Yesterday I ate 37 puddings. I even had seconds of some of them.
I’m still reeling. If you were to offer me a (gluten free) “wafer thin” mint, I’d probably say no. Not least because the 37 puddings were hot on the heels of the 20+ types of pasta I’d eaten earlier in the day!
This gargantuan endeavour was not just in the name of pure gluttony, but was in fact purely selfless – you see I was delighted to be invited to be a judge for the Free From Food Awards 2015. Although ‘delighted’ is probably putting it mildly. You have no doubt noticed some of your favourite products proudly sporting their round, yellow award stickers from the 2014 awards; even my (usually uninterested) gluten eating husband remarked, “Is that the little stickers on the wraps in Costa?”. Yes! It’s kind of a big deal :D
I was in Foods Matter towers for the ‘Pasta and Pizza’ and the ‘Desserts and Puddings’ categories – as a long term #fruitisnotapudding campaigner, the second part of the day was my idea of heaven! You’ll probably read plenty on other blogs about what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in awards judging, but as these awards are a great barometer of all that’s new and exciting in the world of free from, instead I’d like to offer 5 observations about the free from market, and share 3 of my favourite finds when the names were revealed after judging completed.
5 Free From Trends
Coconut is blinking everywhere, isn’t it? No they’re not making it into pasta (yet), but the pudding category was awash with coconut yogurts, coconut frozen yogurts, coconut sugar (hint: still sugar), and of course good old dessicated coconut. Now I’m pretty partial to the flavour, and love having a soya-free alternative to dairy for Baby A, but from what I’ve read the benefits are (at best) unproven, I predict the coconut backlash very soon…
Cleaning up the Act – I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘clean eating’, but I was impressed how much some of the entrants did with so few simple ingredients, especially the impressively textured pastas from Clearspring and Rizopia, made only from brown rice, and the ‘ice cream’ alternative from Booja Booja. It certainly made a great change from the impenetrable ingredients lists full of strange fillers and emulsifiers I’m used to seeing.
I definitely got Brain Freeze from the sheer volume of alternative ‘ice creams’ in the contest! The dairy free market has completely exploded in this area, and whilst some weren’t offering anything new, it means we now have innovative flavour combinations (Vanilla, Passion Fruit and Dark Chocolate – yum!) as well as options for those who can’t have dairy and soya. Very welcome developments indeed, we now just need widespread stockists and some innovation in the other areas of the dairy free pudding market.
Unfortunately I reached syrupy Saturation Point with a lot of the classic and sugar-laden puddings on offer. I would have loved to see more unusual and technically challenging gluten and dairy free alternatives for chilled desserts like pastries, cheesecakes, roulades, mousses, trifles etc; as well as perhaps some lighter options. We don’t want the stuff we can easily make at home – we want the stuff it’s too much effort for us to do when we’re the only coeliac in the house!
Gluten Free is not the only free from: some manufacturers are definitely getting the message that removing allergens widens their market. It was great to see the likes of Glamour Puds creating dishes that are free from both gluten and dairy; as well as Dairy Free Dream with their soya free dairy free ice creams. It takes a real understanding of your customer base, and dedication to do this. Many coeliacs are also lactose intolerant. Many milk allergic children also cannot eat soya or egg. There is still a long way to go, as gluten free dominates the market, but progress!
3 of B’s Picks
With a large panel, these were just some of my personal favourites, it in no way indicates the likely outcome of the awards, which will be announced at a ceremony in April.
Explore Asian Edamame & Mung Bean Fettuccini
It’ll have pasta purists gasping in horror, but this unusual pasta is completely grain free and has such simple ingredients. High in protein and so good for you! The best bit? Although it has an almost ‘squeaky’ texture compared to normal pasta, it was totally delicious and a very worthy alternative to your usual corn or rice-based versions. Fantastically innovative, top notch.
Tesco Free From Italian Coffee Dessert
Tesco were my surprise favourites of the day. It goes to show that a blind tasting makes all the difference because I wouldn’t usually pick up an own brand. This was creamy, light, with a nice bite of marsala and and subtle hint of coffee. A proper grown up pud – I just wish it came in glass bowls so I could pass it off as my own! Bonus: it’s dairy and soya free.
Georgia’s Choice Pepperoni Pizza
Speaking of branding – I would have actively avoided these, which look proper ‘junky’, but lurking inside the impenetrable cardboard box was a proper thin-and-crispy-on-the-outside, floppy-in-the-middle gourmet pizza with a small but decent spicy kick. I really think brand and packaging is part of the experience, so it goes to show I shouldn’t be so shallow!
You can only imagine the amount of organisation that goes into preparing 20+ types of pasta according to instructions and serving them (still warm) to a group of allergic and intolerant foodies. Amazing. Big thanks to the FFA15 team for letting me take part.