana, regional executive chef of Rosa Mexicano, a modern Mexican chain with 11 locations on the East Coast and in California.
Arguably, the most iconic Mexican food item is the corn tortilla. Delgado is proud of the way Lona’s tortillas are made true to their heritage. “The tortillas we serve are all corn and gluten free. All tacos are served in a corn tortilla because they are authentic.”
Did you know that corn keeps flavor intact while eliminating allergens?
Traditionally made with masa and water, corn tortillas form the base of many favorite Mexican dishes, including tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and tostadas. Hence the reason why many Mexican restaurants boast predominantly gluten-free menus. But flour is sneaky and appears in many aspects of dishes that diners don’t realize or expect like sauces, soups and dips. Both Rosa Mexicano and Lona avoid this by using corn in unexpected ways.
“We make our nachos with a cheese sauce that is thickened with masa; this is something that is very appealing to those with gluten-free diets,” says Quintana. “Cheese sauces are generally thickened with flour, so gluten-free diners cannot generally enjoy nachos. At Rosa Mexicano, they are one of our top sellers!”
Similarly, at Lona, “We take it one step further when thinking about our customer base,” says Delgado. “In order to accommodate gluten-free diners, all of our sauces are vegetable based and thickened with xanthan gum and corn tortilla. We use corn tortillas as a thickening agent and as a replacement for bread and starches.”
Lona estimates that 10 percent of their diners avoid gluten and Rosa Mexicano has seen an increased demand for gluten-free items. That means there are a lot of people to whom Lona and other Mexican restaurants should be marketing.
As Delgado already knows. “We see ourselves marketing the fact that we’re gluten free to a larger base in the future,” he says.