Baking for special diets
Monday, February 21
With raised awareness of allergies and increasing numbers of people following vegan diets, it can be difficult to know how to cater for everyone. Whether you make cakes as a hobby or professionally, it is important to understand what it all means and how to put it into practice. Here is our guide to get you started.
A food intolerance can be caused by difficulties digesting certain ingredients, such as lactose from milk. It doesn’t usually involve your immune system. Symptoms include an upset stomach, bloating and stomach cramps and usually occur several hours after eating the food. People with intolerances can often still ingest small amounts of the food they are intolerant to without suffering adverse effects.
Check for hidden ingredients and allergen traces in all the edibles you use to ensure that they meet the requirements of the recipient.
A food allergy is caused when your immune system mistakenly thinks that certain foods are a threat to your body. Allergic reactions range from mild to very severe. Symptoms can affect different areas of the body at the same time and can include rashes, swelling, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Serious cases can lead to anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction).
Prevent cross-contamination by keeping ingredients for special diets in lidded containers and in a different cupboard to ingredients containing allergens. Keep a separate set of basic utensils for each dietary requirement and ensure everything is very clean before you start. If the recipient has a severe allergy, confirm they are happy with your kitchen environment before agreeing to make the cake.
Some of the most common allergies include nuts, milk, eggs, gluten and many more!
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye; it is not a food allergy or intolerance. When someone with coeliac disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine. Your GP can take a simple blood test to test for coeliac disease and Coeliac UK recommends that you keep eating gluten until your doctor makes a diagnosis.
Establish whether the special-diet cake is needed because of a disease, allergy or intolerance to ensure you can properly provide for their needs.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Diabetes develops when the body can’t process glucose properly and diabetics can therefore have abnormally high levels of glucose. Diabetics therefore need to be mindful of their sugar intake. Diabetics can often manage their condition through insulin doses and/or monitoring diet.
Artificial sweeteners or natural sugars can be used in cakes to try and avoid dramatic spikes in blood glucose levels.
A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of any part of an animal. Although you’re unlikely to include meat or fish in a cake, be aware of food items that may include gelatine, isinglass or animal rennet.
Some food colourings and edible glazes are not vegetarian so be sure to check the labels before using these products.
Vegans do not eat any foods of animal origin. This includes eggs, dairy foods and honey, in addition to non-vegetarian foods. There are plenty of vegan cake recipes online, some of which involve using specially designed alternatives, such as vegan margarine, and some of which use natural substitutes, such as mashed bananas, cashews and aquafaba.
Make sure you fully test your special diet recipes. As well as checking that your cakes conform to the correct standards, make sure that any substitutions or special recipes taste great.
Halal is the description of food and drink allowed by Muslims under Islamic dietary law. Alcohol is forbidden so, when providing a halal cake, you need to check the ingredients of extracts, colours and flavourings.
Try making your own edible paints by diluting dust food colours with lemon juice rather than clear alcohol.
Kosher is the Jewish set of dietary laws. There are a number of aspects to the rules and certification is often expected to prove kosher standards. Meat and dairy cannot be made or consumed together, therefore, kosher food would become non-kosher if cooked in the same oven or using the same utensils as non-kosher food.
The strictness to which kosher standards are adhered can vary from household to household. Be sure to clarify what the recipient of the cake expects before agreeing to take on the commission so you can make sure your environment and practices are suitable.
About this guide
This guide is an overview to dietary requirements that has been put together with reference to the Food Standards Agency, Allergy UK, Coeliac UK and The Vegetarian Society. Please check food.gov.uk for the latest advice on food allergies. This content is reproduced or adapted by permission of the Food Standards Agency, which retains copyright on behalf of the Crown.