The Cost of Multiple Allergies

Last year, I saw an Instagram post by AllergyKid2006 that showed the impact of food allergies on budgets. Another family commented that it becomes even more expensive when there are multiple allergies. Those families live in the USA, but it certainly seems like we pay more to keep the Allergy Brothers safely fed in the UK too. I wondered how much the difference in prices is exactly, so I took a notebook along to my last supermarket shop…

Regular Food

Allergy Brothers’ Equivalent

Asda Soft White Rolls £1

Asda Fusilli 45p

Asda Semi-skinned milk 48p per litre

Fairtrade Dairy Milk chocolate (45g) 60p

Old El Paso Regular tortillas (326g) £1.49

Asda Golden Balls cereal (375g) 89p

Asda Sunflower spread 90p

Radox Kids Bath and Body Wash (400ml) £2.50

Pizza and Pastry Multimix £2.99

Eskal Corn Pasta £2.02

Ecomil Almond Milk £2.49 per litre

Kinnerton Free From Chocolate (85g) £1.30

Old El Paso White corn tortillas (208g) £1.90

Nature’s Path Munch cereal (300g) £3.89

Pure Sunflower Spread £2.35

Jason Chamomile Body Wash (887ml) £10.99

It’s shocking to see the differences in prices. This doesn’t include additional costs, such as petrol used to travel to larger supermarkets or the cost of electricity or gas to bake the bread mixes.

In the UK, gluten free foods used to be prescribed by doctors so people with Coeliac disease could access them for free. This has been restricted since December 2018 to just bread and mixes, although, in some areas, even this has been stopped. The Allergy Brothers have never been eligible for any financial help, as they have allergies, not Coeliac disease; and they are allergic to most of the prescribable breads anyway!

AllergyKid2006 linked to an American not-for-profit organisation called the Food Equality Initiative, which provides free from foods to families in need, who have allergies or Coeliac disease. As food bank use soars in the UK and the NHS stops prescribing safe foods, it seems likely that we are going to need a British equivalent to the Food Equality Initiative or see families really struggling to feed their children safely.

What the food is Xanthan Gum?

I recently had a complete baking fail.  I had a terrible migraine, but it was Cake Friday!  I knew the Allergy Brothers would be disappointed if I didn’t make them their Friday afternoon chocolate cake.  Unfortunately, in my bleary-eyed state, I reached for the Xanthan Gum packet rather than the baking powder packet; in my defence, they are the same shape.  Even more unfortunately, I noticed that the cake mixture had a very strange texture, but my overwhelmed brain couldn’t work out why so I baked it anyway.  The Allergy Brothers were not impressed to discover that I had basically cooked them a large, round, brown-coloured piece of chewing gum.  It was beyond horrible.  It did make me wonder “what is Xanthan gum?” though!  This is what I found out.

Is Xanthan gum a natural product?

No, Xanthan gum is a food additive, that is produced by fermenting a carbohydrate (a substance that contains sugar) with Xanthomonas campestris bacteria, then processing it.

Why is Xanthan gum used in food products?

Xanthan gum is often used to replace the effects of gluten in gluten-free baking.  Gluten is stretchy and gives gluten-containing baked goods a nice, airy texture.

Xanthan gum can also be used to add thickness, keep textures from changing, and hold ingredients in place.

Is Xanthan gum safe to eat?

It seems so.  Both animal and human studies  suggest that the worst side effects seem to be a bit of wind and laxative effects.  However, infants under the age of one year should not be given formula thickened with Xanthan-gum based products because of an increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

Can Xanthan gum cause allergic reactions?

Potentially in those who are hypersensitive to their allergens.  Xanthan gum is a product of a reaction involving a carbohydrate.  Whether the Xanthan gum causes a reaction, therefore depends on what that starting carbohydrate is.  It could be corn, wheat, soya, etc.  Unfortunately, this won’t be marked on the packet.  If you think you are reacting to Xanthan gum then it might be worth contacting the manufacturer to find out what carbohydrate substrate they use.  If they use your allergen, then it might be worth trying a different manufacturer, who may use a different starter carbohydrate.

Is Xanthan gum vegan?

Again, it depends on the starter carbohydrate.  If the starter carbohydrate is corn, wheat or soya then yes, the Xanthan gum is vegan.  If the starter carbohydrate is lactose (made from dairy whey), then it might not meet your definition of vegan.  The only way to find out is to contact the manufacturer.

 

Munchy Seeds Choccy Ginger

Ingredients: Belgian plain chocolate (Cocoa mass, Sugar, Cocoa butter, Soya lecithin, Natural Vanilla Extract), Sunflower seeds, Diced ginger, Pumpkin seeds, Glazing agents (Gum Arabic, Shellac).

Made in a factory that also handles Milk, Nuts, Peanuts, Sesame seeds & Soya beans.

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I thought that a little pot of these munchy seeds might make a welcome addition to the Allergy Brothers’ packed lunches.  Silly Mummy!  The seeds are very small, which makes them fiddly to pick up and eat.  Time spent eating fiddly seeds in the dining hall is playtime being a superhero wasted!  The Allergy Brothers have politely asked that these are not included in future lunchboxes.

Ah well, I enjoyed the munchy seeds.  They would make a great deluxe topping for porridge or, less classily, can be chugged from the packet.  Vitamin E, Iron, Zinc and Fibre never tasted so good!

Two slices of chocolate tiffin on a plate next to the packaging.

Lazy Day Tiffins and Slices

This is less of a review and more of a tribute!  The other evening I was at home, the Allergy Brothers were tucked up in bed, and Allergy Dad was working as he does most weekday evenings.  There was an unexpected knock at the door.  My first thought was “it’s Halloween and I haven’t bought treats yet so I better pretend I don’t exist.”  There was a second knock; this time it was louder.  Now, I convinced myself that it was some kind of serial killer or, at best, robber.  There was a third knock; this time even louder.  And I finally realised that if I was going to be murdered in my kitchen then the perpetrator probably wouldn’t be considerate enough to not use the doorbell for fear of waking up the Allergy Brothers.  I was glad I answered the door because it was our friends, P and K, who had decided to do a run of the neighbourhood buying treats for everyone, who is home alone with sleeping little people and can’t sneak out to a shop.  What nice friends!

Two slices of chocolate tiffin on a plate next to the packaging.

For me, they had chosen Lazy Days Foods Free From Tiffin.  These are, as you would expect from such lovely friends, a really good choice.  They are free from gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, and hydrogenated fats.  They are suitable for coeliacs and vegans.  They also have a long best before date.  There are many situations where we have to buy food for large groups of people, such as buying cakes for the whole office on your birthday.  If you want to be very considerate, like P and K, then I would recommend putting an extra packet of Lazy Day Foods tiffin or slices in your supermarket basket as it just might mean that someone can actually have a treat with everyone else and it might make their day a little brighter.

Tempura prawns with onion rings in the distance.

The Brook Inn, Washbrook, Suffolk

Allergy Dad and I have decided that our best bet for some quality time is to go out to lunch together (date lunch rather than date night).  For our inaugural date lunch, we decided to head for The Brook Inn in the small village of Washbrook.  The Brook Inn is, to all intents and purposes, a fairly regular pub that serves food, just like you would find in any village or town, except for one thing: this pub is accredited by the Coeliac Society as a gluten-free caterer.

The Brook Inn exterior.

The Brook Inn street sign.The pub itself is fairly standard.  The interior was halfway between standard British pub (dark wood furniture, horse brasses, vinyl placemats), and Scandinavian modern (off white walls, light coloured soft furnishings).  I found this a bit confusing.  I would prefer that it jumped whole heartedly in one direction or the other.  I don’t mind which, well I would prefer Scandinavian modern actually,  but the combination made it seem like it was a bit unfinished.  However, the dining room was full for a Wednesday lunchtime with several bookings so the atmosphere was convivial.

The sheer novelty of being able to choose from many options on the menu was exciting.  Some items are gluten-containing, such as pies, some items can be either, such as burgers, and some items are gluten-free, such as fish and chips.  I decided to order the Tempura-battered prawns, as I thought this might present an interesting challenge to the chef.  These came with chips and a salad (because this is a British pub and everything must be served with chips or, at least, some form of potato!).  Allergy Dad and I ordered two side orders to share: some gluten-free onion rings, and some gluten-free garlic bread.

20151007_122912Allergy Dad really enjoyed the garlic bread.  There’s a piece missing from the photo because he couldn’t wait to try it.  He also enjoyed his meal.  I was impressed by the crisp, lightness of the tempura batter as I was sceptical that you could get that texture from gluten-free batter.  Unfortunately, I found the batter rather bland.  The meal portions were very generous so I grew tired of eating the batter.  In the end, I just released the prawns and left the batter.  This was probably not helped by the fact that the onion rings used the same batter so I had ended up ordering rather a samey meal.  The chips were thick and crispy, and the salad was good too.

20151007_122856Onion rings

I was quite full, but, in order to write a complete review, I decided to selflessly try a dessert.  The entire dessert menu was gluten free.  I chose a baked white chocolate cheesecake.  This came with dark chocolate drops and sauce, and a plum compote.  It was good to eat some seasonal fruit, but I was not entirely convinced that the plum compote worked well with the white chocolate.  Maybe something like a ginger cheesecake would have worked better and brought in some earthier, Autumnal flavours.  Certainly, the cheesecake itself was excellent with a rich, crisp biscuit base that I would not have guessed was gluten free from the flavour and texture.  Unfortunately, I was very full so could not finish my generous wedge of cheesecake.

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The bill worked out as £20 ish per person for a main course, side order, dessert, and soft drinks.  We were happy to add a generous tip as the waitress had been helpful and polite without being overzealous.  It didn’t feel like we were being charged a premium for eating gluten free.  We will definitely return because the range of gluten free options was so good, but I think I will choose the lighter lunch options so I am not overwhelmed by the portion size, and less battered food.

Free From Rocky Road by Lazy Day Foods

Ingredients – Margarine (palm oil, rape seed oil, water, salt, emulsifier (mono- and diglycerides), natural vegetable flavouring), chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, natural vanilla), gluten-free flour (rice, tapioca, corn), sultanas, golden syrup, sweetened cherries (cherry, glucose-fructose syrup, sugar, strawberry juice concentrate, citric acid, potassium sorbate), sugar, marshmallows (glucose-fructose syrup, sugar, water, dextrose, carrageenan, maize starch, hydrolized soy protein, natural vanilla, natural colour (titanium dioxide, beetred), palm oil, soya lecithin.

Allergy Dad and I had enjoyed all the previous offerings from Lazy Days Foods so we were quite disappointed with these. They managed to be both bland and overly sweet simultaneously. One of them ended up languishing in the cupboard in the tupperware of shame as nobody fancied eating it. This very rarely happens at Allergy Towers so is a sure measure of bad cake.