Our background with allergies
Choc Affair started in my kitchen in 2006, where due to my daughter’s intolerance to milk, I began making hot chocolate using bars of dark chocolate and soya milk. From trying to create a tasty, natural hot chocolate at home, came the idea of a small business and Choc Affair was born.
Well, as it is allergy awareness week, we felt it appropriate to chat a little about our chocolate and allergens. It’s a subject close to my heart, and one which is an increasing challenge for my grown-up family, as both my daughters have recently undergone allergy and intolerance testing, to see if by eliminating certain foods, they can improve their health and wellbeing.
The difference between food allergies and food intolerances
I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve only recently learnt the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance – every day is a school day as they say! Food allergy affects the immune system, and a tiny amount of the offending food can trigger a whole host of symptoms, which can be severe and even life threatening. We’re all very much aware of the more recent and devastating cases where people have died due to having eaten a food which they were unaware contained a particular allergen. More common and less severe allergy symptoms can include, but not exclusively:
- Gut reactions: Abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea
- Skin reactions: Itching and swelling (rash or nettle rash)
- Respiratory reactions: Runny nose, sneezing, wheeze, cough
A food intolerance affects the digestive system, and is as it suggests, less serious than an allergy, but something which can prove uncomfortable to live with, causing symptoms which affect the guts, respiratory system and the skin, leaving the sufferer severely impacted and feeling unwell. There are different kinds of intolerance and depending on which you have, symptoms may include any of the following, plus others not listed here:
- Skin reactions: Rashes
- Respiratory reactions: Runny or blocked nose
- General reactions: Headaches, foggy memory, general lack of well being
- Gut reactions: Diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting, bloating, wind, abdominal pain or discomfort and Infantile colic
Family dinners with allergies
Every week, I cook Sunday dinner for between 8 and 12 family members. Recently, due to the allergen testing both girls underwent, (https://www.yorktest.com) dietary needs have increased somewhat. So, for this last week, I took stock of what I needed to account for allergen/intolerance wise and it was the following:
- 1 x soya free vegetarian
- 1 x gluten and dairy free
- 1 x dairy, egg and almond free
- 9 x anything goes
So, checking the labelling as I went, for the stuffing, gravy and vegetarian sausages, I prepped dinner, and knocked up two batches of brownies, (both gluten free recipes), for a taste test, for a new venture which is on the horizon. Don’t ask me why it took me so long, but it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t given any consideration to the soya in our chocolate, which I’d used in the recipe, never mind the eggs and almonds, (both brownie recipes proved excellent by the way and equally delicious). Seriously, maybe I could put it down to the peri menopausal memory loss, which is ever increasing and rather worrying to be frank, or maybe I am just getting more ditsy as I get older, I’m sure time will tell! So, when all else fails and you’ve not got much time before the masses land, a good old batch of flapjack can and in my case, did save the day. Seriously, the various needs of the different diets had me in a bit of a spin this week, and I couldn’t tell you why, other than maybe I need more practice 🙂
One thing I have realised, since my daughter has reported about her soya allergy, is just how many food stuffs soya is in – it really is in all manner of food items I would never have thought of and so can prove tricky to eliminate from your diet. Anyway, let’s look in a little more detail at allergens and food labelling and more particularly our chocolate.
Allergens, food labelling and chocolate
There are 14 major classified allergens, which need careful attention and very specific labelling in food products, and these are:
- Cereals Containing Gluten
- Nuts (Tree nuts)
- Sulphur Dioxide (Sulphites)
Our chocolate is made from simple ingredients, but even so, there are three of the major food allergens present overall, throughout our chocolates, and we’ll concentrate on them today:
Commonly found in many foods, including our delicious milk chocolate. According to AllergyUk: Cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies to affect babies and young children. Most children will have outgrown their allergy to milk by the time they reach school age (around 5 years of age). In a small number of people who do not outgrow their allergy to cow’s milk it will persist into adulthood. Where this happens, people are more likely to experience more severe allergic reactions. The sudden development of an allergy to cow’s milk as an adult can happen but is very rare and as a result there has been little research carried out about it and why it might occur.
The confusion around milk and whether it is a potential allergy or intolerance, is discussed on their website here in more detail.
Food labelling can add further confusion for many people, around the claims of being Vegan, as many food products will carry a vegan logo, yet still carry an allergen warning may contain milk on the labelling, which is what we state on the back of our chocolate bar wrappers. This is about cross contact, where there is a risk of an allergen being accidentally transferred from a food that contains the allergen to one that does not contain it.
Can we avoid milk in our milk chocolate?
No, this is a necessary ingredient within our milk chocolate recipe, and the dairy in our milk chocolate is sourced from the local cattle living in the stunning Colombian countryside, where our delicious, single origin chocolate is grown.
Widely found in many foods, it is estimated that as many as 60% of all manufactured foods contain soya. It comes from soybeans, and young soybeans known as edamame beans. Soya is used in foods to emulsify (or mix together) ingredients that would typically separate, as well as being used as an antioxidant and flavour protector. It also makes for easier handling and workability of our chocolate when we’re making our delicious chocolate bars.
Interestingly, the AllergyUK site says the following about soya:
Clearly, avoidance of all these products containing soya would make the diet very restricted. However, as with many other allergies, the level of avoidance required will depend on each individual case. Some people may need to avoid all these forms of soya, whereas others may be able to tolerate, for example, soy sauce and soya lecithin. In fact, most soy sauces contain very small amounts of soy, with most of the protein in the sauce being derived from fermented wheat.
Soya-derived lecithin is an emulsifier – it is a lipid (fat) which stabilizes foods which contain water and fats, which do not normally mix (which is why you have to shake many salad dressings as they contain oil and water/vinegar which do not mix). For example, lecithin stops the cocoa and cocoa butter in chocolate bars from separating. In addition, lecithin improves the texture of many foods such as chocolate and spreads, and also helps preserves some foods. Since lecithin is a fat, soya lecithin contains very little soya protein, and most people with soya allergy can tolerate it.
Can we avoid using soya lecithin in our chocolate?
Yes, it is possible to do so. We’ve already done so in all our caramel chocolate buttons and hot chocolates, as well as our salted caramel bars and all our oat m!lk collection – replacing the soya with sunflower lecithin. We are now looking at the recipes for our dark, and milk chocolate, to do the same, and replace the soya with the sunflower lecithin, so we’ll keep you posted as this happens.
We will need to continue to state may contain, due to the possibility of cross contact, because when our chocolate is being produced within a manufacturing area which still uses soya, there remains the possibility, (although an extremely low risk) of a transference of the allergen.
Cereals Containing Gluten
Our Oat milk chocolate collection, has the key ingredient of oats in it (not trying to state the obvious here!) and even though they are certified as gluten free dried oats, we must label them as an allergen, which means you’ll see them in our ingredients listing being highlighted in bold.
The FDF (The Food & Drink Federation) states: Oats and wheat belong to the same botanical family (Poaceae) and oats also contain prolamin storage proteins called avenins, which can trigger coeliac disease in a small proportion of people. In practice, pure uncontaminated oats can be consumed safely by most but not all people with coeliac disease; however, cross-contamination of oats with other cereals containing gluten in the supply chain (e.g. harvesting, transport, storage and processing) poses a more significant risk.
This is the reason that even though our Oat milk range uses gluten free oats, we must and do emphasise the potential presence of an allergen within the ingredients list on the back of our chocolate packaging.
Can we avoid using oats in our chocolate?
No – the oats are the base of our Oat M!lk chocolate recipe and came from the results of trying several plant-based variations in the recipe development process, and of course, after much careful tasting of the different recipes before deciding on the final flavour profile for our chocolate.
So, our chocolate ingredients in a nutshell. If you or anyone you know, has a suspected allergy, you can find a wealth of information on the AllergyUK website, so do take a look. Allergies are a common problem and there is a lot of help out there, if you seek it and you don’t need to struggle alone.
Facts about Allergies:
- Allergy is the cause of asthma in about 80% of cases. Furthermore, according to the WAO, about 50% of asthmatics older than 30 years of age are concomitantly allergic. Younger asthmatics have an even higher incidence of allergies (Valovirta, 2011)
- Allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe. Up to 20% of patients with allergies struggle daily with the fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction (EAACI, 2016)
- 38% of adults feel embarrassed going to work with their allergies and 30% of adults feel their employers and/or colleagues are dismissive of their allergies. (AllergyUK,2021)
- 79% know at least one person other than themselves that live with allergies (AllergyUK,2021)