Blog by Diana Murphy, founder of the Gluten Free Centre, mum, coeliac, foodie
Update: the shortlist is now available here
It’s that time of the year again. Celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this year, the judging process for the 2017 Free From Food Awards is well under way. I was privileged enough this year to be invited by Michelle Berriedale - Johnson to be one of the judges in the store cupboard category. This included a range of foods from sauces to cooking mixes, cake and bread mixes.
Over the course of the day myself and my fellow judges have sampled over 65 freefrom foods. All judges present had a vast knowledge and experience in gluten free and freefrom foods and lifestyle it was a very exciting day with interesting and insightful conversations. We discussed today’s free from industry and the challenges effecting not only the industry but the freefrom consumers, coeliacs in particular.
The most crucial question above all – what is free from food? It means different things to different people, consumers, businesses, chefs and retailers. Is an apple freefrom? Of course it is, but it’s not. And what should freefrom food be actually free from? All the foods we have tried were free from gluten and many of them were free from milk. Some were also free from refined sugar and additives while others had many additives and sugar. Many health conscious consumers today are looking for soya free products too, but of course if you are vegan or vegetarian (freefrom meat or freefrom animal products) you would eat soya products. We have all agreed – and I’m sure you will too - that freefrom food is a very complex matter, which makes the Free From Food Awards even more interesting and much needed.
Of course these complex issues have made judging very difficult. All foods are judged blind, so we have no idea who makes that product or what brand it is. We do however, have the list of ingredients and all the information on the packaging such as nutritional information, recipe or serving suggestion. At the very end of the process after all the decisions have been made the brands are revealed.
We considered not only the taste and texture of the food but also if there is a true need for that product. I personally always ask the question if there is a better way that a product could be made; are there any ingredients that could have been omitted to make it suitable for a wider market; are there any other products like this out there? I also like to see good quality and healthy ingredients wherever possible. As a foodie, I can make all the foods from scratch so I have a pretty good idea which ingredients are necessary and which ones are not. I like to see a very short list of ingredients. Of course all judges have different angles which makes the judging process even more exciting however, we all agreed on our favourites in the end and found some real gems that I know everyone will love.
My personal favourite was a smokey beetroot ketchup by the Foraging Fox (I don't like regular ketchup but this was delicious); a slim pasta sauce which I cheekely finished off for my lunch and the raw energy ball mix by In the Nod - such a great idea, so convenient with wonderful fresh ingredients. We also tried a vegan honey which I thought was an amazing and unique product. But of course we all had very different tastes!
I can’t say anything at all about the results of course, you will have to wait for this year’s short list to be published in mid February. We will keep you up to date!
The presentation of the Awards will be held on the 28th of March when all winners, highly commended and commended entries will be revealed!