Gluten Free Cupcakes at The Hummingbird Bakery

Tuesday was a MCD. A Mandatory Cake Day. Ever have one of those? A day where your mood is so low it’s a requirement to eat cake. Truly. It’s the law.

So what do you do when you need a gluten free cake? Your options are usually so limited. To be honest, I think it’s a good thing I can’t usually lay my hands on a slice of delicious spongy sweetness without true effort. When my colleagues bring in trays of synthetic smelling doughnuts I breathe a huge sigh of relief I can’t eat them. Really, how can anyone enjoy eating those rings of artificialness with their toppings in radioactive colours? That’s one mahoosive consolation for not being able to eat gluten as far as I’m concerned!

I took a walk at lunchtime to clear my head and came across the sign for the Hummingbird Bakery at the turn into the gloriously named Frying Pan Alley:

The Hummingbird Bakery store in Spitalfields is part of the new Nido student development (lucky students!):

I wandered in and spotted these Red Velvet cupcakes. Sitting in their own covered case, they were gluten free (more on that coming later…).

I practically swooned at the packaging my cupcake came in:

So how did it taste? The cream cheese frosting on the cupcake made it more like a dessert than a cake. The cupcake itself was also pretty crumbly so any attempts at breaking off small chunks to eat were impossible as the pieces turned to tiny crumbs. Instead I went the dainty route, with a fork. The cake itself was so light and fluffy it was like eating a delicious cloud. Albeit a very sugary cloud. I certainly had a nice sugar rush to the head from the cream cheese frosting. Very occasionally I make gluten free cupcakes (I have a killer chocolate cupcake recipe using ground almonds) but I never put frosting on them. I guess this is probably sacrilegious in the world of cupcakes but a cupcake with frosting is just too much sugar for me. So for once it was lovely to enjoy a cupcake with such delicious frosting. Won’t change my mind on the frosting for my own cupcakes though.

After I’d eaten the “gluten free” Red Velvet cupcake, I looked on the Hummingbird Bakery website and saw the following:

“* Our Made Without range uses gluten-free ingredients, however, please note that they are baked in kitchens that also handle ingredients that contain gluten.

In the interests of our customers’ health and well-being, The Hummingbird Bakery does not certify our Made Without range as gluten-free. Customers who require further information on the ingredients used in our Made Without range should contact us.”

Interesting. When I’d gone into the store, I’d simply asked if they had gluten free cupcakes and I’d been shown the Red Velvet cupcake I bought. Looking at the photo now it does appear that there may be a disclaimer on the sign above the cupcake. I’ll be honest, I was so happy in my otherwise poor mental state to have found a gluten free cupcake that I didn’t bother reading the sign.

But also interesting on another level. These cupcakes have been made with gluten free ingredients but in a kitchen which handles gluten containing ingredients and therefore cross contamination may occur. In January 2009 the EU made a change to the food labelling laws that only items with a certified gluten limit in the final food of 2oppm or less can be labelled as gluten free. Food producers have until January 2012 to comply with the new law. Does compliance with the new law mean that we will see more labels like this? Where companies either can’t or don’t want to acquire certification for the new gluten free levels where once they would have labelled them as gluten free? You can read more about safe levels of gluten here.

Before I make a return visit, I’ve contacted the Hummingbird Bakery requesting more information on their “Made Without” labelling and cross contamination levels. I shall report back when I receive a reply from them.

Update 14th August 2011

I received the following reply back from The Hummingbird Bakery:

“Thanks for your enquiry regarding our Made Without range!
We have labelled these products as “Made Without” because they are made with ingredients that do not contain gluten.  This includes the vinegar that we use on the Red Velvets and all the sprinkles that are on the other flavours.  We have technical specification sheets from our suppliers for all our ingredients, therefore, have made sure that we are using gluten-free ingredients for this range!
We do not label the products as Gluten-Free, because, as you point out, we have not had them tested to be compliant with the new Codex coming into force next year.  We do our best to prevent cross-contamination, however, as we point out in-store on the point of sale material next to the price labels and online, “Our Made Without range uses gluten-free ingredients.  Please note, however, that they are baked in kitchens that also handle ingredients that contain gluten.  In the interests of our customers’ health and well-being, The Hummingbird Bakery does not certify its Made Without range as gluten-free”.
Practically, we wash down the mixing equipment before mixing the Made Without batters, these are then kept separate and labelled, and then finally we bake them in the distinctive silver cases so that they stand out from the “regular” range.  As with nut allergies, we do handle ingredients containing gluten, so we cannot guarantee that there won’t be traces of gluten in the products.
Therefore, you must use your own judgement as to whether you are comfortable consuming these products.  We have many Coeliacs who are regular customers since we introduced this range, and have had no problems since we introduced the range in January.  But we have always been careful not to promise “gluten-free”, and have consulted with the Coeliac Society before we introduced this range and the name for it!
We hope this helps!”

After receiving this reply, I went back and asked if they had any plans to have their cupcakes tested for compliance with the new Codex which will be enforced in January 2012. This is the reply:

“We will not be having our range tested for the Codex.  Unfortunately, our kitchens are VERY small and we cannot create “sterile” areas where gluten never enters.  Therefore, we cannot permanently guarantee that our Made Without range is 100% gluten-free, as we explained in our first response.  We didn’t want to mislead people just to jump on the “gluten-free” bandwagon.  We wanted to make a range that people could enjoy with the correct information and using their own judgement!
We do sell about 1 tray a day of the Made Without range in each store – that’s about 24-30 pieces… compared to 400 – 1000 a day of our “regular” range.  Therefore, economically, we cannot justify constructing a special/sterile kitchen that would guarantee gluten-free.”

In conclusion the choice is yours whether you take the risk or not of consuming the Hummingbird Bakery’s Made Without cupcakes.

I think we will see many more food outlets following a similar path. I guess we can all think of a cafe who produces a gluten free cake to go alongside it’s regular cakes, for example. I hope I’m wrong but I suspect what the new Codex means is that the number of “gluten free” products which can currently be found in shops and cafes all over the UK will inevitably be reduced as manufacturers large and small decide against compliance with the new gluten free Codex as it may not prove economically viable to do so.


Cost: Red Velvet cupcake was £2.95 to take away (in a super cute little box!)

Location: Hummingbird Bakery Spitalfields, 11 Frying Pan Alley, London E1 7HS

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 08.30 to 18.30. Saturday and Sunday 11am to 6pm

Hummingbird Bakery has 3 other branches in central London. Click here for locations.


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  1. August 6, 2011 / 11:52 am

    Yep, I do expect to see more of these labels come 2012, but the whole area of labelling is surprisingly complicated – as I learned when I came to write the labelling chapter in my book. The term ‘no gluten containing ingredients’ is what I expect to make many appearances – but note that even a verbal claim of ‘gluten free’ won’t be allowed come 2012, so if you asked for GF and were shown the cupcakes, that would be in my book an offence against the regulation next year.

    (And yes, doughnuts. Possibly the vilest food on the planet. I hate them in all forms!)

    Great blog, Sian – always thoughtful.

  2. August 12, 2011 / 5:59 am

    On my pre gluten free trips to London to visit my son, we always made a trip to Hummingbird Bakery in Portobello Rd. I am coming over again in March so it will be the first time in London as a Coeliac. It will be interesting to see how the new labeling laws are going to work. Thanks for this post.

    • August 14, 2011 / 1:48 pm

      I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how the enforcement of this law will affect food labeling. I think that where, at least in recent years, many small scale food producers and cafes have increasingly offered gluten free products (especially cakes) most will no longer be able to comply with the new Codex. I suspect this means we’ll see more labels like “Made Without” and certainly less gluten free options as many food manufacturers will not pay for testing to comply with the new Codex. The consumer will need to make their own decision on how safe for them it is to eat those food items.