Living Gluten Free

Gluten Free in Egypt

view of the nile at sunset We’re just back from a week in Luxor. That’s Luxor, Egypt… and the gluten free member of the family managed just fine. And if we can, you can. Go for it!

Here’s what we did:

  • we packed emergency supplies for the plane journeys, including snacks: but they weren’t needed. We flew EgyptAir, and they provided a gluten free meal in both directions. The bread roll on the way out was branded Lifestyle, so we knew it was OK; however, the one on the way back looked identical to the ‘normal’ ones… she didn’t eat it. Our taste-tester told us it tasted ‘normal’, not gluten free.

    Tip: check everything – don’t assume.

  • we packed Sainsbury’s baguettes and rolls. These varieties need cooking and/or refreshing; we were self-catering, and I knew that the apartment would include a microwave/combi oven.

    Tip: I split the bread-stuffs between the cases, in case one got lost en-route.

  • we packed snacks (rice cakes, gluten free biscuits, peanuts and raisins etc) in both our carry-on luggage and the suitcases.

    Tip: chocolate will melt. Freeze an ice-cube-bag of water because it is flexible when frozen, and put the frozen bag inside a ziplock bag so everything stays dry (for the way out – and for the way back, if you can refreeze it and still need it).

  • we also packed a sachet of Helen’s Bread Mix, so that if we ran out of Sainsbury’s bread, we could make a loaf – which we did, reasonably successfully, in the microwave/combi oven. It did need refreshing daily, because of the heat.

    Tip: pack a silicone loaf tin, as we did, because it is lightweight and squashy.

  • we packed a bag of gluten free pasta (in this case, Doves), in case we decided to eat in one night. In fact, we ate out most nights, and made a pasta salad one day.

    Tip: we used only one portion from a bagful, so I suggest weighing it out into portions, and only take what you’re likely to consume.

  • we took with us two versions of a coeliac card in Arabic, one downloaded from Celiac Travel and another from Gluten Free Jordan, and showed them repeatedly.

    Tip: We got caught out once, when she was offered a cake made with semolina: basboosa. As you know, semolina is not gluten free – I guess that travel cards typically talk about wheat, and not semolina. Remember to check!

We usually self-cater, because we find it easier to manage a gluten free diet that way, but if you’re staying at one of the big hotels, I’m sure they’d provide a gluten free diet too. When eating out, we ordered carefully, and discussed the ingredients (in English) whenever we were doubtful. Restaurant staff were typically very helpful, and eager to get things right for us. We also took our time in the local supermarket, and bought basic, unprocessed foodstuffs (meat, cheese, fruit, salad, yoghurts etc).

We stayed here (yes, the image above is of the Nile at sunset from the apartment complex), and had a wonderful time: tombs, temples, mummies, ballooning and boats, and above all warmth and sunshine.

If you’re thinking about visiting Egypt, do it soon: Luxor was very quiet indeed. We think that people must be nervous of visiting Egypt because of the Arab Spring, but the local population relies on tourism, particularly independent tourists, as coach tours typically have a set route for everything, including restaurants and shops. The felucca captain who took us upstream for a tour of a banana plantation and shared riddles and mint tea on his boat (cooked over an open flame – slightly unnerving) told us that he hadn’t had a tourist on board his felucca for 3 months…

It is possible to stay gluten free in Egypt. We’ve done it.

Allergy Alert: Home Farm Speciality Foods Sauces

These are not products I’m familiar with, but here’s the listing from the Food Standards Agency:

Home Farm Foods Beef Stock, 450g
Home Farm Foods Black Bean Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Chicken and Rib sauce, 395g
Home Farm Foods Chicken Casserole sauce, 470g
Home Farm Foods Chicken Stock, 450g
Home Farm Foods Diane Sauce, 395g
Home Farm Foods Hoi Sin & Chilli Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Hoi Sin Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Plum Sauce, 212g
Home Farm Foods Red Wine Casserole Sauce, 470g
Home Farm Foods Rich Beef Casserole Sauce, 470g
Home Farm Foods Roast Beef Gravy, 450g
Home Farm Foods Roast Chicken Gravy, 450g
Home Farm Foods Sausage Casserole Sauce, 470g

‘Best before’ date (for all products): up to and including August 2013

The allergens on these products have not been correctly listed. These products may contain celery, sulphites and wheat. More information available at the Food Standards Agency.

Allergy Alert: Asda Free From 5 Caramel and Chocolate Wafers

We’re sad to hear about this one: these are our current favourites.

There’s an alert out on both these: the Caramel ones and the Chocolate ones.

For the Caramel ones: Best before dates of 24 December, 14 Jan 2013 and 21 Jan 2013 may contain gluten at levels higher than permitted.

For the Chocolate ones: Best before dates of 3 December and 21 January may contain gluten at levels higher than permitted.

If you have any of these, don’t eat them, but take them back to the shop. For more information, visit Food Standards Agency.

Allergy Alert: Morrisons Celery Fruit and Peanut Salad

Oh dear, this is unfortunate: Morrisons Celery Fruit and Peanut Salad (250g) with a use by date of 27 October may contain pesto pasta.

I imagine there was a bit of a mixup with salads in the factory – as far as I know, Morrisons don’t produce a gluten free pasta salad (hint: would be a good idea, though!)

If you’ve bought one of these recently, check the use by date, and take it back if the date is 27 October.

See the Food Standards Agency for more details of this allergy alert.

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?