free-from-foods-awardsIt’s ‘just’ gluten free…

I can’t tell you how many times that came up last week, as we ate our way through over 25 different vegetarian gluten free ready meals, and 55 tea-time items (cakes and biscuits).

Yes, I was in London again, on the panel of judges for two of the sessions of the Free From Food Awards 2015—and I felt I needed someone to roll me home afterwards. You may think that 55 tiny pieces of cake would be fab, but actually, it probably adds up to be the equivalent of one big birthday cake.

It’s always great to join the panel – interesting people with strong views not only about the free from world but also about each piece of cake – but I won’t be able to eat another piece of chocolate cake for a few weeks!

The ‘just’ gluten free comment came up as part of the many discussions we had during the course of the day. Here’s the thing:

  • there are many potential allergens. Which is better, a product that is delicious but ‘just’ gluten free (that is, it isn’t also dairy free, or egg free, etc), or one that is free from multiple allergens?
  • And another angle on it: which is better, a product that tries to mimic a ‘normal’ product, or one that tries to do something completely different, with unexpected and interesting results?
  • And: does the world really need another gluten free chocolate muffin (or more chocolate brownies) – and of the many chocolate cakes that already exist, which is better?

It became clear that our expectations of free from food are now very high indeed, which meant that we can now be very picky about the quality of the pastry, for example, rather than just marvelling that it had been done at all.

Having tasted some amazing products – ones that are ‘just’ gluten free, and ones that are great without any of the major allergens – we have set the bar high. Or rather, the manufacturers of these modern products are increasingly raising the bar. And some manufacturers are being left behind.

It is now much easier to find free from products that are indistinguishable from ‘normal’ – products that you could offer to guests without embarrassment or explanation, and with the expectation that they would enjoy them.

Not necessarily like-for-like replication; some ‘normal’ products rely so heavily on gluten, say, to give them their unique properties (I’m looking at you, croissants) that it is unrealistic to expect someone to recreate them exactly without it. At least, at the moment.

But the new baseline should be products that do not need any apology—this should be the new norm for gluten free products, and yet, sadly, it isn’t always so. There are still dry, gritty, taste-free biscuits available, for example.

We should insist on good food – if you don’t really like it, don’t buy it. There is better out there… and the list of products shortlisted should show you some of the many interesting new things available (the list will be out soon is out now!).