Living Gluten Free

Beyond Bread

BB_GingerbreadMenThis looks interesting… a new, 100% gluten free bakery and café in London.

Called Beyond Bread, it’s at 2 Charlotte Place, in Fitzrovia. The official opening date is 5 January 2015, but there’s a ‘soft launch’ from next Monday, 15 December.

I’m not quite sure what makes it soft: they have an active Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter account, so it’s not exactly secret. And now you all know too!

I’ve not visited yet – love to, but it’s just too far to get to before Christmas – but I’m told that many of the gluten free products are also vegan, wheat-free, dairy-free and egg-free, and are available to eat in or take away. This sounds like good news for those of you who have to avoid multiple foods – I know from my mailbox that this can be very frustrating.

Lemon and chia muffins, and pastries with cocoa nibs do sound delicious… they’ll be selling gluten free sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, quiches and pies, pastries and pasties and a range of gluten-free breads. So that’s lunch sorted, for anyone working nearby.

I love the idea of a dedicated gluten free café, though I do wonder how coeliac daughter would cope. We took her out for lunch on her birthday at the weekend to somewhere carefully selected to offer a choice of gluten free food, and, faced with more than one gluten free option, she found it too hard to choose. She just hasn’t had the practice! Quite what she would be like if everything in the shop was edible, I don’t know, but it might be fun to find out.

I’m looking forward to reading the reviews, and – I hope – will be able to arrange a trip to London in 2015 to check it out. If you visit Beyond Bread, please do let me know what it’s like!

Tesco: Free From and Finest

tesco-christmasHave you noticed a change in your local Tesco recently?

I have; there’s definitely an enthusiasm about getting new gluten free products out there for us to buy, and it’s made a trip to Tesco mildly exciting – what new products will have sneaked onto the shelves this week?

Yes, I know, how boring must my life be; but when you check the gluten free shelves every time, hoping for treasure and finding only same-old same-old, finding something new truly makes a difference. And inevitably I have to buy the new products to try them!

I was down in London this week for an event hosted by Tesco, where I tasted some of their new frozen party range (both savoury and sweet), and had the chance to meet some of the Tesco people behind the launch of these new products.

The Party range is good. The savoury collection is chicken goujons, mini thai fish cakes and spicy bean bites. I didn’t taste the meat ones, but I did enjoy the others. And the sweet collection is mini cakes (based on almond flour) which are also very good.

I was shown the new Christmas range – some of which is already available to me locally, but some I’ve not seen in any of our local Tesco stores, big or small. This year it includes not only the standard Christmas items of mince pies, Christmas cake, ‘chocolate’ coins and ‘chocolate’ advent calendar, but also:

  • Christmas-tree-shaped crumpets – which look fun for any child
  • a ‘Tesco Finest’ Christmas pudding – so there are 2 gluten free Christmas pudding choices in Tesco
  • and a large Yule log – big enough for an average family.

This is interesting for two reasons:

  • there are now better, and more attractive, child-friendly options than there used to be (remember the days when gluten free meant stodgy fare, sold in boring ‘good-for-you’ packaging? Children want more than dry custard creams in dull two-colour wrappers…)
  • and not only are there an increasing number of gluten free Christmas items in store, there’s a choice of range (the core range and the finest range).

We talked about:

  • The cost of living gluten free. The cost of an average shopping basket inevitably goes up after a diagnosis of coeliac disease. The Tesco team believes that creating own brand versions of items means that the cost can be kept lower. It will be interesting to see if any gluten free products can be made cheaply enough to fit in the Basics range.
  • The difficulties of finding suppliers able and willing to provide gluten free products. It is expensive for suppliers to create gluten free products, and although the demand is rising, it is still quite a niche market, and for many big suppliers, it just isn’t economic to produce gluten free products. For the smaller suppliers, of course, it can be difficult to produce them in the quantities that Tesco would need. It’s a problem…
  • And we talked about their aim, which is to provide gluten free foods that are indistinguishable from not-gluten-free, so that people eating gluten free aren’t made to feel isolated in quite the same way. So as well as extensive taste-testing, they’ve also tweaked the design of the free from packaging, to make it a bit less clinical, and a bit more ‘foodie’.

And they do seem to be having some success: the Tesco Free From Spring Onion and Cheddar Crispbake has been shortlisted against non-gluten-free foods in the Frozen Savoury Foods section of the Quality Foods Awards next week, and the Free From Pollock Fillets have made it to the Frozen Fish shortlist.

The fact that these gluten free products are competing with ‘normal’ products says a lot about how far the free from market has come. (There are some separate Free From sections, and Tesco has products in those too). I’m really looking forward to the next steps!

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(Disclosure: Tesco paid my travel expenses, and gave me some Free From products).

Allergy and Free From Show: Gluten Free Means Business

allergy-show-queue

I went to the Allergy and Free From Show in Liverpool recently – alone. (I’ve been to the one in London several times, with coeliac daughter).

Of course, I wasn’t alone when I got there. They were expecting 9,000 people over the weekend… it is smaller than the London one, which gets 30,000 over 3 days, but nevertheless well worth visiting. It felt as though all 9,000 were there waiting for the doors to open at 10!

Interestingly, of those 9,000, only about 40% are coeliacs.

All the usual stalwarts were there, including:

This kind of event is great for getting people to taste your products, to get their contact details, and to try to persuade them to buy (at the Show, and again once they’ve got home!). It’s also fantastic for those attending, who can discover new suppliers, and taste goodies until they just can’t face any more…

One company to look out for is the Better Life Bakery, who had some good pies and pastries, available online and delivered frozen; their stall was buried deep with people trying to buy from them.

I was particularly interested to meet those companies dealing with B2B rather than B2C relationships. In particular, I talked to:

  • Just:Gluten Free, whose gluten free bread products were selling fast, and who do sell to the ordinary consumer like you and me, but who are also working with companies such as Brakes Brothers (who are of course suppliers to pubs, restaurants, and schools).
  • Sweet Goodness, who do sell fat-and-sugar-lite gluten free cakes to caterers and retailers – and their cakes are indeed very good – but who are now focusing on the key ingredient (trimbake) that enables bakers to cut down on the fat and sugar in recipes, and are also working with big commercial bakers.

I think this new focus (for some: there’ll always be a demand for retail gluten free products) may be a sign that the market is maturing. It isn’t as easy to run a small cake business as you’d think…

Gluten Free Student: Sandwiches

gluten-free-student
We’ve visited nearly 20 universities over the last two years, so that coeliac daughter (and her sister) could identify her favourite five to apply to. (In case you don’t know, the system in the UK is that you apply to five universities, wait/hope for offers of places to roll in, and select one from your set of offers as a ‘firm’ choice and one as a ‘reserve’ – then you wait to see whether you achieve the grades demanded by your chosen universities).

One of the things we looked for – apart from the obvious ones about the course and the university – was how easy it was to eat gluten free.

Here are the very unscientific and incomplete results of some of our expeditions around the country.

  • At Nottingham, we discovered that readymade and wrapped gluten free sandwiches were available for sale on campus. Daughter ate two. We were pleased to find that these were standard fare on the shelves.
  • At Lancaster, she had gluten free rolls alongside a cold collation (meat and salads). They were down to their last gluten free roll when we arrived, and were talking about going to another outlet on campus to get more, so they obviously were aware of the need to supply gluten free food. We were pleased by the concern shown by the staff that they might not have enough.
  • At Leicester, gluten free sandwiches are usually available in the main shop in the – very nice – student union. They weren’t available on the day we went to visit because the students were on holiday (though they did have 7,000 visitors on that day, so I think they missed a trick there). We were pleased that everyone we asked knew where we could (usually) find them.
  • And at the University of East Anglia, when I asked one of the academic staff where we could find gluten free food on campus, he not only escorted us to the main cafe, he asked the staff for advice – and the chef came out to discuss options with us. Apparently there are always gluten free hot meal options as well as lighter meals. We were amazed by their kindness.

She’ll be going self-catered, because it’s usually easier – and much more usual these days – but at Leicester there is still quite a lot of catered accommodation, and they made it very clear that they catered for gluten free diets as well as other special diets.

All in all, I found it reassuring; gluten free diets are increasingly well catered for. It is astonishing to remember that when I went to university back in the olden days, even my (these days quite normal) vegetarian diet was tricky…

Are you a gluten free student – or perhaps, like me, the parent of a gluten free student? How easy are you finding the gluten free diet at university?

Gluten Free Student Starter Pack

student-university
Big weekend for us coming up… coeliac daughter heads off to university to start her first year.

She’ll be in self-catering accommodation, because that just seems easier for her, though the university does say it can cater for coeliacs. We’ve already spotted a café on campus that serves gluten free food, and a gluten free fish and chip shop in town (she does love gluten free fish and chips…)

We’ve equipped her with an endless list of stuff: pots, pans, plates, knives, airer, cleaning products, pens, post-its… even down to a door wedge, which is, apparently, essential equipment for making friends.

She’s registered with a doctor on campus, and we’ve discussed signing up for a prescription season ticket (which she will do once she’s too old to receive free prescriptions).

She’s practiced cooking a variety of meals, including things like risotto, fish pie, chili and macaroni cheese – and was baking again today. They’re going to be well supplied for gluten free chocolate brownies…

And of course we’ve organised a student starter food pack. This includes:

Grocery items:

  • Salt, pepper, chili powder
  • olive oil, sunflower oil, white wine vinegar
  • sweet chili sauce, gluten free soy sauce
  • tomato puree and cartons of chopped tomatoes
  • stock
  • cornflour
  • tea, coffee, sugar
  • butter, milk, cheese
  • orange juice
  • jam, chocolate spread
  • Salute gluten free pasta
  • Tesco’s gluten free couscous
  • rice: arborio and basmati
  • pulses: red lentils and kidney beans
  • a few tins/jars: tuna / ready made pasta sauce and balti / tikka masala sauce
  • some fruit and vegetables, including onions and garlic

Prescription items:

  • Juvela pasta
  • Wellfoods flour
  • Juvela buns

And specifically gluten free products, mostly bread and treats:

Breakfast:

  • UDI’s bagels – she likes the chocolate chip ones best for breakfast, though there are other flavours, including plain, and the new multi-seeded ones (good for lunches)
  • UDI’s apple breakfast bars (these are new, and a little like fig rolls – yum!)
  • Nestle’s gluten free honey cornflakes – we’ve not seen these before, so this is an experiment

Lunch (we expect she’ll be making up packed lunches most of the time)

  • Sainsbury’s gluten free baguettes
  • Warburton’s gluten free thins

Sweet treats

  • Tesco’s chocolate wafers
  • Sainsbury’s mini chocolate logs

Mixes

Savoury treats

  • Tesco’s salt and vinegar Chipz

Now I look at it, it is a long list!

She’ll need to buy meat and fish when she gets there, but she should have enough provisions for a few meals, as well as enough basics to get her through a few weeks.

So tell me, what have we forgotten to do, or to pack? What would you take?