I love this time of year and not just because it’s January and my birthday, it’s also the FreeFrom Food Awards judging week where I get to discover so many new #FreeFrom products and meet lots of lovely people from very varied backgrounds, jobs, tastes etc.
This year I was judging Superfoods and Supplements, Store Cupboard, Pizza and pastas and desserts…
I actually daren’t get onto the scales because I feel like I’ve put on a stone in weight from just two days judging. This job is certainly not for the faint hearted.
We eat, constantly, all day from 10am until about 4.30pm with lunch thrown in… we eat and we eat and we eat and we eat. I am often glad of the respite when I can’t try a product that contains soya, wheat, dairy or nuts. Phew! One less morsel for my straining belly to digest. I know you could take just a tiny bite or spit the food out but that doesn’t seem right with food. Nor wine and beer tasting if I’m on honest…
And I signed up for two whole days back to back of carb and cake filled gorging but it’s very hard work. We have to remain silent, not share our thoughts and score each food privately based on taste, appearance, ingredients, use and innovation to the industry etc. etc. When you’re looking at over 50 different foods just in one category it’s not an easy task with lots of re-tasting and reviewing.
But the day always starts with your choice of fresh coffee or a huge selection of herbal teas. This amazing Food Matters ‘F’ on the coffee was created by Sue Cane @GfBeerExpert who was a fellow judge and also the organiser of the Gluten Free Beer category which I am sadly not attending this year.
I’m not going to share very much with you on here about the foods we tasted because if I did I’d have to kill you. Judging for the FreeFrom Food Awards is Top Secret and what goes on at the FreeFrom Food Awards judging stays at the FreeFrom Food Awards judging until the winners are announced at the Awards Dinner later in the year.
What I can tell you is that, as always, the quality of entries just keeps on getting better and better. This is fantastic but also makes the job of judging that much harder. Gone are the days when there might be one stand-out winner. Now there are so many really amazing new products coming onto the market and the regular well known freefrom food producers are also continually developing their products and ranges and upping their freefrom game.
Judging wouldn’t be judging without the also totally freefrom lunch provided. Quite a few of us judges were either coeliac or had allergies of some kind or other and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson always produces an amazing lunch each day which is suitable for all. I’m not sure we needed it either day after the amount we ate but all managed to find space to partake…
Now whilst I’m reluctant to wax too lyrical about anything I discovered during judging, I can give you a very brief insight into what really excited me:
- Thanks to resident guru’s Christine Bailey and Ian Marber I now know a lot more about superfoods and supplements and who knew I would actually enjoy spirulina! I am still dubious about some of these products, they have to actually be enjoyable and taste palatable to be used regularly… beetroot juice just doesn’t do it for me. Say no more! It was certainly an education and I may delve into this world of concoctions and try new ‘superfoods’ in 2016 to ‘transform myself into even more of a superbeing’. Not possible I hear you cry!
- I have discovered a couple of dairy free pesto sauces to add to my larder. Both contain pine nuts but no other nuts and both were delicious.
- A soya free alternative to soya sauce featured highly on my ‘must find and buy’ list. It’s an amazing product with just two really simple ingredients and I can’t wait to cook with it. Look out for Coconut Aminos.
- Having a tomato allergy I’m always looking for tomato free red sauces so the Beetroot ketchup we tasted was a firm favourite of mine too. I can and do make my own but I don’t always have time for a spur of the moment meal choice so to have something like this in my fridge would be marvellous.
- Pancakes galore and some really amazing totally freefrom pancake mixes that produced really A star excellent pancakes impressed many of the judges. You might be thinking, well anyone can make gluten free and dairy free pancakes these days. You’d be right of course, there are loads of really simple recipes out there but some of these mixes were brilliant and would make the job of pancake making that bit easier.
- Being a fan of ‘clean eating’ and trying to eat as little processed foods as I can I am always on the look out for the products that have managed to avoid including fillers, bulkers, flavourings and other things that us normal folk wouldn’t have in our cupboards at home. This is getting better and I was heartened to discover quite a few very good products without the usual gums and syrups etc.
As I said earlier the standard of products is impressive but I would love to see more nut free and more totally freefrom please! There are quite a lot of us with nut, dairy, egg and soya allergies and others with less common allergies to corn, tomato, celery and sulphites, to name just a few.
And I know the world doesn’t revolve around me, Oh would that it could, but some of these products would be suitable for a much wider audience if some of the other allergens could also be removed. I know this may not always be easy but it has started to happen already.
I’m not asking for the world to go nut, dairy, wheat and soya free just for me but those few producers catering for the free from community would do well to look at their ingredient’s lists and experiment if they can.
So who will win the 2016 FreeFrom Food Awards?
I love Free From Farmhouse’s blog on Judging the FreeFrom Food Awards and she even caught me on camera, studiously making judges notes in the background!
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson shared her thoughts on Free From Awards at the Seaside which brings back memories of my cornetto envy on the day! Oh how I wanted to try that ice cream cone, but it had soya in it so I had to watch the others devour theirs in jealous silence.