By Kristen Chandler
As the number of people who have food allergies increases, the availability and variety of allergy-friendly foods are increasing as well. With a growing number of consumers on special diets and wanting to know what exactly is in their food and how it is prepared and manufactured, producers are offering more gluten- and allergen-free options, and assigning dedicated areas for production to ensure that cross-contact or contamination does not occur.
Just a few years ago, you may have found only a box or two of gluten- or allergen-free items in your grocery store. Today, most supermarkets have gluten- and allergen- free sections that make it easier for shoppers to locate these items. I live in a rural area and we don’t have any specialty or health food stores close by, but I have noticed that my local grocery store has expanded its gluten-free section to a gluten- and allergen- free section in the past few months. It is already twice the size it was six months ago. They also offer dairy-free yogurt and ice cream, which they haven’t carried in the past.
Gluten-free products are now the most requested specialty products, so many manufacturers that do not normally focus on free-from production have begun to provide gluten-free alternatives to their regular product lines. Developers have found that the key to successfully making gluten-free foods is the flour base. For the finished product to have an enticing taste and texture, researchers at Ardent Mills have found that using a blend of gluten-free flours that is specific to each recipe is the secret. For example, a different flour blend may be used to make gluten-free cookies than the blend used to make gluten-free bread.
There are several manufacturers, like Glutino for one, that make a variety of gluten-free foods, but their products may still contain other allergens. However, there are some companies that exclusively produce allergen-free foods in dedicated facilities. Perhaps the most popular of these companies is Enjoy Life. Enjoy Life foods are not only free from the “Top Eight” allergens (dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat), but they are also free from celery, crustaceans, lupin, mustard, sesame and sulfites as well. In 2012, Enjoy Life decided their products would also be non-GMO-verified. Although GMOs are not considered an allergen, they have been added to many people’s list of things to avoid.
In addition to making sure these foods are free from allergens, another challenge manufacturers face is making food that tastes good without those allergens. And with its expanding line of baking mixes, chocolate chips, cookies and trail mixes, Enjoy Life seems to have both the free-from and the tasty parts covered.
We hope that the growth we are seeing now is just the beginning and that we will continue to see an increase of gluten- and allergen-free foods available in our local stores. Have you noticed an increase in free-from foods in your own local grocery store? What are your favorite free-from foods and/or brands? Leave us a comment, we’d love to hear your input.