Supreme Flour

The tough road to sugar-free and gluten-free

Cape Town-based Freedom Bakery’s lemon meringue tart and chickpea and banana loaf were nominated by consumers for TOPIC verification of their sugar-free and gluten-free claims. Recent updates reveal just how tough it can be for bakers to substantiate health claims.  

TOPIC is a consumer-led non-profit organisation that tests the accuracy of product labels. Their first step was to contact the business owner (Natasha Mandiringa), explain the TOPIC nomination process, and request assistance in validating the claims. The very next morning, TOPIC received an invitation to the factory.  

At the meeting, Mandiringa explained her journey so far. It should be noted that TOPIC’s nominations were closed mid-July and at this stage, Freedom Bakery had already paid for laboratory tests themselves due to customers querying their sugar and gluten-free claims in May, and had removed the label claims in question in June. TOPIC decided to continue the investigation as the products were still verbally claimed to be sugar and gluten-free at the Tokai market, where we bought samples for gluten and sugar testing.

The challenge of “sugar-free”

While Mandiringa does not add any table sugar – only the sugar alcohol xylitol – to the lemon meringue tart, the tests revealed a sugar content of 33,7% sucrose, or 33,7g of sucrose per 100g of product. The sucrose measured could be a reflection of the natural sugars present in the ingredients of the product, which include coconut flour and coconut nectar. It is not common knowledge that coconut flour contains approximately 8g sugar per 100g, and coconut nectar contains approximately 75-85g sugar per 100g.

“From our kitchen visits, research and discussions with the laboratories, TOPIC believes that the sucrose levels may be a result of the natural sugars found in the ingredients,” says TOPIC spokesperson Peter Becker.

However, a product may only be labelled ‘sugar-free’ if it contains no more than 0.5g total sugar per 100g. According to the R146 labelling regulations, ‘total sugar’ in a product is defined as the sum of all intrinsic and added sugars. ‘Intrinsic sugars’ are sugars that are naturally occurring and which form an integral part of certain unprocessed foodstuffs, the most important being whole fruits and vegetables, that are enclosed in the cell, (mainly fructose, glucose and sucrose) and which are always accompanied by other nutrients.

Furthermore, ‘added sugar’ means any sugar added to a foodstuff during processing and includes but is not limited to sugar as defined by Regulations Relating to the Use of Sweeteners in Foodstuffs under the Act, honey, molasses, sucrose with added molasses, coloured sugar, fruit juice concentrate, deflavoured and/or deionised fruit juice and concentrates thereof, high-fructose corn syrup and malt or any other syrup of various origins.

Therefore, to be called ‘sugar-free’, the sugars added to the product, as well as those naturally present in the ingredients need to be taken into account.

Under these definitions, according to the testing laboratories, coconut nectar would be classified as an added sugar. Therefore, the ‘no sugar’ claim was not accurate and Freedom Bakery was correct to remove it from their label in June.

The investigation has further highlighted a widespread misconception that if table sugar is not an ingredient, then the product may be called ‘sugar-free’.”

The challenge of “gluten-free”  

Results from the testing of the chickpea and banana loaf proved puzzling. The results of the gluten ELISA test showed 17g/kg, which is over 800 times more than the 20mg/kg limit acceptable for a product to be labelled ‘gluten-free’.

The main ingredients in Freedom Bakery’s chickpea and banana loaf are chickpea flour and coconut flour, both naturally gluten-free products. The TOPIC team observed Mandiringa bake and saw first-hand the gluten-free labels on the chickpea flour. Mandiringa also provided the laboratory test from her chickpea flour supplier from June 2014 showing undetectable amounts of gluten.

TOPIC contacted the chickpea flour supplier and there are no more current tests results available but the company confirmed that they conduct tests on a rotational basis for their gluten-free products. We have also contacted the coconut flour supplier who is currently conducting a gluten test. Results are pending and will be published on our Facebook page

“Freedom Bakery has been very transparent with TOPIC, including immediately inviting us to factory inspections during the baking process, showing us all ingredients used, and asking for suggestions as to how to make their labelling claims accurate,” says Becker.

“Regarding the gluten issue, it seems that ingredients which on the face of it should be gluten-free, seem to contain large amounts of gluten. This highlights a challenge for small-scale food product manufacturers, for whom the costs of regular laboratory testing are prohibitive,” Becker continues.

Recently, Freedom Bakery was interviewed on Cape Talk alongside consumer journalist Wendy Knowler and allergen specialist Dr Harris Steinman, director at Food and Allergy and Consulting Services (FACTS) laboratory. Listen to the podcast here:

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