If the shortlist is anything to go by, 2017 is the year that free from food went ‘gourmet’! Or at least the year that luxury food manufacturers realised that being ‘free from’ enhanced their value and appeal, and also realised that ‘free from’ consumers don’t just want poor facsimiles of allergen-containing products; but delicious and sophisticated flavours.
I once again had the pleasure of taking part in a day of blind judging for the awards; this year in the breakfast and confectionery rounds; and despite having a trainspotterish knowledge of gluten free products, was amazed at the variety of new (to me) products on offer catering for a variety of dietary requirements.
These are my personal highlights and insights from the rounds I judged – the winners will be announced at a ceremony in March – following #FFFA17 on twitter is a great way to join in with the buzz.
First up – breakfast; and first, oh my, let me make a little plea. As one of many coeliacs with an ‘iffy’ relationship with gluten free oats (I seem to be able to tolerate small amounts, occasionally); I was overwhelmed by the number of oat-containing products entered. I would love to love oats and eat them more often, but it would be great to see food producers thinking beyond the oat for breakfast – as last year’s winner Nutribrex so ably did. There was also no getting away from the fact that for most people breakfast is a carb and cereal-centric meal; and there were lots of sugary options to try.
Nonetheless, I soldiered on, munching granola for the greater good, and discovered some real gems. My favourites were:
- Cardamom spice granola by Grain & Bowl – rather pricey but such a delicious flavour. I am a total sucker for cardamom (see my recipe here), and this was well-balanced and delicious.
- Delamere spreadable goats butter – new to me (and caused some debate about the ‘free from’ credentials of a product that is unsuitable for milk allergy, although may be suitable for some with intolerance), but was tangy and heavenly – I only wish I could track it down in the supermarket.
- Orgran Brekki Quinoa Porridge – which was a little on the soft side, but well-flavoured and such a pleasure to find a decent and quick to prepare hot breakfast for the office that doesn’t contain oats. I often overlook Orgran due to their uninspiring packaging which goes to show how important the blind tasting is!
- Almond milk by Plenish was creamy and full-flavoured. It is not fortified with calcium, but a much higher percentage of almonds than other milks on the market made this a lovely alternative for pouring over cereal.
A short break then on to a feast of sweet things in the confectionery category – including a raw chocolate based endurance test (20+ types had entered!) – there are so many producers of artisan bars with complex and bitter flavours to choose from now! It was here I really wished I could have seen the packaging, because in many cases afterwards we discovered the care and attention to the product was equalled by the beautiful branding.
However I’m afraid my palette is rather less sophisticated – and whilst I enjoy the experience of a barely-sweet, high cocoa chocolate every so often; my favourites were those that tasted refreshingly ‘normal’ or truly luxurious – containing regular as opposed to the ubiquitous ‘unrefined’ sugar. Those were:
- Biona Organic Mini Fruit Bears – they may look like Haribo, but they had a much nicer ‘squidge’ and a real ‘pow’ fruity kick. I have since bought (and snaffled) a bag all to myself.
- Booja Booja Almond & Sea Salt Caramel Truffles – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Creamy, indulgent, not too rich nor over-sweet and with a tiny tingle of salt to chase them. A gift I’d be happy to give or receive.
- Goupie Date & Walnut – sort of like a rocky road biscuit. Tastes like a normal person treat, and not too big – nuff said.
- Just Chocolate with Florida Orange – I wouldn’t have looked twice at this bar on the shelf but I love orange chocolate and this has a big, zesty punch of it in a properly tempered ‘crack’ing bar. Yum.
- And a special mention for the bafflingly named NoNo Permissible Indulgent chocolate truffles which just looked so beautiful. The flavours were subtle and I loved the crunch of popped amaranth; just a little bit away from being a proper white chocolate though.
This was only two rounds of the biggest ever awards – and I strongly advise you to check out the full list and do as I do – treat it like a shopping list of interesting new things to try!
Thankyou again to Michelle and the FFFA team for all of the hard work that go into orchestrating the awards and inviting me to take part.