Allergen Free Foods
by Meredith L. Phillips
We see reports about the increase of food allergies quite often these days. As an allergy sufferer myself, I recently decided to test some allergen-free food brands to see if store-bought items were worth the money or if I would have to give up cookies and other goodies for life. I couldn't rely on my taste buds alone, so I enlisted some hard-to-please kiddos and an "eat anything" guy for a well-rounded panel. The results were a mixed bag, so let me tell you what items were a hit and what should be left on the shelf!
Ian's Natural Foods - Red Banner
Background - Ian's Natural Foods offer a variety of wheat/gluten-free products. Some dry and frozen items are also milk, casein, egg, soy, and nut free. All Ian's items are free of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Ian's reports an annual increase in reports of food allergies among children as growing by 10% per year and claims to provide "delicious" alternatives.
Cookies - The "cookie buttons" are crunchy and taste okay, but they are wheat/gluten free, which takes away some of the "normal" cookie texture. The base flour is made from soy, and the recipe is not allergen-free, just gluten-free. Watch all labels. I made this mistake the hard way. Assuming these were allergen-free like other products we were testing, I ate some before fully reading the ingredient list. I happen to be allergic to soy and luckily did not ingest many before the discovery. Most of the testers liked, but did not love, these cookie buttons and agreed they would not go out of their way to buy them since they do not replace the taste or texture of a "normal" cookie.
Frozen foods - There's no other way to say it: the texture of the Ian's chicken nuggets and corn dog nuggets is just not good. Our kid testers would not eat these, even after they peeled off the batter coating. The adults couldn't even choke them down. Something is missing - mostly taste and texture. Another drawback was that the products must be baked and cannot be microwaved, which takes away from the element of convenience and energy conservation with such kid-marketed "convenience foods." The general consensus, if the choice was between an allergic reaction or suffering these gluten-free items, was to avoid such products altogether.
Background - HomeFree claims to offer treats safe enough to be served anywhere, despite an estimated 2.2 million school aged kids with food allergies. HomeFree Treats are created in a dedicated bakery with no sulfates, casein, wheat, or sesame. The only soy used is lecithin, found in chocolate chips and similar items. All treats contain 100% whole grain, certified organic ingredients, no trans fats, and no cholesterol. A portion of HomeFree Treats' profits are donated to food allergy research and education. HomeFree items are not gluten-free but lack so many other standard cookie ingredients, we wondered if they would live up to the company's claim of "Treats you Can Trust." Would these really be a treat, or just another mealy, sub-standard venture into the world of tasteless dough?
Cookies - We tested several flavors of HomeFree cookies and absolutely LOVE the texture. Okay, so these are not gluten-free, but they are free of eggs, soy, dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts. I put them to the test with my husband and my children, ages 12 and 2, none of which have food allergies but all happen to love junk food. They were all very pleased with the taste and texture of these treats, even the oatmeal kind. We tried them on some friends, as well. Big individually wrapped chocolate cookies with gooey chocolate chips and various bite-sized boxed cookies had the same scrumptious textures, pleasing every age and type of tester we enlisted. Adult testers could not believe these were made with no eggs or dairy. HomeFree avoids the top eight food allergens, which can leave a lot to be desired in some products. Somehow, HomeFree manages to keep their foods safe, delicious, and kid-approved.
3 Lessons Learned
1. We should all watch labels very carefully and ask questions whenever in doubt.
2. Don't expect a specialty food like a gluten-free product to taste the same as the original. Give it a chance to feel and taste like a brand new food choice. Introducing something as a "treat" or "buttons" but not necessarily a "cookie" helped my kids to accept an allergen-free item as a cool new choice, rather than something sub-par or to be tolerated instead of enjoyed.
3. Don't pay more for something you just won't eat. Original texture or not, if it isn't good, your kids won't eat it. However, if your allergies lead you to HomeFree Treats, you'll be very satisfied.
We hope there are better alternatives to come for those who need to avoid gluten. For now, at least sufferers of the top eight allergens have some tasty options.