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Gluten Free Favourites

favouritesI thought it might be helpful to list some of our current favourite gluten free products, for those of you who don’t know where to start. Of course, tastes do vary, but this is a list of reliable products that are (mostly) generally available…

Bear in mind that these do change! But at the moment, our list includes:

Bread

Sainsbury’s soft white sliced bread
Sainsbury’s baguettes
Warburton’s white wraps

Pasta

Tesco’s pasta range
Doves Farm pasta range

Flour

Wellfoods plain flour mix
Doves Farm self-raising flour
Finax Havrebrodmix oat bread mix

Biscuits

Tesco’s chocolate covered wafers
Asda caramel wafers

Cookies

Waitrose’s chocolate chip cookies

Cakes

Waitrose’s millionaire blondies
Waitrose’s country cake slices
Tesco’s victoria sponge

Cake mixes

Hill Cottage Bakery cake mixes (added 28/5/13)

Pizza

Dietary Specials’ Bella d’Italia pizza

Breakfast

Genius Pains au Chocolat (special treat!)

Ready meals

Tesco’s chicken, bacon and pea pasta (we haven’t seen this for a while)
Marks and Spencer’s breaded chicken
Amy’s Kitchen burritos

Take-away

Domino’s pizza

Snacks

Sakata crackers
Tesco Chipz (like Pringles)
Kelkin chocolate covered rice cakes

What do you think? Obviously this is a UK list… what would your favourites be?

Gluten Free at a PTA Event

happy-child-eatingRunning a PTA event, and wondering how to cater for the children with allergies in your group?

In my experience, parents of coeliac children (and no doubt those with other food allergies or intolerances too) tend to assume that there’ll be nothing at an event that their child can safely eat, and to plan around that—either making sure that the child has eaten beforehand, or by bringing safe foods.

But I was contacted recently by a reader who wanted to offer something to these children at an event which she was organising in the summer, and that made me think about how you could go about doing just that.

Her idea was to offer manufacturers a stall at the event, so that they could promote their products, and visitors could try them out. This is a great idea. Options for this will depend on the scale of your event, but could include:

  • contacting the major manufacturers (here in the UK, these would typically be those companies that produce prescription goods, or the major supermarkets). This group would probably prefer to visit large events, or specific allergy-focused events, so that they can communicate with as many people as possible – but if you don’t ask them, you won’t know.
  • contacting local manufacturers and retailers, to see if they’d like to promote themselves and their products. It’s good to support local businesses, and if, for instance, there’s a local shop that offers allergy products, your visitors may not yet know about it, so you’d be helping out by putting them in touch with each other. This group may not have as much money to spend as the larger companies.

Other options of the do-it-yourself variety could include:

  • calling for volunteers from the parents. There may be someone who’d step up to help you out, and to help out their fellow allergy-parents (yes, I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean!). I ran a support group for gluten free children and their parents for a while, and found it very valuable. People have lots of information to share!
  • buying in some ready-made branded products to sell. I suggest that you either choose individually wrapped items or leave them in their packets, so that your visitors can read the labels to reassure themselves that this food would be safe. There are lots of options, but you could include:
    • individually wrapped portions of cheese, readily available at the supermarket. Here in the UK, these could be BabyBel, or portions of hard cheese such as cheddar. Don’t go for soft cheeses unless you’re prepared for mess!
    • biscuits – savoury or sweet, plain or chocolate. There’s quite a variety available at supermarkets on the Free From shelves now.
    • crisps (check the packets very carefully)
    • cakes—again, there’s a lot of variety on the supermarket Free From shelves. Don’t over-buy: if the cakes aren’t good, no-one will eat them and you’ll have wasted money. These products are not cheap. At the moment we like the Tesco Free From sponge (cut it up small) and we love the Waitrose Love Life Millionaire Blondies.
    • nuts, raisins and other dried fruits are all gluten free, though be very careful of any with added flavourings
    • fresh fruits are all gluten free
  • if you want to offer hot food, then consider either buying some in, such as Domino’s gluten free pizza, and cutting it up small (leave it in the box for reassurance) or keeping it very simple—perhaps baking potatoes and offering various fillings. I know that these are boring options: coeliacs are always offered baked potatoes. But they are reliable and safe, as long as your fillings are also safe.

Of course, what you’re offering will depend on what everybody else is being offered. For instance, if you’re having a hog roast, then the meat would be fine as long as it isn’t coated in any way—watch out for those sauces and marinades—but you might want to have a stock of gluten free rolls on hand (well wrapped!) to offer to go with the meat. Chips (otherwise known as fries or frites) are fine as long as nothing else is or has been cooked in the oil, and the chips aren’t coated in flour to make them crispy or flavoured.

Don’t forget that if you’re offering edible prizes, it can be very disappointing for a child to win sweets they can’t eat. Could you check whether they’re OK in advance, and only buy prizes that would suit everyone? Here in the UK, most Haribo and Swizzels Matlow sweets are gluten free (do check each type, though, and leave them in the wrappings), and cheap to buy as prizes.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope your event goes well. Although some people may decline to try your gluten free offerings, there will be some there who are delighted and grateful that you’ve thought of them. And inevitably, the non-gluten-free people will want to eat them too! Remember to keep some back for the truly gluten-free…

Eat Water and Slim Rice

Slim RiceI was recently sent some Slim Rice to try—it’s made by a company called Eat Water.

There’s been a lot of publicity about this new product over the last few months, but in case you’ve missed it, this is a gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, salt-free carbohydrate-substitute designed to be used in place of rice, pasta and noodles. It has very, very few calories…

They sent me the ‘rice’ to try—obviously real rice is naturally gluten free (so don’t get confused) but since, I imagine, each of the products are fundamentally the same, simply presented in different shapes, it didn’t really matter which one I tried.

And they are all gluten free. All the Eat Water products—rice, pasta and noodles—are listed in the Coeliac UK Food And Drink 2013 directory (under Pasta and Noodles) as being acceptable for a gluten free diet.

So what did I think of it?

I’ve been struggling to know what to say about this product, because there isn’t much to say, as it tastes of very little.

But it is innocuous enough, and with a flavoursome sauce, is fine. And it is, as promised, filling.

It is, apparently, based on moyu (konjac), a vegetable fibre which has been used in Asian cuisines for centuries, and I can imagine that a good use for these products would be in a noodle soup or similar dish – think ‘rice noodles’ as a comparison. A few recipes are available on the Eat Water site to get you started.

If you’re looking for flavour, I’d have to say that eating true rice or a decent pasta would offer more, but if you want to cut down on calories, you could consider trying this occasionally instead of your usual carbohydrate to fill you up. It isn’t cheap, but as a kick-starter for a weight-loss diet, it might be just what you need.

What was I expecting?

My main concern when I first heard about this low-calorie, gluten free product was the potential for conflation with the ‘go gluten free to lose weight’ school of thought.

As you may know, I have mixed feelings about this view, because while it widens the market, making it more desirable for food manufacturers to provide gluten free food, it can trivialise the importance of going gluten free because you have coeliac disease. Those who choose to be gluten free to lose weight and then aren’t consistent in their diet (“a little bit won’t matter”) make it less likely that those who must be gluten free, and for whom even a little bit matters a lot, are taken seriously.

However, having reviewed the Eat Water site, I don’t believe that they are falling into this trap. Their products are primarily aimed at those who want to consume fewer calories, and it is an almost-accidental bonus that the products are also gluten free.

Incidentally, two of the products have been shortlisted in the recent FreeFrom Foods Awards – do go and check out the shortlist.

Summary

If you have to be gluten free and also want to reduce the number of calories you eat, this could be an option to consider, as long as you continue to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet overall. And you’d want to do that on any weight-loss diet, wouldn’t you?

Try the Shortlist: FreeFrom Foods Awards 2013

five-gold-stars

At last – the FreeFrom Foods Awards shortlist is out.

I was invited to be on the judging panel for a couple of the categories again this year. This is a privilege—and not just because I got to taste 28 different kinds of cake in an afternoon!

It is fascinating, and a rare chance to spend the day in the company of experts in various aspects of living gluten free.

Plus cake, obviously.

As you’d expect, there were some strong views among the judging team, and lengthy discussion. So much so that we significantly overran the allocated time for the bread session (over 25 different kinds of bread, as well as the cake…)

But we—and the other judging teams—did eventually make our decisions. The winners of the Awards will be announced at the ceremony in London, in April. I’m looking forward to it!

Tasting such a wide variety of bread and cake at the same time made some things really clear. One of these is that the quality of gluten free goods is rising, and therefore that the ‘minimum acceptable quality bar’ for products is getting ever higher these days.

Or it should be.

There are still too many ‘good enough’ products out there on the supermarket shelves. I think we should be expecting more.

Some of the products I tasted were indistinguishable from ‘standard’ products. Not necessarily identical, but they didn’t come with that ‘obviously gluten free’ taste or smell. I’m sure you know what I mean!

One or two of the products were so good that I would buy them even if we didn’t need them to be gluten free. (Not everyone in my family eats gluten free). You’ll have to wait for the Awards results to find out which the judges liked best!

So if this is possible, why are there still so many ‘adequate’ products, rather than good ones? Even given the fact that people have differing tastes (as evidenced by the discussions on judging days), it is clear that some products are just not as good as others.

Yet we accept them, and go on buying them.

So if you’re still buying the same baked goods as you chose when you were first diagnosed, try something new, for a number of reasons:

  • you might just find something you prefer
  • it supports innovation in product development, whether this is by new, small companies, or well-established names, meaning that we continue to see new and better products
  • demand for better products will mean that manufacturers will work harder, and shops will stock them
  • and people who live gluten free should be able to choose delicious, high quality products too.

So go on. Try something from the 2013 shortlist soon…

Is Your Packaging Gluten Free?

I invited Chris Bekermeier to write a guest post today, discussing packaging. Chris is based in the US, and so is discussing packaging in the US, but the issues are the same wherever you are. I’m certainly going to be investigating wheat-based packaging here in the UK after reading his article… please feel free to add your views in the comments.

Over to you, Chris!

***

food packagingWhen you’re going gluten-free, ingredients matter. However, another big question you should be asking both yourself and the stores where you buy your food is, “Is the packaging gluten-free?” Whether you’re an old hand at living without gluten or just beginning to go gluten-free, you likely know how to check the ingredients of what you’re buying. The problem is whether or not the packaging itself is free of gluten, and many people aren’t aware that it may not be.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and is used as a thickening agent and for flavor in many pre-packaged foods. While the majority of these foods list their ingredients on the packaging, new innovations in “going green” encourage companies to make the packaging itself out of wheat. In 2004, researchers at California’s Agricultural Research Service Western Regional Research Center teamed up with EarthShell to look into the manufacture of wheat-based packaging. They found that wheat-based packaging is fairly simple to make and much better for the environment, but didn’t address the question about whether or not this packing would be gluten-free.

In 2011, Bio-Mass Packaging, in partnership with Bridge-Gate, offered a line of biodegradable wheat-based packaging containers specifically for takeout restaurants and caterers. Unfortunately, these can be especially harmful to customers with gluten and wheat allergies because they have no idea that the takeout food they are bringing home is held in a container made from wheat paste.

Being aware of gluten in packaging also extends to being aware that the packaging and the food may be cross-contaminated by the machinery used during manufacturing. Current labeling laws do not require a manufacturer to declare what is used to produce the packaging material so this does not appear on the label, leading consumers to believe that they’re safe when they may not be. Fortunately, some companies, such as Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, make an extra effort to avoid cross-contamination. On its website, the company states, “To assure the integrity of all of our Gluten Free products, we adhere to a standard of no more than 19 parts per million of gluten. We’ve even built a separate Gluten Free packaging division complete with specialized machinery to make sure that our products maintain their purity–just as nature intended.”

Knowledge about gluten-free foods and packaging is also required when you go on vacation, especially to another country. Although the brand may be familiar, the packaging and the machinery that constructed it were likely different from what you purchase at home and could be contaminated. If you experience especially bad reactions to gluten, it may be prudent to bring special foods with you and cook your own meals, rather than trust that the foods you buy elsewhere – and their packaging – are safe and gluten-free.

Being alert and informed is, as always, the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe when consuming any type of food that may contain gluten. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or research wheat-based packaging and its possible negative effects to those on a gluten-free diet. When it comes to being gluten-free, it’s more than just ingredients that matter.

Thanks Chris!

Chris Bekermeier is Vice President, Sales & Marketing of PacMoore in Hammond, IN. PacMoore is a contract manufacturer focused on processing dry ingredients for the food & pharmaceutical industries. Capabilities include blending, spray drying, re-packaging, sifting, & consumer packaging.