In baking, the quality of ingredients used can transform a recipe from “good” to “great.” Many recipes actually call specifically for “the best quality chocolate” or even suggests specific brands of flour or specialty products. For the majority of bakers, the only thing barring them from using the “best” or brand name ingredients is cost and availability. But for people with serious food allergies
About five years ago, my mother was diagnosed with serious, life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, changing a lot about the way my family cooked, baked and shopped for groceries. We learned to read labels for allergy information, which brands were safe to buy, and which weren’t reliable and should be avoided. After a while, we were able to successfully navigate grocery shopping, cooking at home and eating in restaurants.
The one thing we struggled with, however, was baked goods. Most bakeries, corporate or local are not nut-free and often use the same equipment to make baked goods with nuts as they do to make baked goods without nuts. Since buying pre-made baked goods and desserts was basically out of the question, we began to bake a lot more from scratch.
Baking at home came with its own set of challenges, however, as companies that make ingredients, like chocolate for example, often make them in a facility that has nuts and cannot guarantee that there will not be traces of nuts in their product.
Chocolate seems to be the staple ingredient that poses the biggest problem when it comes to cross contamination. The best solution my family has found has been Vermont Nut Free. Based in Grand Isle, VT, this company has a great selection of nut-free baking products, as well as other chocolate products and candy such as chocolate bars, chocolate covered pretzels, jellybeans, etc.
I have used their cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate and chocolate chips (which come in a number of varieties) to great results. The chocolate is excellent quality, and safe for people with nut allergies. I actually prefer using their cocoa powder to other brands, and the prices are actually fairly comparable to other, more commercial brands.
Another nut-free company to get baking products from is Hodgson Mill, a family owned company based in Illinois. This company provides nut-free bread mixes for bread machines, a variety of flours and other baking-related ingredients like corn starch. They also has an extensive gluten-free section as well as wheat-free products. Separate from their products is a section on their website devoted to information about “allergies and intolerances,” with links to sections about other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.
A recent post over at My Baking Addiction discusses peanut allergies: recent medical studies, the varying level of reactions people can have, and five alternatives to peanut butter in recipes that call for it..
I’m not very familiar with baking for people with dairy allergies, but the website Eating With Food Allergies has a list of dairy substitutes for almost every dairy product imaginable.
Finally, an allergy that many people haven’t heard of but seems to be on the rise is Oral Allergy Syndrome. This syndrome occurs when someone is allergic to fresh fruits or vegetables, or both, usually because they are allergic to certain types of plant and tree pollens. When my mother was diagnosed with nut allergies, she was also diagnosed with this syndrome, which thankfully is rarely life-threatening. WebMD has an in-depth article on the causes of this syndrome.
What happens when someone has oral allergy syndrome and wants to eat a slice of apple pie? Well, for some people, the heat from just baking the apples in the pie in the oven can be enough to de-nature the proteins that cause the allergen in the first place. For other people, broiling the fruit first, chilling it and then cooking it is the best option if the recipe doesn’t call for a high enough baking temperature. Allergic Living magazine has an article on how to broil fruit for baking or just eating an apple plain. I would suggest chilling the fruit after broiling it, however, to get that “crunch” sensation.
Although it’s difficult, baking with food allergies can definitely be done. It just takes some time and patience to find the right ingredients for a safe and delicious experience.