In fact, supermarket giant Tesco was one of the first to adopt this store change and since then, have enjoyed winning multiple Free-From awards because of it.
However, if your supermarket or food store doesn’t have these sections, perhaps instead you’ve been noticing the additional markings and food allergen stickers on food wrappers.
As food manufacturers and producers become more conscious of the variation in dietary requirements and preferences, free-from foods are becoming more omnipresent in our day to day food lines.
But questions as to what they are, what they contain, and what makes them different are still asked, despite their growing presence on supermarket shelves.
We’re here to shed some light on the issue!
What are free-from foods?
Incredibly, despite free-from foods growing in diversity and popularity across the past six years, there is still no official definition.
Yet free-from foods are pretty easy to define, we’d say.
Free-from foods are simply foods made without specific ingredients like gluten, dairy, or nuts. This then makes the product suitable for those who suffer allergies, intolerances, or other health requirements that require them to avoid certain food components.
Sometimes consumers also believe that because they do not have an allergy, intolerance or health requirement, that free-from foods are not suitable for them. This is incorrect. Free-from foods are available to everyone, they’re just made especially suitable for those who do need to avoid certain ingredients or components.
What foods are free-from?
Nowadays, a vast amount of foods are free-from. Products such as bread, milk and pasta all have free-from varieties.
Other sweet treats like chocolates and cakes can not only be dairy-free, but also gluten-free.
Products like peanut butter are now free-from, as is tea, and even items like beer that previously would have contained gluten due to its hops.
Let’s take a look at some more specific categories below.
What foods are free-from gluten?
Gluten refers to the proteins found in wholegrains such as barley, oats, rye and wheat. Products made from these compounds like bread, biscuits, crackers and baking ingredients like flour will all contain gluten. This makes them unsuitable for those with gluten allergies or intolerances.
Amazingly recent studies have been conducted that seem to suggest gluten intolerances are on the rise. Scientists have attributed this surge in cases to environmental and agricultural farming factors.
Some scientists believe that as agriculture tries to become more environmentally conscious and move away from harmful chemical pesticides, farmers are opting to grow wheat that contains higher gluten counts because it contains naturally occurring insecticide qualities.
These higher gluten varieties are therefore revealing more of us who possess the genes for celiac disease. Interestingly, the genes for celiac disease are more commonly found in those of European descent, which could be why Europe currently records the highest amount of its population suffering celiac disease (0.8% vs 0.5% in the Americas and 0.6% in Asia).
As a silver lining to these scientific discoveries, more and more products are now emerging as gluten-free as manufacturers begin to produce foods suitable for wider dietary requirements.
Examples of foods that are now free-from gluten include:
One of the first items to go gluten-free was bread. This is unsurprising considering it’s a staple of the British diet, and loved globally!
Instead of using wholewheat grains to produce the bread, gluten-free bread is instead made from a variety of different seeds, flours and starches including tapioca starch, rice flour, millet, poppy and sunflower seeds.
(We found this example in Tesco)
Gluten free breads can be found in all the major supermarkets, and even smaller independent food stores. Just look out for the Free From sign usually indicated on the label.
Some encouraging news for those suffering with gluten allergies or intolerances is the news that cakes are slowly - but surely - beginning to turn gluten free.
Traditionally cakes are made with flour containing wheat gluten, but in the free-from varieties this is being avoided. Rice and tapioca flours are instead being used in its place, giving cakes that familiar rise and comforting taste.
(We found this example in Sainsburys)
Free from cake varieties are springing up in most supermarkets, just check for the packaging. In independent bakeries and stores it may be best to check or ask after the ingredients if the free-from label is not immediately obvious.
By nature, most cereals are made out of wheat, oats or barley. Due to this, gluten-free consumers were often forced to give up their favourite cereals straight away.
Thankfully, just like cake, there is now an emerging trend of cereals that are ditching the wheat and oats to become more suitable for everyone. Whereas big cereal brands such as Special K have always used wheat or oat, new variations of popular cereals are emerging that only contain corn flour, maize or rice.
(This example comes from Tesco)
Just look out for the Free From packaging in all major supermarket cereal aisles!
As we’ve mentioned earlier, flour alternatives are now being used in the production of popular products like bread and cakes.
However, for keen bakers you can also get your hands on gluten-free flour so that you can create your favourite treats straight from home. Free-from flour is made of a variety of different ingredients including rice, potato, maize and buckwheat.
We found the above example in Holland and Barrett, but make sure to check the free-from sections in your local food store.
What foods are free-from dairy?
The definition of dairy-free foods actually have two meanings. The first means that the lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products has been removed. The second is that the food is completely free of all dairy products including butter, milk or cream.
Commonly free-from dairy products will take into account both definitions. Both the lactose and the traces of dairy products will have been removed and instead replaced with plant or nut based components.
Lactose intolerance is a common reason that many people opt for free-from dairy products. Incredibly, 65% of people experience a form of lactose intolerance whereby they cannot breakdown and digest lactose.
Whilst those suffering lactose intolerances or other allergies related to diary would have previously had to remove products like ice cream, milk and even chocolate from their diet, thankfully alternatives have sprung up in all shapes and sizes.
Let’s take a look at some of the best!
When we think of toast, bread, or even crumpets, our thoughts surely lead to images of lathering them in butter. However because butter is made from milk, those who are lactose intolerant have often had to face going without.
Thankfully dairy free butter alternatives exist. The most common of all is Flora, a dairy free margarine. Flora is made entirely from plant oils including rapeseed, sunflower and linseed.
Cheese contains the highest concentration of lactose due to the way it is made, and for many it’s meant avoiding things like cheese on toast, and even pizza.
Incredibly free-from cheeses now exist that are not only dairy free, but gluten free too. Replacing the milk with coconut oils, maize starch and potato starch has meant creating a consistency that is both creamy and smooth.
(We found this example in ASDA)
For chocoholics, being diagnosed with a dairy allergy is a huge blow. Previously it’s meant avoiding both milk and white chocolate and instead eating dark chocolate brands that can promise high levels of cocoa and not much else.
Nowadays however, there is a plethora of choice when it comes to dairy-free chocolate - and it’s across all chocolate types.
One example is Doisy and Dam, a vegan chocolate brand who use cocoa butter and cocoa mass to get their chocolate perfectly creamy. You wouldn’t even notice it’s missing milk!
(You can find Doisy and Dam products right here in the Goodness Project store!)
Ben and Jerry’s recently almost broke the internet when they revealed their range of dairy free ice creams. Just like chocolate is a perfect comfort food, so is ice cream and lactose intolerance sufferers almost missed out on both.
Instead of using milk, Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy range uses vegetable oils like coconut, soya bean and rapeseed oil. However as this is a free-from blog, it is worth mentioning that Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free ice cream is not suitable for those who are gluten intolerant as it contains wheat flour.
This is also something that those who have allergies to gluten and dairy should be aware of. Just because an ice cream product declares itself as dairy free does not mean it is gluten free, so always check the packaging.
(Here’s an example of a completely free-from ice cream from Sainsburys)
Milk might seem like the most difficult thing to make dairy-free. After all, it is mostly responsible for the knock on-effect of all the other dairy free products!
However milk substitutes exist, and they’re just as creamy as the real thing. Alpro is a popular brand who have revolutionised dairy free milk by making their milks from soya for both gluten and dairy free sufferers, and almond for those who are just dairy free.
Great for tea, cereal in the morning, or to stir into coffee.
To Sum Up:
We hope this helps make things a little clearer for both free-from consumers and those who do not have allergies or intolerances.
The Goodness Project also strongly recommends checking the label, even if things appear to be marked as free-from. It’s always best to check the ingredients to make sure there are no traces of any food compound which could cause problems.
At the Goodness Project we’re dedicated to bringing you the best in vegan products, which means we cater for free-from too. Check out our free from marketplace, or alternatively surprise a loved one this Christmas and send them a free-from hamper.