Tasting Gluten Free Bread

Have you ever wondered how foods get from idea to plate?

I have, so I’m always interested in finding out how companies go about product development.

Recently, I was invited to join a Dr Schär tasting panel, at an agricultural college in rural Cheshire. (Dr Schär is the company behind several brands. In the UK, these are: DS-gluten free, Glutafin and TRUfree).

The idea was to help them in their product development process. Dr Schär are interested in looking at two things:

  • international differences. Dr Schär sell products in several different countries, including Italy, Germany, US and UK, and people in each of those countries have different preferences for the taste of their bread.
  • validating their internal tasting panels. Naturally, Dr Schär have internal tasting teams, but it is important to check every so often that the internal team understand, and agree with, what the customer wants. It’s easy to see how the internal teams might get ‘acclimatised’ to the taste of their own products…

So they’d invited coeliacs to bring along a ‘mainstream’ friend or family member, so that Dr Schär could see how the various products went down in comparison to mainstream bread.

Dr Schaer are running multiple panels, in a variety of different places, and at different times, but at the one I went to it was noticeable that:

  • I was among the youngest (and I’m over 50)
  • 14 out of the 15 coeliacs on the panel were female

We may or may not have been a representative group; it was an afternoon session, so younger or middle-aged people would have been at school, as my daughter was, or at work.

We were split into 2 groups, one coeliac and one mainstream, with 15 people in each. We tasted 6 different white gluten free breads, and 7 different brown or seeded gluten free breads. The ‘mainstream’ group had a variety of standard bread to taste as well as the gluten free breads.

It was a double-blind test, so I can’t tell you which brands we were tasting, but being able to compare the breads directly was interesting. Because of expense, naturally, it is unlikely that coeliacs would get such an opportunity very often. It would be extremely interesting to know which brands I preferred!

The breads did vary enormously in all aspects, from smell to texture, and one of the questions asked was quite revealing.

For each of the top-ranked and bottom-ranked breads, what was the main reason for its position on the list: appearance, smell, taste, or texture?

Before doing the test, I’d have thought that for me the taste would be the most important. But it turns out that – for me – texture (or mouth-feel) is the most significant element in rating the bread. No doubt, for other participants, other factors, such as smell, might have been more significant.

I wish I’d been able to take my daughter, as I could have found out what she thought too, and perhaps identified a brand of bread she’d prefer to our current favourites.

What do you look for in a gluten free bread?

Winter Flu, Pneumonia and Coeliac Disease

Winter is coming…

We visited the medical practice yesterday for some travel inoculations. That was fun, as you can imagine: me, plus three large teenagers, in a small nurse’s office, each receiving a variety of jabs in both arms…

Anyway, as we were wrapping up (and retrieving one feeling-faint daughter from the floor) the nurse said something in passing about coeliac daughter.

Has she had her pneumonia jab?

Um… no? What pneumonia jab? We decided long ago that we wouldn’t take up the winter flu vaccination, as coeliac daughter is very healthy; she just needs a special diet.

The nurse dug around in her paperwork, and found our daughter on a list of people to be called in. Apparently, these days, infants all receive a pneumococcal vaccination as part of the routine series of inoculations. Because of their ages—born long before 2006—my children did not receive the pneumococcal vaccine: too old.

And now, it turns out, it is recommended that coeliacs (especially those whose spleens are not working well – fortunately, this doesn’t apply to us) should receive this jab, no matter what their age. And, we should be reconsidering our views on the winter flu jab.

The pneumococcal vaccine will protect her against pneumonia for 10 years, apparently; the winter flu jab against influenza, but only for one season.

Have you had this vaccine? What do you think? Find out more at Coeliac UK.

Experimenting with Almond Milk

almond milkDo you have a preferred non-dairy milk?

Luckily, we don’t need to be lactose-free in our house, though there was a little friend some years ago who was dairy-free, so I got used to using Pure to cook with, to having Swedish Glace dairy-free icecream in the freezer, and even soya milk occasionally. Though I’m not a fan of soya milk…

I was offered the chance to try some almond milks – Almond Breeze, from Blue Diamond – and since I love almonds (there’s always an open packet here, for snacking on) I thought I’d say yes. They kindly sent me two: one ‘original’ and one ‘unsweetened’.

Because I was hesitant about the ‘sweetened’ version (sweet milk?), I decided to try making yoghurt with it. I have a yoghurt maker, because we do get through a lot of yoghurt, and there are lots of recipes for almond milk yoghurt on the web… How hard can it be? I thought. Instead of using live yoghurt as a starter, which I’d usually use for ‘normal’ yoghurt, I bought some freeze-dried yoghurt starter, and I added a little extra sugar, so the culture would have something to eat.

Oh dear.

It went well for the first few hours, but overnight the yoghurt split and curdled, turning a rather unpleasant grey colour. I wasn’t expecting it to be exactly the same – because almond milk just isn’t the same colour as dairy milk – but this was a disaster.

Checking up on the Almond Breeze site, it does say ‘don’t make yoghurt’—and now I know why.

However, the unsweetened almond milk experiment worked very well.

It has a pleasant and extremely mild taste, and worked well in hot chocolate (the hot chocolate drinker in the house said it was ‘awesome’ – hmmm) and was surprisingly OK in tea: I thought it might taste a bit odd, but it really didn’t.

We enjoyed it on cereals in the morning, and even in porridge (use gluten free oats, obviously – and only if you can tolerate them).

And today I made a medieval apple almond soup, from A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook*… very nice. This is essentially apple puree, let down with almond milk and honey, with cinnamon sugar, saffron and salt. Very much a ‘honey’ taste, and again, very mild in flavour – and very autumnal, somehow. (How appropriate, if ‘winter is coming’…)

A bonus is that Almond Breeze is not only lower in calories and carbs than cows milk, but also has just as much calcium, so if this is something that matters to you – and it should be – then you could switch without losing the calcium benefits.

Will we switch? Well, we don’t need to be dairy-free, so probably not all the way—besides, I really like yoghurt—but next time I have a dairy-free visitor, I’ll look for almond milk.

Braving the Dragons Den

Are you a fan of Dragons Den?

It’s a ‘reality show’ where entrepreneurs face a team of potential investors and try to persuade them to invest money into their business in exchange for a share in the business. Naturally, for it to make good television, there has to be a certain amount of drama… a few completely bonkers ideas, a bit of confrontation, and the occasional good news story.

This weekend, we watched Lisa and Helen, from Sweet Mandarin, pitching to the investors for some money for their gluten free Chinese table sauces (sweet and sour, sweet chilli and barbeque). They wanted £50,000 in exchange for 20% of their business.

Initially, there were some negative comments about the brand not being unique, the margins being tiny, and it being a niche market. The Dragons didn’t seem to understand the significance of the fact that the sauces are gluten free—despite the fact that we were all shouting at them. Don’t they know that we don’t eat Chinese any more because we didn’t think our daughter could? Don’t they see the potential?

Lisa and Helen did explain the size of the dipping sauce and condiments market (£600m per year, growing at 16% per year) and the size of the gluten free market (they said £200m per year, but I think it might be larger).

But it wasn’t until Lisa and Helen explained that Wing Yip have ordered 50 cases per week (50!), and that they are in discussions with big retailers, that the Dragons really started listening. (Wing Yip, for those of you who don’t know, is the biggest and most famous Chinese food supplier/superstore chain in the UK).

In the end, Lisa and Helen had offers from all 5 Dragons, and chose to work with 2 of them, in exchange for 40% of the business. Yay for Sweet Mandarin!

And yay for us too:

  • there are three gluten free Chinese sauces for coeliacs – and the Dragons said they were delicious. They’ve been tested at the Manchester Food Science Laboratories and it is confirmed there is zero gluten. You can buy them online
  • Sweet Mandarin run a Chinese restaurant in Manchester – and 90% of the menu is gluten free (90% ! )
  • they did mention a cookery school, in passing – and it turns out there’s a gluten free Chinese cookery course in November this year.

Who fancies eating Chinese? A good news story indeed.

Gluten Free Wheelin’ and the Open Road: A musicians perspective

Darius Lux is a rock star—and is also gluten free. I asked him how he manages to live gluten free while on the road… travelling at all is often difficult enough for coeliacs, but how does he manage, travelling the world?

Find out more about Darius, and listen to some of his preview tracks too. I really enjoyed No Problem.

Do you pack food from home?

Absolutely, there is no other way unless I know exactly what is available wherever I am going (which is rarely). A lot of festivals and venues very kindly have food for musicians to eat, but even if it’s really healthy food it will still usually have a lot of gluten in it – I used to wing it and kinda hope to find gluten-free foods but after a while you just don’t want glutens in your body for any reason and so prepping at home is the best.

How easy is it to find food in different countries?

Thats an interesting question, it depends on a lot of factors. I think that South East Asia can be good because there are areas that don’t particularly make their food from the traditional (Western) glutenous staples such as wheat or white flour. They will often have rice as the main carb at almost all meals, and often brown rice is available. As much as I grew up loving Italian food, in Italy it was tough avoiding glutens because so much of their best cuisine is pasta or bread based, tho I have to say I found the food in italy a lot less allergenic than here in the US. I think once you know what your restrictions are you get good at finding what you need mostly anywhere you go. The Australian outback is a tough one too, especially when you really get out into the desert – tho that might warrant trying some of the ancient Aboriginal cuisine such as bugs! Bugs don’t appear to be glutenous LOL.

What is the easiest country (in your experience, as a visitor) to find gluten free food?

Thailand – hands down. Almost everything is rice-based and incredibly delish – even the noodles are rice based, coupled with a strong tradition of reverence in the food preparation and Vegan tendencies of the culture. India too if you can avoid the famous breads, there are still countless curry dishes that pair well with rice.

Any tips for travelling gluten free?

Simplest is to make sure you have a strong staple on you, I often like to keep trail mix and dried fruit handy, they satisfy appetite well and are relatively light to pack and carry – you have to make peace with the fact that you probably wont find what you’re looking for a lot of the time.

Secondly, when I traveled in countries that have less English speakers in them, I would find somebody at the hotel or airport or wherever and have them write a sign for me in their native language explaining my food allergy – this helped a lot along the road in more remote areas and saved a lot of confusion.

What food do you miss (and eat first on returning home!)

My favorite is a rice-based pizza crust with tapioca cheese and roasted veggies on it – the BEST!

Thanks Darius!