I am very excited about this blog post, which is the second in my series highlighting small businesses in New Zealand that cater to the gluten free community. For this post, I interviewed Ruth from The Alternative Bread Company. Ruth also very kindly sent me samples of the Wholesome Bread Mix and the Spicy Fruit Bread Mix and they were delicious! Thank you so much Ruth, and now on to the interview…
Can you tell us a bit about The Alternative Bread Company and the inspiration behind it?
It can be hard to tell a 3-year-old they can’t eat foods because it will make them sick, that they aren’t like everyone else, and that a decent sandwich isn’t ever going to be part of their lunchbox. That was what we had ahead of us when our three daughter was diagnosed with coeliacs at 3 years old. Like any parent, that pulls at the heartstrings, especially when you have passed on the gene. You know that waving a magic wand won’t change the fact that a strict gluten free diet was ahead of her for life. We had to normalise what we could control and that started with the simple act of being able to have a sandwich like Dad.
When you read the ingredients list on many commercial breads, it is frightening how much is in there. We couldn’t feed this to our daughter and expect her gut to heal and flourish through life. The only other alternative was to make our own so we knew what was in there and that it tasted like bread. From there our path was formed as we weren’t alone in this journey and the demand for our bread mixes grew.
You have been a coeliac for a long time – can you tell us a bit about your journey as a coeliac and the changes you have seen to the experience of being a coeliac in New Zealand over time?
I was diagnosed in 1994 with coeliacs and if we cast our minds back to this time, very few household had computers and the internet was still some sci-fi futuristic thing. The early months were tough, there was very little knowledge of coeliacs and most references were from library books that were American written. My strong dislike of soy flour started in the beginning, it and rice flour were the most accessible flours. The soy was a powerful taste and the texture resembled that of the limestone rocks I was surrounded by on our family farm. To this day I cannot eat anything with soy flour in it. My first loaf of bread was made for me by a local health shop, it was terrible, I am not sure how I can describe it, it was bad! From then on I ate rice wafers for years. I travelled around Europe and ate a burger at McDonalds in Romania between rice wafers.
As time has lapsed, the research and understanding of coeliacs has grown immensely, once if you said you have coeliacs, people would looked at you as though your were terminally ill, now someone knows someone who has it. Food labelling has been one of the biggest changes, gluten has to be declared and that makes things so much easier. There are now options available, back in the beginning a treat was a carob coated rice wafer. Today I just made a gluten, dairy, sugar free caramel slice and you would be none the wiser it was free from those allergens.
From your website, I see that your daughter and your mother also have coeliac disease. Can you tell us about your experience of parenting a coeliac child and any tips you might give to parents just facing that with their own children for the first time?
When Freya was diagnosed it bought home to me what my parents must have faced. Luckily we had a wealth of knowledge but since Freya’s diagnosis I have learnt so much more. Cross contamination was something that had never been mentioned to me before, I did go 15 years between diagnosis to my next specialised check up!
I think they biggest thing is to look at what you can eat over what you can’t. It does take planning and the quick grab something on the run doesn’t really happen. We take a snack box with us everywhere. There will be changes that you will need to make to make it simpler on yourselves. It might be a colour coded system so those that cannot read know they can only eat the food that have red stickers on them. We choose to use jam spoons and butter knifes instead of separate spread but when we have visitors I will give them their a separate dish of spread to use.
Birthday parties can be tricky – in the beginning I used to try and make a mini cake look like the birthday cake but now I have little party boxes at home and she takes her favourite treat food along. We have a swap jar, so if she gets a treat that is not gf she is allowed to swap it out for something from the jar. We really have tried to reinforce that it’s about the people and friends not the food, taking your own keeps you safe. The funniest thing I did hear her and her coeliac friend say when they were only five that they didn’t sing happy birthday at parties if they couldn’t eat the cake!
The most important thing to remember and teach your wider family and friend that a little bit will hurt.
We will now ask when friends are coming over if they would mind only bring gf chips, nibbles or treats as I just makes it easier. We have found no-one is even bothered when you ask this, the biggest issue was with myself not wanting to ask them.
Your enthusiasm for wholesome ingredients has really shone through to me as we started talking about this interview. Why is that so important to you and how does that influence the ingredients you choose for The Alternative Bread Company products?
I believe if we are eating it should be food, it shouldn’t be a by-product of something else. We have 9 ingredients our bread mixes, 5 of those are our flour and starch blend – it is impossible to replace gluten flour with one gluten free flour and expect results. We subject our ingredient suppliers and blenders to a barrage of questions on their practices and protocols, we won’t take any chances on there being cross contamination along the way. We are stoked to have South Canterbury grown buckwheat flour in our blends. As we keep going forward we hope to include more NZ grown crops, sadly some will always be imported where NZ climate doesn’t allow for it to be grown here. Keeping our ingredients to a minimum and ones that can be pronounce and spelt is important to us, if we couldn’t do that, then it isn’t in there!
And finally, some quick-fire questions…
Sweet or savoury?
Favourite bread shape?
Plaits but there is something about the simplicity of a batch of buns
BBQ or formal dinner?
BBQ but I do like the thought of a dressed up dinner party
Most creative bake with a mix from The Alternative Bread Company (even if it didn’t work as planned?)
I put this question out to the whole family
Craig- tik tok donuts, breadmix and yoghurt
Freya – her bread dough thing, This was the most hilarious bake I have seen. Like any fierce independent 7 year old , my help was not required. What started as baking biscuit, turned into a cake and then into a dough ball. It was really delicious and it was all gone in no time!
Ruth – would have to make round biscuits. Previously I could only make these things that spread out and were more like brittle! I am always experimenting and often get asked for the recipe which I have to then try and recreate to be able to share.
Thank you so much again Ruth. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to give one of the baking mixes from The Alternative Bread Company a go – they are very easy and very delicious!
The bread and bun images in this post were made with mixes that were very kindly gifted to me by The Alternative Bread Company. Opinions expressed about the mixes (they are delicious!) are entirely my own!