Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Celiachia: Tutto ciò che è utile sapere

There are lots of benefits and pleasures to writing books - when grateful readers get in touch with you to thank you, the odd royalty payment to spend at the pick'n'mix counter, permission to have business cards bringing bearing 'author' - but one of the most welcome is your work being translated into another language.

So here is Celiachia: Tutto ciò che è utile sapere - the Italian version of Coeliac Disease: What you need to know - which has just been released. I'm delighted that a relatively small and dedicated publishing company called Tarka have taken the book on, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing a copy.

My first book was translated into German, and my second into Romanian, but this one feels a little more satisfying, not only because of my Italian background and the prospect of actually being able to read myself in translation for the first time (sadly my Romanian is a little rusty ...), but also because of the seriousness with which coeliac disease and gluten-free eating are taken in Italy - it's good to know the book is considered good enough to be part of that overall picture.

The book is available only from Italian outlets currently - Amazon Italia and Mondadori Store.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Gluten free liquorice

Gluten free liquorice - or gluten free licorice, if you prefer - is not always easy to find.

Even natural brands' you might hope to be GF - such as Biona's - contain wheat flour, and popular products found in Holland & Barrett and other health stores - such as Panda Licorice and RJ's Natural Licorice - are also gluten-containing.

These, though, are safe:

Orgran Molasses Licorice. Uses soy flour instead of wheat flour, and is GF, milk free and egg free, but seems low in actual liquorice (0.5%). Available from Goodness Direct (UK), iHerb (US) and, internationally, via Amazon.

Fini Liquorice Blacks. I came across this tasty Spanish brand at the NOPE event in April, and very much enjoyed their sweets. The products contain none of the 14 allergens, and no 'may contain' warnings are on pack either. Liquorice extract content not provided, but may also be quite low. Distribution and availability does not presently seem very wide, but they're on Amazon, and in the UK sold by Real Foods.

Lakrids. Imaginative, luxury and handmade liquorice products from Scandinavia, which contain a much more generous proportion of liquorice (typically around 6%, and raw) than many other sweet products on the market. Use rice flour in place of wheat flour, and confirmed gluten free. You can order them from their own site here. In the UK, some products are stocked by Harvey NicholsSelfridges, and Skandium. In the US, Chelsea Market Baskets have a decent selection.

Lakritsfabriken ('liquorice factory') is another premium line of Scandinavian luxury liquorice products, from Sweden, including some salty varieties. They exhibited at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show in Olympia in 2015. They've also more recently introduced a more affordable, 'everyday' Lakritskungen range, too. The former uses rice flour and 6% liquorice powder; the latter corn starch and a lower proportion of liquorice. Browse on their website. You can buy it at Totally Swedish or at the online store of their UK distributor, Appetitus. In the US, it is distributed by Chicago Importing. Check out their 'Where to Buy' page for stockists and online ordering.

YumEarth Gluten Free Licorice. Fruit-flavoured (strawberry, pomegranate, peach) candy - so some might not count this as 'proper' liquorice! Can only find them in the US, sold on Amazon or on the YumEarth site directly.

Candy Tree GF Licorice. Don't know much about this US brand. Made with molasses, syrup and rice flour / starch - but can't see any actual liquorice in the ingredients (instead, 'natural flavour'). Browse online here.

In the UK, you might like to try some specialist online licorice stores:

All Things Liquorice has a GF section, including Lakrids (see above) and Italian brand Amarelli, renowned for the purity of its liquorice products and collectible tins.

Liquorice with a Twist also has a GF page, including a selection of Dutch products (apparently, the Dutch like their liquorice salty).

And another, Liquorice World, also has a GF collection. They too stock Lakrids and Amarelli.

In the US, there's this outlet:

Licorice International - which has a large GF section.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Free From Journalism

Some months ago, this happened ...


... which I took to be a reaction to my questioning Gluten Free Heaven magazine on their publication of an article by Kirsty Henshaw which encouraged new parents to delay the introduction of allergenic foods "for as long as possible" when weaning their children as "this reduces the risk of an allergy developing" - evidence for which has to my knowledge never been found, and in fact, which may be the opposite of the best recommendation, as emerging research indicates, which studies such as EAT may help further clarify, and which bodies such as the AAAAI appear to believe.

On the other hand, I guess it could have been due to a subsequent observation that their articles on 'hidden gluten' and food labelling called into question their understanding about subjects fundamental to their publication, which should concern any reader who looks to them as a source of information.

I had, last November, proposed to write an article for the magazine on the EU allergen labelling regulations, was invited to do so, but was told there was no editorial budget to pay writers. A credit, bio and a link to my 'media outlet' was offered instead, but my mortgage lender does not readily accept those in lieu of sterling, so I declined.

This frustrates me, even more so than the fact the magazine seems to ignore or plug its ears to dissenting voices on Twitter.

But anyway. That's fine in this case, because what I have to say is not to them, but to you, so here goes.

If you want to pay £4.99 for a publication, which mainly amounts to a wide selection of perfectly good looking recipes, albeit many of which can be found online or in cookery books, and a few articles, not necessarily written by well-informed people, you're free to do so.

And if you want to donate your recipes and articles to publications such as these, perhaps for that supposed golden egg that is 'exposure', that's also your right. Next time you do so to Gluten Free Heaven / Free From Heaven, you'll be doing it with the knowledge that the most recent annual turnover figures I've been able to find for Anthem Publishing - who publish them - are £3.3 million.

Journalism owes neither you nor me a living, and if an organisation does not wish to pay us for what we write, we can't force them to do so - even when they can almost certainly afford it.

Other publishers are paying less and less for journalism - or failing to budge their rates upwards, despite inflation and rising costs - and we can't force them to pay us more, either.

Here are the consequences.

As rates get squeezed, then so journalists are forced into writing more and more, working harder and harder, and standards drop. We under-research. We get things wrong.

When pages are willingly filled by donated contributions, and readers do not or cannot discriminate, there is no incentive to hire professional writers. Publications then effectively turn into advertising brochures, vehicles for reprinted material, and tools third parties use for self-promo.

Understand that if you routinely support - or contribute free material to - a publisher which arguably doesn't appear to place much value on journalism, what you are doing is propping up a business model that undermines journalism.

The problem is wider than you might think, including online. Know that another offender is the Huffington Post, in which I have also seen several food allergy / intolerance bloggers. They were called out last year by Wil Wheaton.

Supporting them is your right too.

But the other thing to be undermined by this support is your moral right to criticise journalism.

In conclusion, this, then: if you are one of those people who routinely contributes free material or supports those publishers who request free material, and who gets upset on social media when some sorry journalist fucks up by describing coeliac disease as a type of food allergy, know that you are not merely highlighting that problem.

You are also in part responsible for it.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Gluten Free in Italy

Here's a shot of a free-from section in a small provincial Italian supermarket in the corner of north western Italy my folks call home.

No, even when ostensibly on holiday and visiting relatives, I still can't escape the temptation of allergen-friendly foods ...

There was a nice selection of gluten-free products, but what really struck me was its location: at the entrance, by the baskets, opposite the fruit and veg (which were on the right hand side, out of shot).

Anyone come across similar in the UK?

Curiously, the dairy free milks were stocked separately, at the other end of the store. The section at the entrance held biscuits, crackers, pastas, flours, cereals and GF grains. Many contained other allergens, so the emphasis was very much on products for those with coeliac disease - awareness of which in Italy is very high. One exception was this piadina flatbread above - which was confirmed free from gluten, wheat, milk, lactose, egg, nuts, soya, sesame and peanuts. It is by Free G. (Here's a GF piadina recipe, should your appetite be whetted.)

The other thing that I found noteworthy about the section was that it was unsignposted. No consipicuous Senza Glutine sign was to be seen anywhere, nor indeed 'Free From' - which, I discovered, is becoming a more commonly used expression in Italy.

I'm not quite sure how to interpret this. Might the placement reflect an attempt to warmly welcome free-from shoppers from the word go, and allow them a shopping experience where the gluten-y bread (at the far end) could be easily avoided? Does the absence of any obvious signage 'normalise' the food, removing any perceived stigma of shopping in the 'special' section of the supermarket?

Who knows ...

In other news, Lucca - an ancient picturesque town in which I spent an enjoyable day with my cousin Romina - has a tower with trees growing out of the top.


I climbed it. You may be wanting proof ...


To drag this post back vaguely back on topic, Lucca did seem to offer a wide selection of GF and indeed vegan options, judging by the prominent menus I caught sight of that were doing their hardest to lure tourists (among them many north Americans and Spaniards), but I spent very little time exploring the matter further. I'm afraid learning of a small wood floating up high against a springtime Tuscan skyline rather distracts you from matters gluten-free ...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Peanut free snacks

Landgarten is an Austrian brand of sweet / chocolate snack foods that I came across at the Natural and Organic Products Europe show last month. At first glance, it doesn't look as if it might be particularly promising from a free from perspective, but the range is gluten-free - and peanut free.

Peanut free (and tree nut free) snacks are notoriously difficult to find - and what I found curious about this brand was that there is no indication on the products (at least on those I looked at) that they are safe for those who only have a peanut allergy and not an allergy to the tree nuts (eg pistachio, walnut, hazelnut etc).

The Ginger in Dark Chocolate, for instance, carries a "may contain traces of nuts and milk" warning. Anyone with a peanut allergy would almost certainly replace the product on the shelf at once - and with good reason. The Food Standards Agency's Food Allergen Labelling Technical Guidance document says, in Clause 71:

"The use of the generic term ‘may contain nuts’ to cover both nuts and peanuts is permitted if the risk of contamination is from both foods. There is no need to provide details of specific nuts under this type of voluntary labelling."

Yet, contrary to what you might infer from the precautionary allergen labelling, the Landgarten site confirms the brand to be peanut free, and their representative at their NOPE show stand told me it was because their factory is peanut free and no peanuts are used in any of their products. 

Those long-used to shopping for nut and peanut allergies - either for themselves or for their children - may well be familiar with the routine of calling up food companies for further information about their ingredients, cross-contamination protocols and factory workings - but those newer to the game may not be, and may not think it worth digging deeper to find out more - yet this case may serve as a lesson that, sometimes, it can be ...

A selection of Landgarten products are available at Planet Organic (UK), Whole Foods Market (UK), and via Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

For other brands free of peanuts (and tree nuts, and all or most other allergens), click here
For other 'free from' finds from NOPE, click here

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Allergy free baby foods

Another notable find from the NOPE show which I attended earlier this month (see previous blog here) was the new Babease range of baby foods.

There are over a dozen products, divided into Stage 1 (4+ months) and Stage 2 (7+ months), and all are free of the top 14 allergens (EU) and top 8 allergens (US) - with no precautionary allergen labelling warnings either. Only gluten free and dairy free are claimed on pack, I was told by the team behind the launch, because these are the only two allergens actually tested. The production factory is nut, peanut, sesame and soya free.

Stage 1 products are 'smooth', and Stage 2 are 'textured' - and some use ingredients which have become popular in free from circles, such as coconut water and quinoa. The products are vegetable (and fruit) based, use brown rice and sweet potato as starchy components, and include some other ingredients which you might not normally see in the baby food market - such as fennel and puy lentils.

It's important to bear in mind the current official advice with regard to weaning and allergies - and that it is subject to change, in part due to the ongoing EAT study, and other research.

The World Health Organisation advise six months exclusive breastfeeding, and this is presently supported by the Department of Health, who say that babies can get all the nutrition they need from breastmilk (or infant formula). Weaning onto purees or mashes of parsnip, carrot, pear and sweet potato - considered low- or non-allergenic - is advised from six months, while maintaining breastfeeding or formula. Allergens (eg soya, milk, nuts, wheat, eggs) should be introduced from six months onwards, individually, with a gap of three days between each new introduction, in order to carefully track any possible subsequent reactions.

There is, however, little evidence that delaying weaning of allergenic foods prevents the development of allergy, and EAT is looking at whether introducing solids from four months may have a long-term protective effect against allergies. The thinking does appear to be shifting towards this direction - that allergenic foods should not be delayed - and perhaps that early introduction should be encouraged.

So although allergen-free products such as Babease may offer terrific convenience in the early days of weaning, perhaps have a role to play when you're introducing allergenic foods in small amounts and in a controlled way, and are obviously useful if your paediatrician, allergist or paediatric dietitian has advised you to delay allergen introduction, or indeed if your baby is diagnosed early with a food allergy - remember that it is not considered wise to protect your baby from oral exposure to allergenic foods for as long as possible!

Babease products are available from Amazon (UK and US), Ocado (UK), and via the Babease site.

For Allergy UK advice on weaning, click here.
For NHS advice on weaning, click here.
For Coeliac UK weaning advice, click here.
For information about the EAT Study, click here
For other allergen-free brands, click here

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

FreeFrom Food Awards 2016

I've lost count of the number of FreeFrom Food Awards I've now 'live tweeted' - four, five? - but it seems to get busier and more frenetic year after year!

We always ask that attendees and other interested parties use the hashtag - this year it was #FFFA16 - and most participants obligingly do - but add to that our handle (@FFFoodAwards) and a number of other related accounts (@FoodsMatter @FreeFromFood) which many use, and it adds up to a sequence of fast-moving streams with dozens upon dozens of notifications a minute that, while satisfying to witness, can be almost comically unmanageable during moments where bursts of activity take place. Apologies if I missed your witty comment or keen observation ...

As always, it was great fun being online last night at the Royal College of Physicians for the presentation of these, now the 9th awards - and every year people too far to travel or not lucky enough to be attending tell me how entertaining they find the live Twitter feed. So it's always worth the inevitable RSI hangover next day ...

Reflecting on the notifications now, it strikes me that we had more non-obviously-free from folk taking part or following with interest - general foodies, and some media folk, and health bloggers seemed to figure among the RTers and new followers. That's a good thing, right? Something the Awards' constant supporter over the years - Antony Worrall Thompson - said after he had presented deserved winners Nutribix's two Richards with Marble Mo (above) was that "free from people should not be seen as niche people but normal people" - and we need "normal" people to take more of an interest in these "niche" foods to understand that, yes, free from is normal - and often delicious, innovative and versatile too.

Regular readers will know I'm not a fan of selling 'free from' as healthier on false or unproven grounds - for instance, that gluten is 'toxic' to all, or that milk is 'unnecessary' (is soya milk 'necessary'?) but I am keen on the word spreading to non food-sensitives that there are new tastes to be enjoyed in free from, and that you can bring variety into your diet by embracing it a little - without going to the extreme of eliminating a food when you don't need to. I'm one who can eat anything, and I have oat milk and cow milk in the fridge. I have cashew cheese from the Natural and Organic Products Show Europe (more on that another day) and I have some regular Dutch cheese too. I have barley and quinoa in my store cupboard. This is 'normal'.

Anyway, my vantage point on the balcony, where I was located with my laptop, offered a bird's eye of all the leading lights in 'free from' catching up on the floor below - manufacturers, bloggers, judges, journalists, nutritionists and dietitians. The Italian in me likes to people-watch, and it's easy to forget how many friendships have been forged at these events over the years; the more sprawling and less structured but equally essential Allergy Show aside, there really is no gathering like it for networking in free from. So I was lucky to get to see bloggers and judges who have become firm friends, and meet others I've only ever 'chatted' with online. And to those who very politely admired my waistcoat (above right), all I can say is a/ 20p from a jumble sale and b/ witness White Rabbit Pizza's Nick's (above left - winner in the Pasta and Pizza category), who outwaistcoated me good and proper. I'll be back next year ....

A shout out to my mate and fellow finalist judge Simon Wright for ensuring that my beer levels did not drop below critical during the live tweet - and for keeping me good company for a portion of it - and to colleagues Michelle, Cressida and Hannah - who ran the show with aplomb, and from whom I have learned an invaluable amount since I've known them and befriended them.

And finally, although there are no losers here - just being shortlisted is an achievement - and Awards like this only tend to be remembered for its notable winners, I'll leave you with this, perhaps my favourite tweet from the last 24 hours. Not everyone can win an award, of course, but everyone who doesn't make the podium, can do so with some grace in 'defeat'. 'Free from' supporting 'free from' is the way 'free from' will get stronger, don't you think?
For a list of winners, click here.
For photos of the evening, click here.

Monday, 25 April 2016

New FreeFrom Foods at Natural and Organic Products Europe

A belated round-up of a selection of new free-from food finds from the NOPE Show 2016 held at Excel, East London, earlier this month. I'll be blogging (or posting on Facebook) about other products of particular interest individually over the coming week or so.

As always, it was a buzzing show, with exhibitors far more knowledgeable this year, it seemed to me, with respect to allergens - and not only gluten-containing cereals, but others too, which is an excellent development for those with nut, egg, milk and soya allergies, especially. It's not specifically a 'free from' show, of course, but many exhibitors appear to have wised up to this sector and the importance of being both confident and knowledgeable with respect to food hypersensitivities.

First up, pasta. Five 'flavours' of Really Healthy Pasta were on show - red lentil, mung bean, chickpea, buckwheat & flaxseed, and blackbean - and each available in two shapes - fusili (twists) and penne (tubes). They're gluten-free and made in a soya-free environment too. Most are essentially single-ingredient products, they're a good source of protein, and there is some very specific allergy-aware labelling...

For instance, the mung bean pasta - which I've tried and enjoyed - is "free from ... celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk or its derivatives, mollusks (sic), mustard, soybean or its derivatives, sulphur dioxide, wheat or its derivatives".

There is, though, a precautionary allergen warning: "May contain: nuts or sesame seeds".

You can find them on Amazon, or at Good Health Naturally UK and Good Health Naturally US.

Allergen Free Professional / Barcelonesa / Vegetall is a Spanish company / brand which is confirmed free from all top 14 allergens - and currently offers vegan mayonnaises and other condiments / sauces both for food service and consumers. Ice creams are in development.

Although they're not yet distributed in the UK, they're included here merely because they had a prominent position at the show, clearly displaying their '14 free' status, and because I liked their 'crossed allergen' symbols - all 14 of them (see right) - which it will be interesting to see whether other brands adopt in future.

I discovered Zootfoods at a previous show - perhaps last year's - and very much liked their fruit, seed, chocolate and nut bars - which to my mind were actually better (moister, essentially) than the much more widely known and established Nakd bars.

At the show this year, they were launching Zoot Zero - no added sugar chocolate - which is sweetened with stevia, and with maltitol (so low-FODMAP folk should probably avoid as it's a polyol).

There are three dark varieties - Smooth Dark, Zesty Orange, and Hint of Mint - and also a Creamy Milk. Interestingly, the products are certified free from added sugars by Sugarwise, a new food certification programme. They are also gluten free - as are all their other bars, which are mostly dairy free too.

Paleo Treats Europe are just arriving in the UK. They were launching three new chilled sweet snack products - the Brownie Bomb (honey, eggs, coconut, cacao and nuts), Cacao Now (coconut, egg, honey, cacao and vanilla), and the Mustang Bar (nuts/nut butters, raisins, seeds, coconut, vanilla, honey and sea salt) - all of which gluten, milk, soya and refined-sugar free. Despite my general dislike of the term paleo, the premise on which it is marketed, and the unproven health claims made for the regimen, I did find these tasty.

At the time of writing, you can sign up on their site for news of their launch, and further products are expected in 2017.

More paleo, with the launch of the Lucy Rocks Paleo range of products by Alara, already known for their organic and gluten-free cereals.

Any ingredient which has never been described as a superfood looks to have been banished from the five-strong range: Lush Crunch contains raw sprouted buckwheat, green tea matcha, barley grass, spirulina, mulberries, lucuma, hemp, pumpkin seeds and cashews, and the nutritional virtuosity shines out of all the other products too - Blush Crunch (baobab, beetroot ...), Chia Super Soak (cacao nibs, goji ...), Golden Granola (lucuma, apricots ...) and Glowing Granola (apple, beetroot ...). I'm assuming the range is aimed primarily at women, but this non-woman has enjoyed the samples he took home with him!

I'm unclear when the range officially launches, but it's got eye-catching and well designed packaging, is also vegan and free from refined sugars. The promotional leaflet mentions some 'innovative bars' so expect those too at some point.

Good vegan 'milk' chocolate is not easy to come by, so I was pleased to come across German brand iChoc, which uses 'ricedrink' to impart milkiness to their dairy-free chocolate products - which are also 100% organic.

Unfortunately, they are not particularly free from - the 'may contain traces of nuts, milk and gluten' rule the chocolate out for most allergic or intolerant consumers - but they are soya free and would be suitable for anyone who has a lactose intolerance or is on low FODMAP.

I'm not normally a big fan of milk chocolate, but this was among the best I've tasted for a while - especially the Almond Orange - and certainly better than some of the milk-free 'milk' chocolate products available in the UK.

Shame about the precautionary milk warning, though.

Best of the rest
Coconuts Nice Cream - 14 allergens-free 'creamy coconut nice cream' - made only with coconut cream, unrefined coconut sugar and coconut flakes.

Creative Nature - have launched 14 allergens-free Chia & Cacao Brownie Mix and Chia & Mulberry Muffin Mix.

Delightful Organic - launching mid-late 2016, a range of vegan sauces and pestos.

Enjoy Raw Chocolate - soya, dairy, gluten and refined sugar free; vegan and handmade.

Morlife - Australian brand, offering healthy and tasty looking ready-made quinoa 'risotto' meals in pouches.

Mrs O's Fuss Free Mixes - Egg-free, nut free and vegan cake mixes, also available in gluten free.

Nature Crops - wide range of quinoa-based products (flakes, flour, bars, puffs etc).

Probios GoVegan - launching into the UK, including a vegan croissant.

Saf Raw - Rebranding from Saf Express, with a colourful new look, and offering raw goods such as activated crackers, fruity coconut pastilles and nutty nori. GF and DF.