I blog information, news and recipes about gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, alcohol-free and vegan cooking. Right now I've been working on an exciting project where I avoid refined sugar and create recipes using a range of healthier alternatives.

Happy cooking!

ps. ask all guests if they have an allergy (because the recipes use some unusual combinations and they may not expect to find citrus and soya in the chocolate cake, for example).
pps.if you are cooking for someone with an allergy, please read my allergy page first.

Get up to speed on the new allergy labelling

  An example of allergy labelling in bold

If you’re an avid food label reader (and I’m assuming you are) you will have noticed that certain ingredients are now being highlighted in bold. This is all down to new food labelling legislation, which becomes compulsory on December 13, 2014. It includes a new requirement for allergen information to be provided upon request for ‘loose’ foods as well, such as you would buy in a café, bakery, deli counter or market (or indeed in a hospital, school etc).

The EU has identified 14 food allergens that are particularly serious. These are presumably also particularly tricky to avoid – quite a few people are allergic to strawberries, for instance, but not eating food containing strawberries would be a lot simpler. These EU chosen few are*:
·      cereals contain gluten (ie. wheat, barley, spelt, rye, kamut, etc etc)
·      eggs
·      milk
·      peanuts
·      nuts
·      fish
·      crustaceans (that’s lobsters and crabs)
·      molluscs
·      soybeans
·      celery
·      mustard
·      sesame
·      lupin (found as a flour in some baked products)
·      sulphur dioxide (at levels about 10mg/kg or litre)

Unfortunately, it is sometimes not that easy to know which ingredient may be egg-derived, or contain gluten, or whatever. Whey? Contains milk. Bulgar wheat? Contains gluten. Buckwheat? Doesn’t contain gluten and not even related to wheat. And so on.

For some time there has been a little allergen list at the bottom of the ingredients. The idea behind highlighting problematic ingredients is to make it easier for people with food allergies to identify ingredients they need to avoid. There may still be a ‘may contain’ box as well, however, for those pesky trace allergens.

Do take a look at Sainsbury’s if you need to exclude certain allergens – they update their product guidance lists every month (or you can ask instore). They have identified thousands of products that do not contain certain allergens in the recipe and for which they have effectively controlled cross-contamination. You can ask for a tailor-made list if you need to avoid more than one allergen too.

* There are a few ingredients that are derived from foods on the list but are considered so highly processed that they are no longer capable of triggering an allergic reaction. You may still want to avoid them. Click here for the list as laid down by the EU.
A summation is as follows: 
1. Sweeteners: wheat-based glucose syrups and dextrose; wheat-based maltodextrins; barley-based glucose syrups
2. Fish gelatine used for vitamins or to clarify beer or wine, also isinglass from fish for this purpose
3. Fat/oil: fully refined soybean oil or fat
4. Antioxidant: tocopherols (E306 - Vitamin E)
5. Cholesterol-reducing agents: phytosterols, phytosterol esters and plant stanol esters from soybean sources
6. Spirits made from gluten-containing cereals, nuts or milk (whisky would fall into this category, for instance)

It's labelled gluten-free - is it OK to eat if I'm allergic to wheat?

Well the answer to that question... is 'maybe not'. The EU and the UK Food Standards Agency have strict rules on how food is labelled. To help coeliacs, some cereals (e.g. wheat, oats) are processed to remove the gluten. If there is less than 100ppm (parts per million) of gluten remaining, the food can be labelled ‘very low gluten’. However, this level may still be too high for some coeliacs. That's where the claim ‘gluten-free’ comes in. These words can only be used where the level of gluten is 20ppm or less. This rule applies to both pre-packaged and unpackaged foods (like those bought in a restaurant, etc.).

All well and good. However, as is so often the case, it's just not that simple. Food labelled ‘gluten-free’ might still cause a reaction in a wheat allergy/intolerance sufferer because of other wheat proteins or starches present. So that's where it pays to know about your ingredients really well.

Any pre-packaged foods containing of the following allergenic ingredients must highlight it on the labelling: cereal grains containing gluten, fish, crustaceans (crabs etc.), molluscs (oysters etc.), nuts, peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin* and sulphur dioxide (at levels above 10mg/kg).

If you want to know more about labelling, see the Food Standards Agency website for more details.

*yeah, I know what you're thinking - who eats lupins? They're flowers, right? That is true, but they are also a member of the pea family, as are peanuts. Lupin flour is used across Europe in bread and cakes and this is a Europe-wide directive, which is excellent news as it makes it easier for people needing to avoid certain ingredients to travel and eat safely.

The battle of the cream substitutes – but which is the winner?

As I was mooching through the supermarket yesterday I noticed that there is now a fresh Alpro single cream alternative (located in the chiller cabinet) as well as the more usual longlife version, which can be found on shelf. Interestingly, as well as different packaging, they also have quite different proportions of ingredients. 
 The fresh version has these ingredients:
Water, Sunflower oil (8.4%), Hulled soya beans (3.8%), Modified tapioca starch, Fructose-glucose syrup, Emulsifiers (Soya leicithin, Sucrose esters of fatty acids) Thickeners (Locust bean gum, Carrageenan), Flavouring, Sea salt, Antioxidant (Tocopherol-rich-extract).

The longlife version has far more fat:
Water, Sunflower oil (15.4%), Hulled soya beans (4%), Fructose-glucose syrup, Emulsifiers (Soya lecithin, Sucrose esters of fatty acids), Stabilisers (Xanthan gum, Guar gum, Carrageenan), Sea salt, Antioxidant (Tocopherol-rich extract), Flavouring, Antioxidant (Natural Tocopherol).

They have a roughly similar cost. But which one tastes better? In a blind tasting (admitted not performed on a large sample… just three members of my family) the score was unanimously towards the fresh version. Just to be awkward, I must admit I prefer the longlife version, but then I am used to it and will happily eat it straight from the carton on a small spoon. Or over strawberries. Or blueberries. Or whatever. Mmmm.
Tediously, however, the story doesn’t end there. I noticed was another issue – the fresh version warned there could be a trace of nuts, whereas the shelf version says it is made in a nut-free location. I then went online to the Alpro site and found that they said the shelf version might contain nuts. So what was going on?
A little bit of detective work later led me to the AllergyUK website, where I found this explanation from Alpro:
“Alpro currently produce a range of almond and hazelnut products in locations which are separate from their soya production. However, due to growing demand for their plant based food and drinks, Alpro will be moving the production of almond and hazelnut drinks onto the same sites in Belgium and UK as their soya products from the end of 2014. They will update Allergy UK on the exact timings as soon as they have more information. Alpro are always keen to ensure the highest safety and top quality of their products and all possible measures will be put in place to avoid any cross-contamination between nut and soya products (this includes maintaining separate flows for handling raw materials and manufacturing, as well as thorough cleaning procedures).
“Although the implementation date for this change will be at the end of 2014, their packaging will be adapted gradually from now. Consumers will begin to see that the Alpro soya products (such as soya drinks, desserts, soya alternatives to yogurt and cream), rice and oat products are labelled 'may contain traces of almonds or hazelnuts'.
“This early labelling change is to make sure that  consumers are made aware well in advance before the actual integration into their production facilities. During this transition period there may be packaging with the labelling and packaging without the labelling on shelf at the same time.”
If you have concerns or want to comment about this, email Alpro at this address:

An update to this story: See the new facebook page set up regarding this issue here