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Food & Beverage Reporter Jan-Feb 2016

18 | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 | FOOD & BEVERAGE REPORTER GLUTEN-FREE ... from Page 17 Wheat Belly, Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health (Rodale 2014) which has become the bible of the gluten-free industry. Davis claims that modern plant breeding has changed the nature of gluten, turning it toxic. He argues that new wheat varieties developed in the 1960s and 70s have led to a variety of chronic health problems, including obesity and diabetes. Davis’ claims have been roundly denounced by leading grain scientists. Another supporter of the existence of gluten sensitivity is US neurologist Dr David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers (Little, Brown 2013). Perlmutter calls gluten a “silent germ”, and says it’s likely responsible for among others, declining cognitive function. New Italian research presented recently at the 2015 United European Gastroenterology Week in Barcelona, Spain, further supports the idea that gluten sensitivity is real, and that gluten-free foods can be helpful. In particular, the research by Prof Giovanni Barbara and his team at the Digestive Diseases department at the University of Bologna, Italy, looked at the role of a blood protein called zonulin that is linked to inflammation and that on its own is associated with a wide range of health problems. Celiac sufferers have high blood levels of zonulin. Barbara and his team’s findings show that gluten-sensitive individuals also have high levels of zonulin and that levels in gluten-sensitive individuals almost matched those of celiacs. The results are preliminary, but the researchers say the finding points to a possible future direction for tests to diagnose NCGS. Until an accurate test for gluten sensitivity becomes available, NCGS will continue to be a food football, kicked around by consumers, the industry and the healthcare sector without any clear game-plan. Have a view on gluten? Email us We’d like to hear from you. BAKING GRAIN-FREE ON THE RISE .. from Page 15 With production capacity provided by Fresh Earth, Adir’s products are now sold through Dis-chems, Wellness Warehouse and many independent health stores, as well as selected Spar, Checkers and Food Lovers stores countrywide. She is now working on a range of grain-free, added-sugar-free treats for adults and children that will continue her tradition of keeping it “pure and simple” with few ingredients, all of them natural. Ballenden is as bullish as Adir about the grain-free trend. He says his interest in gluten-free started eight years ago because of his own health concerns and also in response to customer demand and the “lack of an authentic product”. Ballenden says he started doing research and travelled to the US and Europe to see first-hand how gluten-free products were being made. “I quickly realised that no-one was doing gluten- free properly in this country”. Returning to SA, he set up Fresh Earth Bake House and hasn’t looked back. With the growth in popularity of Banting, Ballenden was quick to seize the business opportunity. He started working on a recipe for a grain-free bread, and, like Adir, faced the challenge of making it out of mostly seeds. “Bread recipes have been using flour since Jesus,” he says. He had to “work a fix” by purchasing his own mills to make flour from seeds and nuts. Ballenden now produces several hundred loaves of Banting breads a day. Compared with the millions of loaves of wheat breads produced in South Africa a day, that may seem tiny, but demand is growing fast. Fresh Earth Banting Bread is now in selected Pick ’n Pay, Dis-chem, Spar and Checkers stores. Ballenden says his biggest challenge with gluten-free/grain-free baking has been establishing a stable supply of quality ingredients. It took him years to build up sufficient demand to justify importing ingredients directly and he is at a point now where he feels comfortable with the ingredient situation. He says he has worked out how to get adequate shelf-life without added preservatives, but of course isn’t giving away any trade secrets. Ballenden continues to do what he does best: push boundaries even as he makes sure always to “stay authentic”. He says his grain-free products are a “step up” from gluten-free. He credits his success not just to innovative recipes, but also to the bakers he has trained and who “understand the science of baking”. Where to next for Ballenden and Fresh Earth? “That’s the million-dollar question. I’ve positioned our company to be all about nutrition and well-being, using minimalist, pure, simple ingredients. It’s part of the global trend towards conscious eating, and the recognition that prevention is the best cure.” Both Adir and Ballenden have so far found that the premium price tag attached to grain-free products is not putting off consumers. But with the exchange rate at record lows, both will be hard-pressed to keep products affordable and prevent demand from tapering off. Life Bake and Fresh Earth are just two of the companies in SA benefiting from the grain-free trend. Austrian Premix is another. The Cape-based company was established in 1998 with a mission to provide the SA bakery market with premixes and other baking ingredients that “demonstrate the outstanding Austrian and German bread culture”. When Austrian Premix recently added two Banting bread premixes to its range, made from coconut flour and flax seed, GM Hanjo de Vries admits he didn’t think they would do well. “But thanks to Prof Tim Noakes, we can’t complain,” he says. Austrian Premix now supplies grain- free premixes to Shoprite Checkers, Pick ’n Pay and some Spars, who all bake their own Banting breads. Woolworths has also seen the Banting business light, although the company won’t admit it lest it be seen to align itself with a personality or diet. Woolies launched its Carb Clever range of low-carb foods in 2014. It recently-added grain-free products to the range that include a linseed bread, wraps and seeded crackers. If the growth in grain-free continues on its current trajectory, the range is likely to get a lot bigger in the months ahead.

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