Utterly Unscientific (But Fun) Gluten-Free Taste Testing ~ Cookies

We coeliacs have to look far and wide for our fun (although I concede that eating gluten-free [GF] foods  is much easier than it was even 10 years ago).

So I decided to invite a few coeliacs around to Bee HQ to sample some GF cookies. Just an excuse to forego a proper breakfast and move straight to the carb/sugar rush? Perhaps, but also simply a bit of fun and a good opportunity to meet some new people.

Where did I recruit these lovely cookie-eating-helpers? The town I live in has a group FaceBook page specifically for parents –  people on it are helpful, polite and friendly so I decided that was a good place to start. I was hoping for a group of 5-6, but conducted the taste testing on a weekday morning when I was not teaching; the majority of people were of course at work, and others had child-minding issues. Oh well, all the more cookies for us  – but thank you to those who were enthusiastic but couldn’t come along.

I will say upfront that this was in no way a scientific experiment. To be clear, A) there were only 3 of us doing the tasting. B) The cookies and biscuits were all slightly different, though themed around CHOCOLATE (hooray!) In a proper taste testing, you would have 6 plain digestives, for example, and conclude which is the best. Unfortunately the range of GF foods does not allow this when it comes to cookies, though I intend to do a bread tasting, which would better meet that criteria. The other thing to mention is that all the biscuits/cookies were from a GF section of the shop. There are some perfectly lovely GF options (the Mrs Crimble’s range for example) of macaroons etc, but these are aimed at what I believe prisoners call the “Gen Pop” (general population) and what some coeliac wags call “Muggles”!

I should also be clear that all cookies were bought by me, and I have nothing to gain from the results, other than hopefully giving you some useful information here on this page. gluten free cookie/biscuit tasting

So, with hearty thanks to my two new coeliac buddies, Jackie and Sarah, I give you the low-down on which cookies left us cold and which could have passed for ‘normal’.

The five I chose to test were as follows, as they were all available on the same day from my High Street, here in the ‘burbs:

  1. TESCO FINEST – FREE FROM   All Butter Chocolate Millionaire.  5 biscuits, 185g, £1.35Tesco gluten free biscuits
  2. DOVES FARM  – ORGANIC AND FREE FROM Double Chocolate Cookies.  7 cookies, 180g, £2.25, bought from my High St, independent health food shopDoves Farm gf cookies
  3. MARKS AND SPENCER  – MADE WITHOUT WHEAT RANGE Triple Chocolate Cookies 10 cookies, 170g, £2.50Marks and Spencer gluten free cookies
  4. PREWETT’S – GLORIOUSLY GLUTEN FREE Rich Triple Chocolate Cookies  8 cookies, 150g, £2.29 bought in my local Waitrose, which didn’t have any own-brand GF choc biscuits or cookies for us to test.Prewett's gluten free chocolate cookies
  5. PREWETT’S Milk Chocolate Digestives 14 biscuits, 155g, £1.50 bought in Sainsbury’s which also didn’t have any own- brand for the taste-testing on the day I shopped.

Prewett's gluten free chocolate digestives

So what was the result? Our least favourites were described as “dry, bland, powdery, hard, greasy, oily, insubstantial, pale”. The ones we much preferred solicited descriptions such as, “crisp, chocolatey but not too sweet, melt in the mouth, nice balance of bite and crumble”.

The make which all 3 of us least liked was the Doves Farm (“powdery, gritty, not much flavour, dry, brittle, bland”) and the best (also unanimously) were the Prewett’s Triple Chocolate Cookies (“appetising, chunky, chocolate-coated, delicious”).

Prewett's winning cookies

I very rarely buy biscuits (unless we have coeliac visitors) because, once opened, I lack the will-power to not plough on through the entire packet before the kettle has even boiled. I had never even come across the Prewett’s make before this week, so that was an interesting find for me. So who are they? Now based in Bristol, they do a large range of healthy and free-from foods, and you can order from their website here as well as finding their products in supermarkets and health food shops nationwide. Interestingly, their Chocolate Digestives also came out well, despite looking rather less interesting.

So, my new pals and I discussed good GF recipes, and made various recommendations to each other, including this book, “The GF Cook-book for Kids”; the No G websiteA Basing Cakes;  an entirely GF cafe/restaurant (how often do you hear that?!!) near me here in Hertfordshire called The Saddlery Cafe which I cannot wait to visit and Atkins and Potts who apparently do exquisite GF sauces.

So a good morning’s work. Unscientific for sure, but a lot of fun, and we all agreed that the trials and tribulations of having Coeliac Disease are diminished when shared between friends over a cup of tea or coffee. And cookies.

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee blog signature

A Coeliac Abroad

It is always fascinating travelling abroad as a coeliac – sometimes surprising (New York several years ago was alarmingly nonchalant and unhelpful about gf food) and often a bit stressful too.

If travelling to a country where English is not the mother-tongue, we coeliacs have to travel with translations of some basic info on gluten which we hand to waiters, after which we pretty much have to hope for the best.

I am in Australia currently and must say that there is plenty of gf food on offer and a high level of understanding about food allergies in general.

However, I did come across an entirely new thing yesterday, which was where food on a menu in a cafe was labelled as “low gluten“. In the UK, gluten free food is where the food contains 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten or less. Technically, very low gluten is where foods contain between 21 and 100ppm gluten.

Specialist substitute products (such as breads and flour mixes) that contain a gluten reduced ingredient (gluten-free (Codex) wheat starch) with a gluten level above 20 and up to 100ppm may be labelled as ‘very low gluten’. There aren’t any foods currently labelled ‘very low gluten’ in the UK ~ Coeliac UK

As far as coeliacs are concerned, we have to stick to no gluten, not low gluten, so I quizzed the waitress at length about what was going on. She was exceedingly happy to help and it transpired that in fact, they are referring to the possibility of cross contamination (cc) in the kitchen and not the amount of gluten in the bread (I asked to see the packaging). For some coeliacs, cc is a real worry, but, personally, I am fairly relaxed about it (too relaxed?). The Australian Coeliac Society has some very good info here http://www.coeliac.org.au/cross-contamination/ and they point out that,

…..as little as 50mg gluten (equivalent to 1/100th of a slice of standard wheat bread) can damage the small intestine of a person with coeliac disease.

Gluten free

Getting here on the plane was interesting. Airplane food is seriously lagging behind for coeliacs, so I got the ubiquitous couple of slices of melon followed by 2 rice cakes and jam. I ended up eating a bowl of nuts to supplement the meals. I have a feeling that often the gf airplane meal is also dairy free (and maybe kosher as well?) so it is a very, very long way from exciting. Oh well, it makes arriving in the destination that bit more exciting. Especially when your sister-in-law has made a beautiful gf orange cake. Yum.

Gluten free ckae

Concerned about cc? Let me know what your experiences are.

Annie Bee signature

Annie Bee x

Other posts on being a coeliac: https://anniebeebuzz.com/2015/05/03/coeliac-disease-too-many-misdiagnoses-and-superfluous-surgeries/

https://anniebeebuzz.com/2015/04/28/why-my-heart-sinks-when-i-am-handed-the-allergy-booklet/

https://anniebeebuzz.com/2015/04/05/am-i-getting-my-oats/

Coeliac Disease ~ Too Many Misdiagnoses And Superfluous Surgeries

Not only is Coeliac Disease (CD)  tricky to spell, it is also difficult to diagnose. It can hide behind many other things, irritable bowel syndrome  – IBS –  probably being the most common.  For a correct diagnosis to be made, there is a simple blood test which shows up certain antibodies. If positive, that is subsequently followed up by a gut biopsy. Confusingly, it is possible to have a negative blood test and yet have CD;  the most important thing during this diagnosis stage is you mustn’t stop eating gluten. Counterintuitive, I know, but that will be enough to skew the results.

So what are the GPs diagnosing in our doctor’s surgeries if not CD?

confused doctor

Anecdotal evidence, from a group of coeliacs in the UK who were asked just that and who don’t have an axe to grind (though how many of them have lodged formal complaints, I don’t know) show the list is long and colourful. Some of the following were actual diagnoses, some were suggestions which then led to further batteries of tests, and in some cases, superfluous surgeries were carried out. So, in no particular order we have, and I am quoting,

….. hepatitis, mesenteric adenitis (swollen lymph in the abdomen), IBS, growing pains, stress, pernicious anaemia, hormone imbalance, chronic fatigue syndrome, gastric reflux, tummy bugs, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, cyclothymia (a mild form of bi-polar), stomach ulcer, depression, lactose intolerance, fibromyalgia, fructose malabsorption, nerves, anorexia, indigestion, pancreatic cancer, bowel cancer, endometriosis, mental illness, prostatitis, cystic fibrosis, crohns disease, STDs and bulimia …….

Extraneous surgeries: thyroidectomy, appendectomy and hysterectomy (me). My all-time favourite, trumping even the person who was told twice he had STDs, is hypochondria. I am not sure whether to laugh or cry!

hypochondria

Alarmingly the list goes on – you get the picture. But do the GPs? Often not. In their defence, CD mimics a lot of other diseases, but think of the money the NHS could save by doing the simple blood test right at the very beginning,

My tale of woe is as follows: having complained of feeling tired and generally ill for a year or so, I was tested for anaemia. My iron levels were worryingly low and didn’t improve with massive doses of supplementary iron (at one stage I was taking enough iron every day to build a small bike). My periods were called into question  – “are they heavy?” An impossible question to answer in my book as I have never had anybody else’s periods so what was I comparing them to? So I said I thought they could be, yes. Next thing I am under the knife having a hysterectomy, a major op by anybody’s standards. They left my ovaries which I now call “gluten” and “free”. Thankfully I had finished my family (I was in my late 30s at this stage) and I won’t lie and say I was not happy with the upside of no contraception and no periods.

Imagine my surprise when 5-6 years later, after a terrifying 6 months of appalling symptoms, misdiagnoses galore and massive weight loss, I was told I had CD and the anaemia had been caused by the malabsorption of nutrients all along. My gastroenterologist also added that, from the state of my villi (finger-like projections in the small intestine that help absorb food more efficiently in the body) I may well have had CD for decades.

Back in 2013, the British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (BSPGHAN) and Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease came up with a new approach to diagnosing CD in children.

This new recommended approach will aid more accurate diagnosis, help children get treated more quickly and should bring savings to the NHS.

At that point, Dr Hilary Cass, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said,

“This new guidance for healthcare professionals is valuable on two fronts. Firstly, it gives paediatricians the tools to better recognise coeliac disease in children, allowing them to diagnose more swiftly and accurately. And secondly, it reduces the need to perform unpleasant, intrusive procedures on children when attempting to diagnose the condition. It’s a much needed resource to address what is a relatively common but often misunderstood disease amongst UK children. Currently on average patients have had symptoms of coeliac disease for 13 years before they are diagnosed which, for many, can result in years of discomfort and pain as well as damage to the gut which could lead to other conditions if not diagnosed and treated.

Well, I am no expert, just a coeliac sticking to the gluten free diet I must, but clearly more needs to be done in making these diagnoses fast.

coeliac humour

Let me know what you think. Have you too been misdiagnosed along the way?

Annie Bee x

Annie Bee signature

Hello. My Name Is Annie And I Am A Coeliac (or is that Celeriac?)

Several years ago I was chatting to the manager in my local large supermarket about the very emotional issue (if you are a coeliac) of gluten free bread, and he said, “Oh yes, I know it must be terribly hard for you celeriacs”. I didn’t have the heart to correct him as he looked so earnest, but have to say that as the years have gone by, the understanding of coeliac disease (hard enough to spell, let alone live with) and the offending protein, gluten, has improved hugely. Gluten free (gf) foods are now readily available here in the UK and many restaurants have menus which are fully labelled, taking the stress out of eating out. I was out for lunch recently here in Hertfordshire though and the waitress gleefully told me she would bring me the Allergy Information Pack which turned out to be a 100 paged, closely- typed scientific report which I then had to cross-reference against the menu. Jolly helpful you might think, but by the time I had found things I liked the sound of, checked whether the tick meant it was gf or contained gluten, and finally checked if it was on that day’s lunch menu, I had lost my appetite and was stressed by the whole palaver, as was Mr Bee. All coeliacs will know this problem well. Worse though is the waiter who says, “Yes I am sure that will be fine” but comes back 10 minutes later with the type of comment which makes a coeliac shudder: “the risotto contains rice, so you can’t have that”. If that is the level of their knowledge, cast aside your napkin and RUN.

gf ee card

Some very lovely people I know eat a gluten free and/or wheat free diet for health reasons, even though they may not technically have this auto-immune disease (or at least have not been diagnosed). I vividly remember one waitress in a restaurant literally rolling her eyes when I told her I couldn’t have gluten (another picky eater) so I do sometimes feel like wearing a little badge which says ” REAL Coeliac” and I always, without fail now refer to it as “Coeliac Disease” when talking to people in a restaurant, cafe or shop. There does seem to be good evidence now of what is called ‘Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity’ (NCGS) so we RCs (Real Coeliacs) need to embrace our brothers and sisters. The more the merrier.

There are so many lovely blogs, websites and books for coeliacs now. When you are at home, you can eat like a king. Travelling abroad has its challenges but you can print off information about the disease in loads of languages these days which at least cuts down on the chances of mistakes being made.

It is no picnic being coeliac, but there are MUCH worse problems to have.

If you want a good, in-depth article on these matters, try this:  http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/25/gluten-free-diet-life-saving-fad

Thanks for reading. There are a few more pics here: 

green bee for signature copy

Annie Bee x