Living Gluten Free

Cakes and Ale: gluten free

You may remember I was invited to help judge the Free From Foods Awards again this year…The winners were announced at the awards ceremony last week, and I went down to London for the evening.

Entries were up by 40% since last year, and it’s not surprising.

Apparently there is a 15% growth year on year of the free from market, and it is expected to be worth 6bn dollars by 2017. That’s a lot of us eating—and drinking—gluten free…


The two key points I took away from the evening this year were:

  1. The array of free from beers that are now available

    I’m not a big beer drinker, but I was surprised by the range now available. If you’re interested in gluten free beer, then you should definitely check out the beers people were enjoying on the night:

  2. The number of new entrants to the market

    There are always newcomers to the free from market, particularly in the cakes/biscuits area, but it is sometimes difficult for such companies to find their place, and grow from supplying farmers’ markets locally to supplying nationally.

    However, this year, almost every manufacturer I spoke to during the evening had been in business for a very short time. Months only, in some cases. And the very fact that they were there meant that we’d shortlisted them – and some of them were winners in their categories. An astonishing success in these early days.

    Congratulations to everyone shortlisted, big or small company, winners or not—and lots of luck to the newcomers in those first crucial years of business. It isn’t easy…

  3. gluten-free-winners


    Free From Pick

    Here’s my pick from this year’s event: either products I taste-tested and particularly enjoyed, or ones that sound really interesting. Sadly, I didn’t get to taste very much on the evening of the awards—I had to leave to catch the last train north.

    Obviously it’s an entirely subjective list!

    • Dell’Ugo Chickpea Fusilli. I’ll also be trying the Cornito Sea Waves pasta (and the Rizopia Fantasia sounds like fun for children)
    • Bessant & Drury Dairy Free Frozen Dessert. The lemon flavour was the overall winner, so that’s got to be worth a try.
    • The Indian Coeliac Paratha. I really liked this when we tried it on the judging day.
    • Hotch Potch Eggs Savoury Scotch Eggs We used to be able to get gluten free scotch eggs at our local farmers’ market… but not any more. These sound like a great replacement
    • Glamourpuds Hot Chocolate Fudge Pudding Pot and Christine’s Puddings Frangipane Tart. I know several people in my house who’d enjoy these!
    • Freedom Deli Panini. I tried the tuna melt panini at the awards evening (the only thing I did have time to try!) and thought it worked really well.
    • Afia’s Spicy Beef Samosa. This sounds interesting. Son recently made samosas at school, but obviously not gluten-free versions, so it would be nice for coeliac daughter to be able to try a samosa.
    • Dee’s Quinoa Pots with Thai Spiced Vegetables and little lentils. Again, we haven’t tried this, but it sounds good.
    • Tesco Free From Three Cheese Pasta Bake. I know my coeliac enjoys this one, though sadly our local Tesco has stopped stocking all their gluten free chilled readymeals.
    • Pig & Co Lucanian Roman Sausage. I don’t do meat myself, but everyone else in my house does, so I’m sure these would go down a treat.
    • Conscious Foods Finger Millet Dippers and The FreeFrom Bakehouse Jalapeño Pepper & Sweetcorn Muffins. These just sound intriguing!
    • Waitrose LOVE Life GF Millionaire Blondies. I was on the cake panel, and enjoyed these enough to have seconds. When you’ve eaten way too many cakes in an afternoon, something has to be good to merit a second go! I also liked: Cakes Divine Carrot Cupcakes (I love a carrot cake)

    More details of the shortlist and winners are available on the awards website. I hope you find something that you really enjoy from these lists!

Gluten Free Challenge for Heinz

heinz-gf-spaghettiWe love Heinz here.

16 years ago, when we were first navigating the gluten free diet, it was a huge relief to find that Heinz clearly labelled their products as gluten free (if they were).

This meant that I could say to people feeding my daughter: give her a jacket potato and Heinz baked beans. A reasonable meal, and more importantly, a gluten free meal that could be rustled up by anyone, even those people without experience of the gluten free diet.

And I regularly recommended this as an easy ‘first-night’ meal for those children diagnosed as gluten free, when their parents were worried about where to start.

These days, of course, there are many, many more options, and more manufacturers carry the magic words on their labelling. But the amount of brand loyalty that those two words generated has stuck, and we still love Heinz.

So we were delighted to find out that Heinz are now manufacturing gluten free pasta, and pasta sauces.

To be honest, I’m less excited about the pasta sauces—though I can see they are a natural brand extension—because most tomato-based pasta sauces that I’ve come across are naturally gluten free. (Do watch out for flour used for thickening, and any added items such as sausages, of course).

But the pasta is intriguing.

In ‘the olden days’ I used to create a home-made version of Heinz tinned spaghetti, to go to nursery with our coeliac, so that she was eating something that at least looked a bit like the food the other children were eating. Obviously getting the taste and texture exactly the same would have been tricky!

So when Heinz offered to send us some samples, naturally I leapt at the chance. We received a pack of spaghetti and two cartons of tomato and herb sauce – and were pleased by our taste-test results. We eat a lot of pasta meals…

Our coeliac commented that the spaghetti strands are slightly thicker in diameter than she’s used to—not that that’s a problem, as pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. And she enjoyed the sauces. I’d say it was a success.

In a sense, it’s a surprise that Heinz have waited so long to join the gluten free market, but since Bi-Aglut is one of their brands, I guess it was only a matter of time until they made the move.

And the pasta (spaghetti, penne and macaroni) are available in supermarkets now – at least, in Tesco, Morrisons and Asda. I’ve even seen it in our little local Tesco, and the packaging makes it look attractive. Plus, of course, it has that name behind it. It should do well.

So here’s the challenge, Heinz: tinned gluten free spaghetti! My daughter has outgrown it now, but I’m sure there’ll be parents of small children who’d just love to see it on the shelves…

Gluten Free Favourites

favouritesI thought it might be helpful to list some of our current favourite gluten free products, for those of you who don’t know where to start. Of course, tastes do vary, but this is a list of reliable products that are (mostly) generally available…

Bear in mind that these do change! But at the moment, our list includes:


Sainsbury’s soft white sliced bread
Sainsbury’s baguettes
Warburton’s white wraps


Tesco’s pasta range
Doves Farm pasta range


Wellfoods plain flour mix
Doves Farm self-raising flour
Finax Havrebrodmix oat bread mix


Tesco’s chocolate covered wafers
Asda caramel wafers


Waitrose’s chocolate chip cookies


Waitrose’s millionaire blondies
Waitrose’s country cake slices
Tesco’s victoria sponge

Cake mixes

Hill Cottage Bakery cake mixes (added 28/5/13)


Dietary Specials’ Bella d’Italia pizza


Genius Pains au Chocolat (special treat!)

Ready meals

Tesco’s chicken, bacon and pea pasta (we haven’t seen this for a while)
Marks and Spencer’s breaded chicken
Amy’s Kitchen burritos


Domino’s pizza


Sakata crackers
Tesco Chipz (like Pringles)
Kelkin chocolate covered rice cakes

What do you think? Obviously this is a UK list… what would your favourites be?

Gluten Free at a PTA Event

happy-child-eatingRunning a PTA event, and wondering how to cater for the children with allergies in your group?

In my experience, parents of coeliac children (and no doubt those with other food allergies or intolerances too) tend to assume that there’ll be nothing at an event that their child can safely eat, and to plan around that—either making sure that the child has eaten beforehand, or by bringing safe foods.

But I was contacted recently by a reader who wanted to offer something to these children at an event which she was organising in the summer, and that made me think about how you could go about doing just that.

Her idea was to offer manufacturers a stall at the event, so that they could promote their products, and visitors could try them out. This is a great idea. Options for this will depend on the scale of your event, but could include:

  • contacting the major manufacturers (here in the UK, these would typically be those companies that produce prescription goods, or the major supermarkets). This group would probably prefer to visit large events, or specific allergy-focused events, so that they can communicate with as many people as possible – but if you don’t ask them, you won’t know.
  • contacting local manufacturers and retailers, to see if they’d like to promote themselves and their products. It’s good to support local businesses, and if, for instance, there’s a local shop that offers allergy products, your visitors may not yet know about it, so you’d be helping out by putting them in touch with each other. This group may not have as much money to spend as the larger companies.

Other options of the do-it-yourself variety could include:

  • calling for volunteers from the parents. There may be someone who’d step up to help you out, and to help out their fellow allergy-parents (yes, I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean!). I ran a support group for gluten free children and their parents for a while, and found it very valuable. People have lots of information to share!
  • buying in some ready-made branded products to sell. I suggest that you either choose individually wrapped items or leave them in their packets, so that your visitors can read the labels to reassure themselves that this food would be safe. There are lots of options, but you could include:
    • individually wrapped portions of cheese, readily available at the supermarket. Here in the UK, these could be BabyBel, or portions of hard cheese such as cheddar. Don’t go for soft cheeses unless you’re prepared for mess!
    • biscuits – savoury or sweet, plain or chocolate. There’s quite a variety available at supermarkets on the Free From shelves now.
    • crisps (check the packets very carefully)
    • cakes—again, there’s a lot of variety on the supermarket Free From shelves. Don’t over-buy: if the cakes aren’t good, no-one will eat them and you’ll have wasted money. These products are not cheap. At the moment we like the Tesco Free From sponge (cut it up small) and we love the Waitrose Love Life Millionaire Blondies.
    • nuts, raisins and other dried fruits are all gluten free, though be very careful of any with added flavourings
    • fresh fruits are all gluten free
  • if you want to offer hot food, then consider either buying some in, such as Domino’s gluten free pizza, and cutting it up small (leave it in the box for reassurance) or keeping it very simple—perhaps baking potatoes and offering various fillings. I know that these are boring options: coeliacs are always offered baked potatoes. But they are reliable and safe, as long as your fillings are also safe.

Of course, what you’re offering will depend on what everybody else is being offered. For instance, if you’re having a hog roast, then the meat would be fine as long as it isn’t coated in any way—watch out for those sauces and marinades—but you might want to have a stock of gluten free rolls on hand (well wrapped!) to offer to go with the meat. Chips (otherwise known as fries or frites) are fine as long as nothing else is or has been cooked in the oil, and the chips aren’t coated in flour to make them crispy or flavoured.

Don’t forget that if you’re offering edible prizes, it can be very disappointing for a child to win sweets they can’t eat. Could you check whether they’re OK in advance, and only buy prizes that would suit everyone? Here in the UK, most Haribo and Swizzels Matlow sweets are gluten free (do check each type, though, and leave them in the wrappings), and cheap to buy as prizes.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope your event goes well. Although some people may decline to try your gluten free offerings, there will be some there who are delighted and grateful that you’ve thought of them. And inevitably, the non-gluten-free people will want to eat them too! Remember to keep some back for the truly gluten-free…

Eat Water and Slim Rice

Slim RiceI was recently sent some Slim Rice to try—it’s made by a company called Eat Water.

There’s been a lot of publicity about this new product over the last few months, but in case you’ve missed it, this is a gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, salt-free carbohydrate-substitute designed to be used in place of rice, pasta and noodles. It has very, very few calories…

They sent me the ‘rice’ to try—obviously real rice is naturally gluten free (so don’t get confused) but since, I imagine, each of the products are fundamentally the same, simply presented in different shapes, it didn’t really matter which one I tried.

And they are all gluten free. All the Eat Water products—rice, pasta and noodles—are listed in the Coeliac UK Food And Drink 2013 directory (under Pasta and Noodles) as being acceptable for a gluten free diet.

So what did I think of it?

I’ve been struggling to know what to say about this product, because there isn’t much to say, as it tastes of very little.

But it is innocuous enough, and with a flavoursome sauce, is fine. And it is, as promised, filling.

It is, apparently, based on moyu (konjac), a vegetable fibre which has been used in Asian cuisines for centuries, and I can imagine that a good use for these products would be in a noodle soup or similar dish – think ‘rice noodles’ as a comparison. A few recipes are available on the Eat Water site to get you started.

If you’re looking for flavour, I’d have to say that eating true rice or a decent pasta would offer more, but if you want to cut down on calories, you could consider trying this occasionally instead of your usual carbohydrate to fill you up. It isn’t cheap, but as a kick-starter for a weight-loss diet, it might be just what you need.

What was I expecting?

My main concern when I first heard about this low-calorie, gluten free product was the potential for conflation with the ‘go gluten free to lose weight’ school of thought.

As you may know, I have mixed feelings about this view, because while it widens the market, making it more desirable for food manufacturers to provide gluten free food, it can trivialise the importance of going gluten free because you have coeliac disease. Those who choose to be gluten free to lose weight and then aren’t consistent in their diet (“a little bit won’t matter”) make it less likely that those who must be gluten free, and for whom even a little bit matters a lot, are taken seriously.

However, having reviewed the Eat Water site, I don’t believe that they are falling into this trap. Their products are primarily aimed at those who want to consume fewer calories, and it is an almost-accidental bonus that the products are also gluten free.

Incidentally, two of the products have been shortlisted in the recent FreeFrom Foods Awards – do go and check out the shortlist.


If you have to be gluten free and also want to reduce the number of calories you eat, this could be an option to consider, as long as you continue to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet overall. And you’d want to do that on any weight-loss diet, wouldn’t you?