Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Farro, triticale, emmer, einkorn, kamut, spelt ... do you know your alternative gluten grains?

A tweet by celiac blogger, cook and author Jules Dowler Shepard recently showed a shot of a restaurant menu, and a dish containing farro, which was labelled as gluten-free.

Farro is the Italian word for spelt, but in the US it appears to describe the cooked grain of any one of several ancient or heritage wheat species - among which spelt, but also einkorn and emmer.

Whatever it is - gluten-free it ain't.

Any diagnosed coeliac will know to look out for wheat, barley and rye in any list of ingredients or menu dish description, but how many are aware of the rarer gluten-containing cereals which turn up increasingly?

Most are merely wheats - or triticum - by another name, and we are all familiar with the first two, but not all of us the others:

Triticum aestivum - common wheat / bread wheat (used in bread)
Triticum durum - durum wheat (used in pasta)
Triticum monococcum / boeoticum - einkorn wheat
Triticum dicoccum - emmer wheat
Triticum spelta - spelt wheat
Triticum turanicum / turgidum - Khorosan wheat / Kamut

Triticale, meanwhile, is a hybrid of rye and wheat; its name a portmanteau of triticum, and rye's Latin name, secale.

Along with barley (hordeum), these make up the main gluten-containing family grains - known collectively as triticeae.

Disconcertingly, there are plenty of other tritceae waiting in the wings for some imaginative chef to discover or a food manufacturer to market as the next supposed superfood. Check out the list of genera here, and feast your eyes on just one example, Tausch's Goatgrass.

EU allergen lawmakers - to whom we should be grateful - were well aware of the potential stumbling blocks which the alternative wheats (especially) constituted, and built in a terrific solution, which you can read in their technical guidance document on food allergen labelling based on EU FIC 1169/2011 (Clause 29), and which I'll reproduce here:

In other words, if you're using a wheat which many people don't know is a wheat, you have to say it's a wheat and highlight the word 'wheat'.

This is not always happening. I don't like to pick on one brand, but I hope the fact that I like and buy their products is some small consolation for Biona Organic, who are rightly acknowledging that spelt is an allergen, but wrongly failing to clarify that it is wheat:

I doubt this would trip up a coeliac (there's a 'contains gluten' warning out of shot), but nevertheless, and as Jules' example reminds us, you've got to always keep your wits about you.

Has it ever been any different?

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Why Lidl are not nuts

Spanish / Portuguese version
Lidl has recalled some batches of their Alesto Honey Peanuts because the word 'peanuts' does not appear on the label, as is required by Law. 

This echoes a recall of over three years ago by Booths, who withdrew some peanut products labelled 'monkey nuts' rather than 'peanuts' - a recall which was widely criticised, including by then RCGP chair Clare Gerada, but which, like this one, was absolutely correct, and which I defended here.

In the Lidl case, the word for peanut only appeared in Spanish and Portuguese, but not English. Nevertheless, Clause 30 from the FSA Guidance on Allergen and Miscellaneous Labelling Provisions is worth quoting once again as it still applies:

Whilst these may also be commonly referred to as ground nuts or monkey nuts, the term “peanuts” [their emphasis] should be used for allergen labelling purposes

Not unexpectedly, some casual observers and commentators are ridiculing the decision on social media. I'm surprised the Sun didn't have more fun with it, but perhaps they were unaware these were EU laws they could have gleefully trashed.

I'm repeating myself, but allergen labelling laws are there to protect consumers and to save lives. They must be stuck to by the letter, for any relaxation of the rules undermines the rules, and from there it's a slippery slope downwards towards confusion and inconsistency and health risk.

The rule is 'peanut(s)' must appear on labels. If you think it's silly to abide by this rule, then I'd be very interested to hear what you think the alternative rule should be? "'Peanuts' should appear on labels unless there's a nice picture of them on the front"? 

As they should be - in English
An adult peanut allergic, long used to managing their condition, would be unlikely to make a mistake with the Lidl product, but what about a foreigner? What about a well-meaning relative of a peanut allergic child? Again, an error is unlikely, but not impossible, though a bigger problem in this case is that the product may contain traces of tree nuts - a fact which also does not appear in English. We cannot take chances.

Although there have arguably been too many allergen recalls this year (see here, including another Lidl one concerning a yogurt failing to mention 'milk' on the label), one such as this does offer continuing reassurance to the food allergic community that manufacturers, supermarkets and the FSA are on the ball regarding the issue.

Although there may well be room for improvement, the rules are in decent health, and appear to be working well. We should be pleased about this, not sneery, nor mocking, nor sarcastic.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Low FODMAP foods are coming!

I once predicted on this blog that dedicated low FODMAP ready meals would be in our supermarkets by the end of 2014. And at the end of 2014 I predicted they would be by the end of 2015. I'm not even certain they will be by the end of 2016, but I am happy to see that, at last, there appears to be some progress towards easier and more convenient choice for IBS folk who need to restrict FODMAP intake.

Fodify Foods is a new brand started by two FODMAP-trained dietitians. They currently have a ready made tomato sauce, a ready made curry sauce and a trio of spice mixes in their range. They are exhibiting at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show at Olympia this weekend, July 8th-10th (Stand A700).

Slightly Different Foods is another new company offering catering and retail supplies of foods and meals free from onion, garlic, lactose and gluten-containing grains. Their website is currently under construction, but they're also exhibiting at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show (A702).

Lauren Loves is the newest kid on the block, and they make low FODMAP pasta sauce. They're also at the Allergy and FreeFrom Show (A652).

The Australians, meanwhile, are perhaps a little ahead of us - understandable, given it is the birthplace of the low FODMAP diet. Fodmapped calls itself the 'world's first FODMAP food brand' and includes a range of sauces, stocks and soups - but not yet available outside Australia and New Zealand.

Also Australian are SOME Foods, who describe themselves as food producers with a low FODMAP focus. They have a six-strong range of Italian, Indian and Thai cooking sauces, as well as a selection of spice fusions. They have distribution only in Australia and are currently looking at international shipping.

In the States, there is Nicer Foods - makers of FODMAP friendly foods, including bouillon cubes, garlic / onion infused olive oils, spice blends - and the Be Nice Low-FODMAP diet bars - cereal bars made with quinoa, peanut butter, rice syrup, chocolate, rice protein, coconut oil and chia - which have their own dedicated website. They do ship internationally - to the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - as well as some continental European nations. Click through to their shop here.

Finally, take a look at Casa de Sante, who make lemon tonic / wellness infusions, and herb and spice mixes, which are free from onion and garlic. Currently, they deliver only within the US. 

Although there are a lot of other low-FODMAP products out there (which, if you're on a FODMAP restricted diet, your dietitian can help you find), and many gluten-free products (such as flours) happen to be incidentally low-FODMAP, the above are the only brands I can find which are marketing themselves exclusively or primarily as low FODMAP brands. Do you know of others?

Encouragingly, there are also FODMAP friendly certification initiatives - The FODMAP Friendly Food Program and the Monash University Low FODMAP Certification Program - which should become more widespread internationally, and will help shoppers with IBS find suitable foods.

There's progress then, albeit perhaps a little slower than might have been expected. Given that the FreeFrom Food Awards are considering introducing a low-FODMAP category in 2018, it would be terrific if there were more launches in the near future.

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 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'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