A guide to food for people with allergies
Sunday 15 August 2010
Of the hundreds of products that vied for glory at a major food awards ceremony earlier this year, every single one was lacking in some way. That is not a criticism; these were the stars of the free-from boom – foods stripped of gluten, dairy or nuts, for people with conditions such as peanut allergy or coeliac disease (triggered by gluten) as well as less serious food intolerances.
UK sales in the sector have trebled in the last five years, with the market predicted to nudge £200m next year. Though partly spurred by a genuine rise in diagnosis of food allergies (immune system responses that can be fatal), there has also been a surge in people believing – often mistakenly – they have food intolerances (a digestive problem rather than an immune system one).
A decade ago, being diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance would have meant cutting out certain foods altogether, or making do with poor immitations. But, as demand has risen, so have standards. When Observer Food Monthly did a sausage-tasting this year, Debbie & Andrew’s offering, which doesn’t contain gluten or wheat, trounced the opposition. And Anila’s Curry Sauces, which were among this year’s Free From Awards winners, also earned three gold stars at Britain’s food oscars, the Great Taste Awards. Her products are not only free from gluten, dairy, added sugar and in some cases nuts, but also onion and garlic, which she says most Hindus don’t eat.
While supermarkets have introduced small free-from sections, stores such as Planet Organic have made it a primary focus. Peter Langsam, a food buyer for the store, says the main differences between decent free-from and mainstream products are "texture and consistency rather than taste". Nibbling a wheat-, gluten- and dairy-free macaroon, I see his point – it’s more-ish but drier and crumblier than usual.
Gluten serves an important purpose in cookery, adding elasticity to breads and helping bind sausages. Its effects are notoriously hard to mimic in a tasty way, but former Bibendum and Leith’s chef Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne may just have cracked it. Her gluten-free bread, Genius Loaf, contains a novel mix of potato, corn, tapioca and brown rice flour. "Although I’ve cooked professionally for years," says the mother of two boys with allergies and intolerances, "cooking without basic ingredients we take for granted has been challenging."
Langsam argues that taste comparisons between free-from and all-in food miss the point. While some free-from products are indistinguishable from their all-in counterparts, others are made from something so different that the issue becomes almost irrelevant. No one splashing something like Oatly - an oat-based dairy- and soya-free alternative to milk - on their cereal is going to mistake it for milk given its grey colour and watery consistency. Either you like it or you don’t.
Here are some useful links :
Anila’s Curry Sauces
At first this punchy sauce seems full-on tasty, but the flavours feel a bit separate, with a slightly dirty aftertaste. Praise-worthy, though, having no alliums, added sugar, dairy, gluten, stabilisers or emulsifiers.
Debbie & Andrew’s Sausages
These posh sausages are wall-to-wall meat. Well seasoned too (with a touch of white balsamic – la di dah), and for me the only slight drawback to no wheat was that there was nothing to soak up any fat, so a tad greasy.
This bread is light, almost brioche-like in texture, and cuts easily. Eaten plain it has a slightly old aftertaste but it toasts exceptionally well. The best gluten-free bread I’ve had.
Oatly milk alternative
My first thought was "liquid porridge", but it’s surprisingly good drunk cold. It’s as thin as skimmed milk, and I didn’t like it in my tea, but maybe if I took it weaker . . .
Dietary Specials’ spaghetti
Wheat-free "pasta" is problematic. This doesn’t feel or taste like pasta, but it would make a reasonable backdrop to a hearty bolognaise sauce.
The Healthy Cake Company’s carrot cake
Gluten- and dairy-free! Could be more carroty, but has lovely thick pecan icing. Tastes home-made, but takes crumbly to a whole new level.
Plamil orange chocolate with cranberries
I liked the look of this with its chewy cranberries and engraved leaves. It’s smooth and rich and doesn’t taste free from anything. for vegan chocolate lovers, this is a golden bar.
Barkat organic chocolate rice crunchies
Not a bad cover of the original at all, only these don’t seem as sweet. The pops themselves go a tad chewy and slimy if they’ve been sitting in the milk for a few minutes, and weirdly, they don’t turn the milk chocolatey.
Mrs Crimble’s cheese bites
You don’t miss the wheat at all. 48% cheese makes them properly cheesy, and they’re light and airy and vaguely reminiscent of a cheesy choux bun! I’d put these in my lunch box.
Swedish glace ice-cream
I was braced for the worst but, for a lactose, cholesterol and gluten-free ice-cream, this was good. Nice scoopable, "creamy" texture, with a light, icy crunch. It tastes like Mr Whippy meets cardboard (which actually isn’t unpleasant), with an agreeable nuttyiness. I’m impressed.
by Norman Miller and Allegra McEvedy
source : the Guardian