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The ups, downs, and runarounds of Celiac Disease and food sensitivities

Archive for the tag “packaged food”

Glutenfrei etc. in Berlin

So, Berlin! Such a great time exploring botanical gardens, graffitied alleyways, cathedral and crypt, festival of cultures (9 hour parade!), coffee shops, independent movie theaters, former Nazi then US Air Force airport… and so much more! Really, I don’t think anyone could go to Berlin and not find at least 1 thing of interest/merit, yet despite its size and cultural offerings, it is full of quiet, suburban pockets merely 5 minutes away from an attraction such as Alexanderplatz. Yes, I could definitely live there (though I’d prefer that the locals at least allow me to practice my shoddy German before automatically switching to fluent English). But, what about that niggling little thing that drives this entire blog?

What about the FOOD???

Well, I am happy to report that the situation is generally much brighter than what I had gleaned from preparatory internet perusal. So let’s get the negative over with first. I ate out twice (which is an anomaly, I don’t eat out in the U.S., unless I know that my 50+ list of problem foods/consistencies can be avoided), and those meals were certainly NOT reason for excitement, as I felt a bit sickly afterwards (one place said everything was gluten-free, but SOY SAUCE was an ingredient). I also idiotically ate the gluten-free airplane meals, which seemed safe enough (plain green beans, quinoa salad, gluten-, dairy-, egg-free cookie, mango chicken), but this is what really propelled me into severe symptoms of glutening on the way home (I was to the point of walking around the airport in search of a clinic- do they have those? In my desperate mind they did, but I didn’t find one). The thought of eating a meal that I did not prepare or supervise is such a luxury, of the pipe dream variety, and I still need to get over it. I did have to chow down on some serious baby food and sardines when on the go (hence the current hiatus from both), but open-air markets allowed for quite the selection of fresh fruit (and vegetables, if you can handle them uncooked).

ANYHOW.

The truly exciting food news is that Germany has quite a few brands that produce certified gluten-free grains, sauces, and bread-y goods! Ok, so does the U.S., but they have other allergens… In Germany, several brands are hyper-aware of individuals with MULTIPLE FOOD SENSITIVITIES. This seems to be the case across Europe, as many allergen-free products in stores came from Italy, the U.K., France, etc. I could purchase certified (< 20ppm, designated facility) plain gluten-free grains, but I didn’t, because there were so many exciting variants to try! Buckwheat flakes (like corn flakes) with JUST BUCKWHEAT NO SUGAR NO PRESERVATIVES JUST 1 INGREDIENT were my absolute favorite. Puffed millet (1 ingredient) was also quite exciting, as I can’t seem to find a cold cereal in the U.S. that suits. Rice cakes with puffed quinoa, millet, amaranth, etc. made it hard to return to plain old rice-rice cakes. The brand Werz is definitely the forerunner in certified gluten-free and allergen-free goods (one of the few brands that did not use cornstarch in everything); it was always present in organic “Bio” stores and Reformhaus natural shops. They offer several grain, cereal, cookie, and cracker options, with egg-, dairy-, and fructose-free products also (I have never seen a gluten-free product in the U.S. that was labeled as fructose-free, even though this is a rising digestive problem!). Some online reviewers claim that anything from Werz tastes like sand, and yes, I would not recommend their cakes unless you need to be rendered speechless by a palatal coating of dry, dense baked good, but their cereals, whole grains, and cookies were a delight. Learning the names of ingredients is crucial, though, because Werz does produce gluten-containing counterparts with spelt and kamut, but GLUTENFREI is gluten-free, and very clearly stamped on packages, along with the x-ed wheat symbol (official gluten-free symbol in the EU).

I found a most lovely loaf of gluten-free bread with pumpkin seeds from a bakery called “No Gluten”; it was nice and crisp on the outside, soft and bread-y on the inside. This GF vegan bread was in a special wrapper in the bakery section of a Bio Company store, and they offered other varieties. I was initially skeptical of cross contamination, but finally persuaded my German-fluent host to ask a bakery worker, who was incredibly knowledgeable of the bakery’s practices (they deliver fresh loaves to Bio Company, and also make cake, which I sadly was not able to track down) and cross-contamination precautions. We even found gluten-free beers at several natural food stores, though I only tried a tiny bit of each as alcohol doesn’t sit well. But just the presence of gluten-free goods, even if I couldn’t tolerate all of them over some additional digestive issue, was so comforting. My favorite store was Veganz (yes, vegan with a “z”), where we found rice cheese from Italy, certified gluten-free carob powder (AHHH!!! So hard to come by here!), and cashew-based ginger ice cream with FOUR INGREDIENTS (cashews, ginger, agave, vanilla). It seems that preservatives are more of a concern in the EU, as they should be. And now for some eye candy.

Gluten-free beer made from organic millet; gluten-free crumbs on tableIMG_0341

Gluten-free beer from organic rice, and some Euro change

IMG_0343

Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, fructose-free whole grain rice dwarvesIMG_0345Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free buckwheat rounds; kind of like a thicker pita

IMG_0346

I would buy stock in this bread: gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free sourdough bread with teff, millet, and buckwheat flour. Thin slices, regular size, comparable to the sourdough bread that Germans eat all the time (had to double-check package as it tasted like the real deal to both of us!). How I wish I could find you in my country…IMG_0347

What IS gluten-free?

Let’s just say that if I can’t give you a straight answer, then Ask.com will likely fail as well. We could just leave it at wheat-, rye-, barley-, oat-free, but can anything really be guaranteed to be free of traces? I mean, carrots grown in a field with none of the gluten grains around, harvested in a designated… harvester? Processed in a facility and on a line that has never seen the light (or dark) of gluten, packaged in a facility sans gluten- THAT is truly gluten-free. Bread, cookies, crackers, chips, sauces, soups, GF flours etc. that say “gluten-free” mean (if you’re lucky and they’re certified by GIG or another organization) a random sample of the product tested at less than 20 ppm of gluten. And oh do you hope the ELISA or other testing mechanism was accurate, and that you scored one of the loaves that was 20ppm and not one of the ones that wasn’t tested but is higher, and that you aren’t one of those Celiacs with hypersensitivity to levels below the 20 ppm limit (AHEM). Now, absolutely “gluten-free” for a Celiac is not as critical as “peanut-free” for someone with a deathly allergy to peanuts, yet it is still frustrating that “gluten-free” typically means “includes microscopic amounts of gluten.” I still don’t know what to make of labels stating “packaged/processed on a line/in the same facility as wheat” because this is discretionary, say-so-if-you-want-to, totally unregulated disclosure. So if one package sports this statement, it may or may not be safer than a package that does not even make an allergy statement. By law, wheat must be disclosed on the ingredients list, but not rye, barley, or oats. And I could go on… So, what IS gluten-free, you ask? What a rhetorical question!

Update: Check out what this apropos post has to say about gluten cross-contamination with fresh fruits n veggies (and try not to get too paranoid).

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