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used to describe foods which don't contain ingredients such as wheat, dairy products etc, and so are safe for people who have allergies to these ingredients
'Now is the time for restaurants to embrace free-from diners … New EU legislation makes eating out easier for people with food allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease.'Guardian 16th December 2014
A slice of buttered toast or tasty bowl of pasta, comforting foods that have been the staples of most kitchen cupboards for a lifetime – instant sustenance … But in the last couple of years the innocence of such foodstuffs has taken a blow, as people have begun to latch on to the potential hazards of what they contain. In 2015, your humble sliced loaf or common-or-garden packet of spaghetti has taken on a sinister hue when set aside the increasingly visible option of free-from foods.
the raised profile of free-from products is largely down to the growing perception that they're 'better for you'
The adjective free-from (also regularly appearing without a hyphen or even as a one-word compound) is gaining ground as a term for describing foods which have had certain ingredients removed, notably wheat, dairy products and gluten (a substance in cereal grains which gives dough its elastic texture). The problem with gluten is that it causes illness in people suffering from coeliac disease, a digestive condition in which the intestine is hypersensitive. From the late 20th century, food producers began to respond to this problem by manufacturing products which didn't contain gluten, and we then became familiar with the expression gluten-free. But up until relatively recently, the perception was that such products were reserved for people with rare digestive needs, the remit of rarefied health food stores, having little or no business in the shopping baskets of the average consumer. Suddenly, however, all that seems to have changed, with supermarket aisles now embracing an ever-growing collection of biscuits, cakes, flour, milk, pasta, designated as free-from.
Though this is undoubtedly good news for allergy sufferers, the real proportion of people who need to eat these foods for serious health reasons is actually relatively small. The raised profile of free-from products is largely down to the growing perception that they're 'better for you', and so are now being eaten as an ostensibly healthier option by people who don't have allergy problems. The free-from concept has even had a brush with celebrity, endorsed for example by tennis player Novak Djokovic and featured in the cakes and loaves created in a round of the BBC's popular Great British Bake-off programme. In late 2014, new EU regulations were introduced obliging food outlets to provide information about the potentially allergenic ingredients their dishes contain. It's therefore also now likely that the term free-from will appear more widely on cafe and restaurant menus.
The UK supermarket Tesco was one of the first retailers to launch a free-from range back in 2003, but the term has gained ground considerably in the last couple of years as other retailers attempt to tap in to one of the fastest growing markets in the country. The success of the expression may partly be down to the word free's emotionally charged association with escaping unpleasant things, compare free from violence/tension/pain, etc.
As well as modifying nouns such as pasta, bread, flour etc, free-from is also now used to describe people requiring or supplying this kind of food, e.g. free-from diner/restaurant, etc. It so far only seems to occur in attributive positions (i.e. before a noun and not after the verb be), and is a rare (possibly unique?) example of a compound adjective incorporating the preposition from.
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This article was first published on 24th February 2015.