In 1887 my Great Grandfather from Spain started the first flourmill in Seattle. It was built to supply export flour to the orient a well as supply flour to the people of Washington State. Since it only took one or two days’ work per week to supply Washington State, the Novelty Flour Mills was basically an export mill. Novelty Flour Mills has been converted to Salty’s Restaurant on Alki Beach in West Seattle.
The Road to Ener-G Foods
After World War I, my Grandfather from Spain and two Great Uncles (from England) joined the family business and learned the stone burh milling industry.
Meanwhile, my father traveled the country and world working at everything from elevator salesman to a ship’s steward until he joined the US Navy in December 1941, mostly serving on troop ships in the Pacific Theater. He had been attending Medical School.
Dr. Scribner’s Influence Along the Way
Returning to Seattle after World War II, Father was one of the founders of Brodie Restaurant and Hotel Supply. Today it is known as Brodie/Dohrmann and can be found thriving on Elliott Avenue in Seattle. He was a student at the University of Washington Medical School when my Grandfather took ill and father left Brodie to help run the family mill , dropping-out of medical school. In medical school he had became acquainted with a professor named Dr. Scribner who with Dr. Cyrus Rubin pioneered the invention of kidney dialysis machines.
Mention This Method Is Used For Shipping Gluten Free Flours
About the same time, a discovery was made that revolutionized the milling industry. It was found that if 4-5 pounds of air pressure were applied to wheat flour, it could be fluidized and pumped through pipes like oil or other liquids. Soon countries like China, Japan and the Philippines were able to buy wheat flour shipped in oil tankers instead of wheat flour in bags. Needless to say, this changed Novelty Flour Mill forever because Novelty Mills only had the capability to produced sacked flour. Novelty Mills lost its export market.
End of Novelty Mill
When my Grandfather died my Great Uncles, Norman and Alan, decided to close the mill which was failing. Unemployed, father started Sam Wylde Flour Co. to distribute flour and bakery items to local bakeries. The fleet of trucks bearing Father's name ranged all over Western Washington, from the Canadian border to as far south as Southern California. Fisher Mills, Inc, bought Sam Wylde Flour Co. Fisher Mills later sold it to a Dutch company, Puratos. Puratos has changed the name of Sam Wylde Flour Mills to Puratos. Fisher Mills no longer exists, but Puratos is still in business.
Dialysis & Low Protein Diets & Dr. Scribner’s Influence
Dr. Scribner remembering my father called him and requested a meeting. At the meeting with Dr. Scribner and his dietitian, Sondra Aker, it was explained that there was an acute shortage of dialysis machines and they desperately needed a low protein bread. The University of Washington had one dialysis machine for thousands of kidney patients. Since the kidneys convert protein to uric acid, ifthe protein intake were restricted, the kidneys would not have towork so hard, hence would require less frequent dialysis.
The Purchase of the Jolly Joan Company
This meeting led to my father locating and buying a small company named Jolly Joan located in New York City. He was familiar with New York City because he used to sell elevators there. The company was making a couple mixes for people with allergies. The owner's daughter was named Joan, whom her father said was always jolly.
I Have a Job!
Suddenly, at the age of ten I found myself putting stickers on packages, cleaning and doing miscellaneous tasks at Jolly Joan. My favorite task was rolling cardboard barrels, filled with ingredients up and down the concrete floor to mix them. Then I would scale the mix on a postage scale into chipboard cartons and glue them shut with a brush and put stickers on the boxes to label them for sale.
Low Protein Bread
Customers began complaining about the name, Jolly Joan. Father changed the name to Ener-G Cereal Company and later to Ener-G Foods, Inc. We worked on low protein bread for about a year before arriving at an acceptable result. It was made with a base of wheat starch. It was low in protein, sodium, potassium and phosphorus, making it acceptable for a low protein diet. It was also discovered that by restricting protein intake, progression of renal failure could be slowed even for patients on the dialysis unit. Low-Protein foods can with a Medical Doctor’s recommendation be appropriate for several other dietary disorders. Some examples are: (Methylcrotonyl CoA Caroboxylase, Argininemia, Gutaric Acidemia, Homocystinuria, Hypermethionemia, Isovaleric Acidaemia, Maple Syrup Urine Disease, Methyl Malonic Aciduria, Phenylketonuria, Propionic Acidemia, Tyrosinemia).
Gluten-Free Wheat Starch Bread
Under the present law defining “Gluten-Free” our Low Protein Wheat Starch Bread would probably have qualified in The USA as “gluten free” which defines gluten-free as less than 20ppm gluten.
A Turn of Events
Then my father developed prostate cancer and I having completed graduate school moved back to Seattle from Oregon to assist father with both Ener-G Foods and Sam Wylde Flour Co. I did a sales route and office work during the day for Sam Wylde Flour Co. I worked nights doing product development and production for Ener-G Foods.
The End of Wheat Starch Bread
One day when father was gone and I was working at Sam Wylde Flour Company and Ener-G Foods when Elaine Hartsook, R.D4., whom I hadn’t previously met, came into the office and complained that we were “killing” her patients with our wheat starch bread. It turned-out people with Celiac Disease were purchasing our low-protein wheat starch bread. It contained a very small amount of gluten (probably less than 20ppm, the current USA standard for “gluten-free”).
The Seagull Test
Then, Dr. Cyrus Rubin, inventor of the Rubin Biopsy Tube and professorof Gastroenterology at the University of Washington contacted father and we had a meeting with him and Elaine Hartsook (now his dietitian, later to become Elaine Hartsook, Ph.D). They wanted us to develop gluten-free bread without anywheat starch. I began working nights on developing gluten-free bread and many other glutenfree products. My first bread was from rice starch which was free of gluten, very low in protein and acceptable to both Celiacs and people on Low-Proteindiets. After many years I knew I had made considerable progress when for the first time I threw bread into Puget Sound to feed the Seagulls and the breadfloated. Finally the seagulls didn’t have to dive for their meal.
Gluten is one of the miracles of nature. It has the property of becoming elastic when kneaded or mixed. It is this elasticity that traps the gas given off when yeast ferments or baking powders react that makes breads and cakes rise. In every cereal chemist's laboratory, there is a device named a farinograph fitted to a small mixer that measures the resistance of the dough to the mixer. As the dough containing gluten is mixed, this resistance increases until it reaches its' maximum resistance. This 'maximum' is determined by various factors including quality of the gluten and speed of the mixer.
Australia & New Zealand have zero tolerance for gluten in Gluten-Free Foods.
Canada accepts the less than 20ppm definition, but also requires no gluten containing grains be used, regardless of if those grains have been processed to remove gluten to under 20ppm. Additionally, any detected gluten regardless of the level is considered cross-contamination.
In The USA, a gluten-free food used to mean gluten could not be detected. However, now “Gluten-Free” means under 20ppm.
The European Economic Union allows the term “Very Low Gluten and “Gluten Free” for foods for which gluten is respectively “not exceeding 100 mg/kg and 20 mg/kg.” In parts per million, Very Low Gluten is 100ppm and Gluten Free is 20ppm.
The EEU allows the reduction of gluten in gluten grains to be used in “Very Low Gluten” foods.
Mexico follows The USA definition for Gluten-Free1
Why Eliminate Gluten?
An amazing discovery was made in Holland during World War II. People who had been ill their entire lives suddenly became will. This intrigued Dr. Willem Dicke, a Dutch Pediatrician who began researching the chain of events. The studies determined that the one drastic change in their diet was the elimination of wheat, rye, oats and barley, all of which had been seized for use by the German Military. The Dutch population was living on bread made from flour ground from tulip bulbs. Further research indicated that the gluten in these grains slowly destroyed the villi, which line the walls of the small intestine. Once the villi were sufficiently damaged, the patient suffered from malabsorption, unable to obtain any nutrients from the foods that were ingested. It was found that by eliminating gluten from the diet, the villi would regenerate themselves and the patient would begin digesting their foods properly. The disease is called celiac sprue or non-tropical sprue. Once thought to be a hereditary disease afflicting persons of Northern European and Judaic descent, celiac disease is now known to affect many other ethnic groups including Mediterranean, African and Middle Eastern people. Once estimated to affect one in 2000 in the United States it is now thought to be much more common. Once celiac sprue disease is confirmed, the only treatment is maintenance of a gluten-free diet for life.
Dr. Dicke did the science, determined gliadin to cause Celiac Disease in his patients and published in 1950.
Sounds simple - right?
The common response is, “I just won’t eat bread.” Easy enough however, gluten is found in most of the products we consume every day. Essentially, everything with wheat, rye, barley and all their derivatives must be eliminate. So breads, pastas, cakes, pastries, cereal, cookies, donuts, pizza, etc. Difficult at first, adaption is possible but, you must also consider this: many commercially prepared foods available on the grocery shelves contain obvious glutens (wheat, barley, rye etc.) and then there are foods with “hidden” glutens. Those hidden glutens cannot be more than 20ppm per serving in “gluten-free” foods.
The 20ppm is a percentage of .002%. The amount of gluten consumed will also depend on the size of the serving and the number of servings. Some Certifying Agencies such as the Gluten Intolerance Group use tougher standards. GIG uses a standard of 10ppm.
1978 and Beyond
By 1978 Ener-G Foods had successfully developed and marketed one gluten-free bread and one low protein bread that were acceptable substitutes for the “real thing.” We also mixed and packaged a number of baking mixes for a variety of diets. Since our gluten-free bread eliminated wheat, rye, oats and barley, persons afflicted with allergies to any if those grains could utilize these breads in their diets. Unwittingly, we had joined the allergy food market which would generate considerable interest.
Availability of special diet foods in the mass market have always, traditionally, been limited. Because we market primarily to individuals on restrictive diets, we used to be generally categorized as a “health foods” or “natural foods” company. However, Gluten-Free foods with the 20ppm definition have become mainstream. This has combined with the explosive growth of Internet sales for foods. Additionally, easier diagnosing has expanded the number of people with Celiac Disease. And the gluten-free diet is being adhered to for many reasons.
One of the fastest growing food areas is Organic. Ener-G Foods Gluten-Free Organic Breads will soon be introduced.
Another fast growing area is for “Non-GMO” foods. FDA prefers “Not Genetically Engineered” over “NonGMO”. National legislation is being developed. It has become very complicated.
Ener-G Foods endeavors to avoid as may common allergens as possible. There is a growing demand for such foods.
Vegan foods, Paleo Foods, Kosher Foods, Halal and other categories are all potential markets.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Ener-G Foods is a family-owned business. After my father retired, I took over as the President of Ener-G Foods. I have been with Ener-G Foods since the late 1970s. I did most of the product development enabling Ener-G Foods to switch from low-gluten, wheat-starch based products to truly gluten-free products. I am involved in all aspects of the Company from R&D to customer service. My wife, Marie has Celiac Disease and contributes expertise through her experience, fluency in several languages and knowledge in gluten-free baking. Marie having Celiac Sprue herself offers priceless personal insight on product research and development. Marie once owned a Gluten-Free Catering Company in Montreal named “Harmony.” As a bonus, we also receive uninhibited feedback and advice concerning Ener-G products from our two children, Sammuel and Alexander.
The close knit family relationship also extends to the Ener-G staff. Ener-G Foods is heavily dependent on its employees; Cely Cleto our General Manger is invaluable. Cely is proficient, organized and has top notch accounting skills. Rolf Jensen our VP of Sales and Marketing with over 25 years of experience. Rolf brings originality knowledge, and enthusiasm to our marketing and sales. Kathy, has been with Ener-G Foods for many years. She runs our Food Safety and is training another employee to assist. Sabina, our Purchasing and inventory Control Manager, applies her systematic talent and intelligence to keep costs down. Sabina also has a talent for product development for which she is invaluable. Nermina, unruffled under fire, brings calmness as our Customer Service Manager. Roger our Engineer and Plant Manager is gradually retiring. Aaron is learning Roger’s job in equipment maintenance. He will also be invaluable in Food Safety and a welcome addition to our product development. He has 10 plus years experiences in Food Safety, HACCP and SQF and will take the company to the next level with a degree in Food Science and Technology.
1. Belding Hibbard Scribner, Wikipedia.
2. Cyrus E. Rubin, M.D., Obituary and short history. Accessed 06/24/18.
3. Dietary Care and Chronic Kidney Disease
4. Gluten-Intolerance Group, GIG. Elaine Hartsook, Ph.D., RD, Founder
5. Gluten Free Passport. Does not allow wheat.
6. Coeliac Australia
7. Gluten Free Claims, Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
8. CFR 21, 101.91. Definition of Gluten Free.
9. COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 828/2014 of 30 July 2014 on the requirements for the provision of information to consumers on the absence or reduced presence of gluten in food
11. Willem Karel Dicke, MD.
12. Labeling of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants. 10/06/2017
13. Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants
https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/ucm059098.htm dated, November of 2015