Friday, May 21, 2010

Food Transparency in the Gluten Free World

It used to be that when you talked about food transparency you might be referring to a cooking technique, as in “Sauté the onions until they are transparent.” Today “transparent” has a whole different meaning when it comes to food. Consumers are now far more educated about issues like nutrition, food safety, sustainability, fair trade, genetically modified foods, engineered ingredients, chemical additives, and animal rights. It is a very positive movement as far as we’re concerned. Consumers are demanding transparency, and the result is not only better labeling, but a number of manufacturers have reformulated their products to have (or appear to have) a “clean” list of ingredients.

Over the last six months or so, we have fielded a number of questions from educated customers. One, for example, wanted to know whether the source of rennet in the cheese we use was from an animal source (the answer was “no.”) Another wanted to know whether cellulose was used as an anti-caking agent in our pizza cheese (the answer was “no, we do not use any anti-caking agents.”) It is not only consumers who are becoming more educated—coops, health food stores, and chains are as well, and they are watching out for the interests of their customers. That’s a good thing.

The other day, I had to sign a statement for a retailer guaranteeing that no cloned animals or the offspring of cloned animals are used in any of our ingredients, including milk. Sitting here in Vermont, knowing not only the source of my dairy and egg ingredients, but also the farm families behind them, I wondered why I would be asked such a question. And, I must confess that when I called my suppliers to verify that no cloned animals were used, my egg supplier and I got a big laugh out of it. She said she had been asked a number of questions over the years, but that was truly a first! But it is actually no laughing matter when I think about it. I know my fresh ingredient suppliers, but what if I were buying my eggs from some 5 million hen farm or my milk from some big industrialized conglomerate? Worse yet, what if I were using boxed eggs or powdered egg whites with an extended shelf life or some milk protein isolate? I wouldn’t have a clue about the animals behind my ingredients.

Take our Original Rolls. They are made of six ingredients: tapioca, milk, non-GMO canola oil, mozzarella cheese, whole eggs, and salt. No mystery what any of those are. Then look at some of the competing gluten free bread products/rolls. What you will find is that most other brands have 17 to 20 ingredients. Nice things like tapioca maltodextrin, which gives a product fat-like and stabilizing properties. I’m in the gluten free baking business, and even I have no idea what some of the ingredients are! One of the benefits of eating a gluten free diet is that it has made me a compulsive label reader, and sometimes what I read is disturbing, indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your products! Keep up the great GF work and thanks for the reminder to be mindful!

~ Letitia S