Glu-2-Go - gluten free batter

The UK's first purpose-designed, gluten-free commercial batter mix. Frances Dale investigates.

Susan Ord is the proud owner of Scotland's premier fish and chip shop, Land and Sea, in Polmont - on the way from Glasgow to Edinburgh - or vice versa. Fish and Chip Shop of the Year, Scotland 2005.

Land and Sea is very much a family affair - started by Susan’s dad, who ran the Chinese restaurant next door; run, for many years, by her mum, and now owned and run by her. But although Susan all but grew up in the shop, by the time she was five it was clear that she was allergic to fish. Her mouth would itch and her throat swell if she had more than the littlest bit of fish from the fryer. And the allergy has not improved with the years - she reacts to anything which swims and has a tail - although she is fine with good, expensive shellfish - lobsters, scallops, crab, langoustines...                  

However, she was not going to allow a mere fish allergy to put her off running the shop so, after a few years at college and work away from, she came back to Polmont and took over Land and Sea from her mum -  so that her mum now works for her, instead of the other way round. And the shop prospered.

So, why gluten free?

Susan's next door neighbour at home is Willy MacBride, a long term coeliac and therefore barred, as effectively as Susan herself, from eating fish and chips as the batter that all fish and chip shops use is wheat-based and therefore gluten-filled.

But while there is nothing that she can do about her own fish allergy, Susan could see no reason why someone could not come up with an alternative batter which used gluten and wheat-free ingredients and could therefore be eaten by coeliacs or anyone else allergic or intolerant to gluten or wheat..

Since no one, when Susan had this thought, actually made a commercial gluten-free batter mix, she started to experiment with some of the gluten-free bread and pancake mixes made for coeliacs. But, as none had been designed for the purpose, none of them really worked. Either they were too thin and runny or they turned out like wallpaper paste which tasted awful and was a nightmare to use in the fryer. And although they were all gluten free, several of the mixes were not wheat free. What is more, they were hideously expensive. Whereas 25 kilos of standard batter mix would cost her £14, 25 kilos of the gluten-free mixes cost nearly £300!

First Gluten-free day

But Susan was not to be deflected.  Despite the difficulties, she ploughed ahead - with the enthusiastic backing of Willie and the local coeliac group.

She decided to make one Saturday a month a gluten-free day -  and by February 2004 she was ready. The first Saturday coincided with the local coeliac group's AGM so after the meeting the whole group booked themselves in to eat at Land and Sea.

It proved to be a chaotic (they were up till 4am on the Saturday morning cleaning down, sorting and preparing) but hugely successful day. And by the end of it Susan knew that she had started something that she would have to continue. Chocolates and flowers arrived on her doorstep and the letters flooded in.

News travelled fast and in no time coeliacs were driving miles to taste these wonderful gluten-free fish and chips. Willie was hugely supportive and was always on hand to advise and encourage the timid. In no time the monthly gluten-free Saturdays had turned into regular social events.

Improving the batter

Despite the success of the gluten-free Saturdays, Susan felt she still had work to do as the combination of mixes she was using was both expensive and unsatisfactory.

She therefore approached the manufacturer of her ‘normal’ batter and asked them to develop a batter for her which would be certified gluten-free but perform like a ‘normal’ fish and chip batter.

This was a tall order but, in the fullness of time, her manufacturer did come up with a mix which was gluten, wheat, dairy and egg-free - made from rice flour, potato starch, raising agents, salt, soya flour,  curcumin and beta-carotene. It looked good,  tasted great and they could guarantee it would contain less than 200ppm (parts per million) of gluten, in line with the Codex Alimentarius guidelines.

Susan was thrilled - but her delight was short lived. Although the manufacturers had developed the product they were very dubious about putting it into production. The quantities would be limited and it would require a total clean down of the plant each time they made it in order to guarantee no contamination. It simply would not be financially viable, they said. It took all of Susan's and her distributor's considerable persuasive powers to talk them into at least giving it a trial.

We must sell more!

However, it is, essentially, on trial. Unless Susan can ensure sufficient volume to the manufacturers for them to at least break even on the product, she cannot expect them to go on making it for her.

So now she is on a further crusade - to get her gluten free batter into  every one of the 10,000 fish and chip shops to be found up and down the country.

Obviously, she continues to run her own gluten-free Saturdays (the first of every month) and she now sells the batter from their website and in the shop. But the batter is also available through all the major UK fish and chip wholesalers so any fish and chip shop can buy it and use it to fry gluten-free.

Susan has also produced a Glu-2-Go Best Practice Guide for Caterers to help get them started. This is obtainable by calling 01324 717273 or checking in at their website at www.glu-2-go.co.uk.

But, since caterers are notoriously conservative, Susan needs fish and chip lovers on gluten or wheat-free diets to get to work on their local chippie. Tell them about the batter and where they can buy it - print them out a leaflet and show them. Order a bag of mix and take it in to them. If Susan cannot get the volumes up, the manufacturers may have to stop making it!

glu_to_go_pic

And while working on your local chippie - buy some yourself! A 500g bag of batter mix costs £3.95 (plus £2.98 p&p) and will coat up to 10 pieces of fish. It is simply made by mixing with water or, if you are being extravagant, gluten and wheat-free beer to make a beer batter. And if you get your local fish and chip shop to order some in for you, you will save on the postage and packing.

Alternatively, if you happen to live near Polmont, you can also buy haddock, cod and chicken goujons pre-battered and frozen. And, of course, what works on fish also works an anything else that you wish to ‘batter’!  Just check in with Glu-2-Go!

01324 717273  www.glu-2-go.co.uk

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First Published in 2006