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Demand for free-from foods has increased in Europe. Consumers buy into the concept as part of a broader understanding of what constitutes a “healthy lifestyle”.

Whereas until a few years ago special diets were offered to consumers who really suffered from allergies or food intolerance today more and more believe that abstinence from various food ingredients is a sign of health awareness. Industry is willingly supporting the new lifestyle, by creating new products which usually also promise higher profits - free from lactose, free from gluten, free from meat and others.

In several cases the replacement of the natural ingredient is not really healthier. In order to achieve the expected taste and mouth feel, several additives have to be used, what is in contradiction to the second trend for more natural unprocessed food. The largest growth rate in free-from products show “free from dairy” sector and free from “lactose” products followed by gluten-free. Whereas milk products in the first wave were replaced by soy milk, in the meantime further plant-based alternatives were developed from rice, oat, coconut and almond “milk”. The “gluten-free” hype led to a lift of new grain-based products with reduced carbohydrate contents. By this efforts “ancient” grains see a revival.

The real challenge for the food industry stays however the reduction of excess sugar, fat and salt and from their convenience products. Consumers realised that these ingredients are the major risk factors to a healthy and long life.

There are also new analytical challenges coming up with “free from” products. The limit of quantification necessary to reach the trace level e.g. for lactose determination in lactose-free products requires different and much more expensive methods. But with all improvements, there is one important point always to keep in mind: each method has it`s quantification limit which lies always above “zero”. Strictly spoken is a free-of statement always restricted to the method applied to prove the absence of an ingredient.

AGROLAB GROUP laboratories support food industry in the routine analysis and can tell where a “free-of statement” may become misleading.


Author: Dr. Frank Mörsberger