The issue of allergen labelling has been squarely in the public eye over the last few months. With the Food Standards Agency’s recommendation earlier in May that the UK government legislate to toughen existing rules, ensuring all packaged goods made on site in a shop display full ingredient labelling, there’s never been greater scrutiny on food safety.
Green Sisters has made the issue a key part of its brand. Selling vegan products that are described as “authentic Indian with a twist,” the business was founded by siblings Geeta and Reena Salhan, who initially set out to create gluten-free Indian goodies. Realising that their range wasn’t far off being free of all 14 major allergens, they decided to aim at removing the full set.
“We’ve developed a product range that really should allow individuals to experience that feeling of inclusion around the food,” says Geeta, who notes that allergies can often make people feel excluded from their peers.
“We’re passionate about manufacturing vegan, authentic, free-from products in sweet and savoury flavours that offer choice, nutrition and peace of mind, all free from compromise – and what we mean by that is we are not compromising the quality or the flavour of the product.”
Green Sisters focuses primarily on samosas, from a classic, mildly spiced Bombay and potato pea flavour (dubbed the Samosa’Licious), to the more adventurous Choco’Licious, filled with organic Fairtrade vegan chocolate.
These are complemented by a range of crispy bhajis, made using a mixture of onion, courgette and carrot, as well as a handful of chutneys and curries.
The brand started life targeting the frozen aisle as a means to avoid waste, but has since turned its attention to chilled items, as the products fit naturally into the grab-and-go category.
While ingredients like celery, molluscs and crustaceans weren’t much of a problem for Green Sisters when it embarked on its allergen-free mission, removing dairy was more of a challenge – particularly as ghee (clarified butter) is a core ingredient to many traditional Indian recipes. The Salhans also faced the problem of trying to find a manufacturing environment that could guarantee no cross-contamination.
Overall, however, Geeta says that the abundance of new ingredients available now to replace tradition ingredients made the reformulation easier, pointing to the prevalence of gluten-free flours, pea protein (a replacement for soya) as well as alternatives to nuts.
“Had we been around five years ago and not had things like flax seeds and chia seeds more available, it would have been more of a challenge,” she says.
The one allergen Green Sisters still struggles with in some products is sulphites, which they cannot guarantee are not present as a preservative in the tomatoes they receive from suppliers. As such, the Pizza’Licious samosa – vegan cheese, sweetcorn, bell peppers and tomato – has to settle for being free from 13 allergens.
Health and happiness
While the allergen-free credentials are core to the vegan-friendly brand’s ethos, it’s not the only way the start-up is pursuing better health. Geeta, who has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a qualified nutritional therapist, has also endeavoured to make sure Green Sisters boasts other healthy aspects – particularly since it wants to make its offering an appealing option for parents to buy for children.
The samosas are baked instead of fried and contain less than 110 calories per samosa. They’re also Sugarwise accredited.
Geeta has already developed an option that is specifically designed to boost protein and another for those following a FODMAP diet, but is continually considering NPD.
“I’m looking at other diets that are limiting for individuals,” she adds. “Nightshades [including tomatoes, aubergine and bell peppers] has come up a fair few times. It’s not going to be one of the core range, but it will be one that sits there that allows that inclusivity around the food.”
A more allergic world
Product releases that are completely allergen-free appear to be gathering steam, in response to the increasing numbers of UK consumers who are affected by an allergy or intolerance – or know someone who is. According to recent statistics, around 7% of children are now affected by a food allergy, and that figure has risen steadily over the last two decades.
Dessert maker Freaks of Nature has been building on its gluten-free, dairy-free, soya-free promise, developing a pudding that contains none of the top 14 allergens. Its Lemon Sponge Hot Pudding (£2) entered Sainsbury’s yesterday (May 20) alongside two other SKUs.
Last October, free-from ice cream parlour Yorica released two of its allergen-free range – double chocolate cookie and salted caramel – in a retail format. At the beginning of May, it added vanilla to that mix, available in Waitrose for £4.99. All of the Vegan Society-accredited pots have the words “free from all 14 major allergens” emblazoned across the packaging.
Dairy alternative brand Koko took advantage of Veganuary to launch a coconut-based drink enriched with nine vitamins and minerals, aiming to trump a similar product by Alpro by also avoiding any of the 14 major allergens.
The 14 allergens
The UK follows the rules set out in the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, which states that any pre-packed food must include an ingredients list that highlights if any of the 14 major allergens are present. These include:
- cereals containing gluten – including wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan), rye, barley and oats
- crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters
- molluscs – such as mussels and oysters
- tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
- sesame seeds
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)