Free from and far ahead

Today eating a piece of cake made from rice flour while drinking a latte with oat milk is no longer an oddity. It’s actually rather hip. In Europe and North America, sales of lactose- and gluten-free products is seeing double-digit growth. And thanks to a number of cutting-edge Swedish companies who’ve been hard at work perfecting such products for over a decade, you might not be able to taste the difference.

In Sweden, many companies have been producing gluten-free products for over a decade. Fria, a market leader in frozen gluten-free bread, consistently wins international awards. Everything they bake is based on a secret recipe that contains no gluten, lactose or milk. Their products range from simple sliced breads to puff pastry and even gingerbread – for making gingerbread houses. They also offer frozen pizzas with lactose-free toppings.

Although the desire to eat healthier is driving the market for gluten-free products, Fria’s C.E.O. Jeanine Holmgren says that this doesn’t always mean gluten-free products are healthier. “You have to read the packaging,” she says. “Many breads sold in the gluten-free sector contain lots of fat and sugars.” In contrast, Fria focuses on making healthy breads that are high in fiber, with low to no sugar content. “We can do this and maintain quality because we immediately freeze our products so they stay fresh longer,” she adds.

Karin Moberg, whose background is in communications, not baking, had a personal reason for starting her company, Friends of Adam. Moberg’s stepson Adam is gluten intolerant and when Karin first joked with him that they should set up a bakery in the basement, she had no idea that it would become a full-fledged bakery in Stockholm’s Hornstull neighborhood.

Moberg says there are all kinds of reasons to go gluten-free. “I think it has something to do with the refined wheat we eat today,” she says. “It gives you a higher carb value and a higher GI index, so people are going gluten-free or wheat-free in order to cut down on those things. But there are also links between Parkinson’s and gluten intolerance. There are studies that show how people with arthritis improve when they go on a gluten-free diet. There are studies that show improvements in children with autism. I come from a family of doctors and scientists, so I need more proof when it comes to these things. On the other hand, so many parents come in to the bakery and say that when their children are on a gluten-free diet, their issues are reduced. This was my experience – and it’s why I started Friends of Adam.”

Today Moberg has customers who come in and start crying because it’s the first time they can eat things like princess cakes. “It’s extremely moving,” says Moberg.

Like Fria, Friends of Adam works to increase the nutritional value of their products. “Our Danish sourdough loaf is a great example,” says Moberg, “It contains half the carbs as regular bread, but is high in minerals.” It also looks stunning – and tastes delicious.

Want to bake from scratch? Mixwell has been crafting ready-to-use gluten-free bread and muffin mixes since 1999. In the beginning it was about improving flavor and giving people more options to choose from. “Gluten-free products used to taste different,” says Mixwell’s founder, Carl-Gustav Hallqvist, “Our goal was to make them taste as good as those with gluten – so the whole family could eat the same thing even if only one person had the allergy.” The first hurdle they faced was that, once they removed the gluten, they needed to add a binding agent to the corn or rice flour. Mixwell spent years developing expertise in this area.

“Our goal was to make them taste as good as those with gluten – so the whole family could eat the same thing even if only one person had the allergy.” The first hurdle they faced was that, once they removed the gluten, they needed to add a binding agent to the corn or rice flour. Mixwell spent years developing expertise in this area.

Today Mixwell’s goal is broader – their products are no longer just for people with allergies or illnesses. “Fifteen years ago no one talked about carbs,” says Hallqvist. “Now we’re creating products to have fewer carbs but more fiber and protein – more energy.” Along those lines, Mixwell has created a bread mix and a mix for energy bars specifically designed to give the body energy.

Gluten-free snacks foods are another fast-growing segment. This is a specialty of the Swedish company, Semper. From brownies, cookies, and biscotti to oat-based breakfast bars, Semper has the market covered. They also produce gluten-free breakfast cereals, pastas, mixes and more.

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Oatly was founded in the 1990s and is based on Swedish research from Lund University. The company’s patented enzyme technology copies nature’s own process and turns fibre rich oats into nutritional liquid food that is perfectly designed for humans.

More reasons to go dairy-free

Several Swedish companies are also on the forefront of dairy-free products. Bofood has been working on their patented soy extraction technology since the 1980s. “We process soy beans and actually ‘milk’ them to create a soy milk that actually has more fat than cream,” explains Anders Mattsson, Bofood’s C.E.O. “Then we make essentially every product you can make with milk.”  Their Lovice product range includes cream, ice cream, soft serve ice cream, soft cheese and even yoghurt.

Mattsson says the current growing market for Bofood’s products shows that there are many reasons to go lactose-free. “In the beginning our products were designed for people with allergies, but today people are choosing our products because they are vegetable-based and therefore better for the environment. The experts all agree – if we’re going to feed the growing population, we have to change our consumption.”

Oatly is another company with dairy-free milk products. “Research shows that children especially are getting too much protein,” says Oatly’s Carina Tollmar, head of P.R., “not only is oat milk lower in protein, it also has more fiber and healthy carbs.” In addition to milk, yoghurt, cream and ice cream, Oatly also makes energy drinks.

Free from dining

It’s also getting easier all the time for people with gluten and lactose issues to shop for products in Sweden, like at Stockholm’s gluten-free Senza Glutine on Kungsholmen and Allergeko in Gothenburg.

The café scene is buzzing, too – and speaking of free from – many of them are even sugar-free. On Stockholm’s hip island of Södermalm, there’s Bliss Café, the Green Earth Café on Belkingegatan, and SthlmRaw on Långhomsgagtan. In the more upscale neighborhood of Östermalm, there’s the Ecoist and Doctor Salad. In Malmö, there’s Raw Food House and for the vegetarian and lactose-averse, there’s Kafé Agnez.

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At Haga Tårtcompani & Bageri, the gorgeous cakes and pies are crafted by Chef Oscar Målevik, who helped develop the bread assortment for Friends of Adam and Anna Cardelius, a former product manager at Semper. In addition a selection of gluten-free cakes, they also offer some gluten-free sandwiches. Vurma is another popular Stockholm café where gluten-free sandwiches are on the daily menu.

And when it comes to dinner? In Stockholm, Tradition, the popular new destination for old-school food, is entirely lactose-free at all three of their locations. In their mashed potatoes and other classic recipes, they use lactose-free milk and butter. “We use these products so we can give our guest the same amount of flavor as if we would have achieved by using normal dairy products, but without giving them a stomach ache,” says Tradition’s Matilda Lundström.

According to Chef/Owner Björn Persson at Koka in Gothenburg, “We have many guests with multiple allergies. It’s best if we can get a list ahead of time, but we can always accommodate them.” And Persson’s attitude is not unusual – many of the countries best chefs are willing to adjust their menus for patrons with allergies and intolerances – and some of them already have an option at the ready when you walk in the door.