I was delighted to be included in the judging panel for yesterday’s session of the 2017 Free From Food Awards (FFFA).
The FFFAs – now in their 10th year – celebrate the UK’s best free from products from small, (sometimes just starting out in the home kitchen) start ups to large supermarkets. The Awards are run by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson and her seemingly indefatigable team. All judging is performed blind. The judges are not told until after their comments have been recorded and scoring has been completed whose products have been tasted. All products are cooked or prepared exactly to the package’s instructions.
It’s been a pleasure to see the development of the free from food sector through the last 6 years in which I’ve been honoured to be included on the judging panel. Not just the growth in number of products now available in this sector, but the bringing to market of more innovative products and an increasing number of products catering to the wider allergy community, more than just gluten free. For me the judging, and especially the presentation of awards party, is a chance to catch up with friends within the free from community who I wouldn’t ordinarily get to see otherwise. It’s also a million miles from my ‘day job’ which is another reason why I thoroughly enjoy being involved!
As I also have a nut allergy, I have to be mindful of the categories I can judge in. For this reason, cake and biscuit containing categories are out for me as so many contain nuts, and particularly almonds which is one of the nuts I’m allergic to.
This year I judged in the Innovation and Veggie Ready Meals category.
The shortlist for the FFFA 2017 will be published on 8th February and the presentation of awards will be made on Tuesday 28 March 2017.
Until the shortlist is published, I can give you a sneak peek of the judging process and my top picks from the judging yesterday:
In the Innovation category, I enjoyed the following:
High protein & 75% less carbs than regular chilled egg noodles, these are not marketed as gluten free fish noodles but that’s what they are. Made from a combination of Alaskan pollock, Pacific whiting and/or hoki, I really liked the firm texture of these noodles. We tried them plain and I could taste the fish but they looked just like regular noodles. They can be stir fried in 1 minute and with sauce this might be a good way to get some fish into kids. You can even eat these directly from the packet.
If you were presented with this, what would you think it is? I asked on Instagram and the suggestions ranged from a brownie containing beetroot, dates or figs or even insects to something made with flour from dinosaurs (well it is the Innovation award!).
Perhaps you’ll be as surprised as me to discover this is in fact a Piri Piri chicken bar made by Fori. This product is made with 60% free range chicken.
It had an interesting flavour; I’ll be honest and say I loved it and was challenged by it in equal measure. But if you’re into high protein, gluten free and nut free snacks, this product could be for you! I think this product would be good as a back up while travelling in case your special meal is not loaded on to your flight. Similarly, if you were out on a long hike, this product could provide a filling but light item to carry snack on.
As the tasting is done blind at the FFFA, we do not see the packaging at the time of product tasting. This protein bar is sold in this packaging and I think you’d eat it directly from the packet, meaning you’re unlikely to ponder whether this is a cholcolate
Also in the Innovation category were these gluten free sweet potato wraps by bFree. On my recent trip to Australia, bFree wraps were easy to find everywhere, including these sweet potato wraps. I liked that they were very pliable and I imagine they would stand up well to being in a lunchbox. We tried them both as a wrap with hummus filling and also separately to taste the flavour alone. A product I will definitely be buying.
As well as the Innovation category, I also participated in the judging for the vegetarian ready meals.
My top pick in this category were these gluten free Devonshire soysages made by Dragonfly Foods. I would buy these over meat sausages and really enjoyed the rosemary flavour in them as well as the way the outside had crisped up. The texture and taste didn’t make them too dissimilar in my view to meat sausages. I suspect that they would BBQ quite well, unlike some of the gluten free vegetarian sausages on the market today.
I think that vegetarian ready meals is an area in which food manufacturers could make improvements in. There is definitely room in this area to increase the number and range of products on offer to vegetarians with dietary restrictions looking for convenience products.
Many thanks to Michelle for inviting me to participate in the judging again this year and to the whole team behind the scenes for their skills in preparing all the products to try.
You can follow news from the Free From Food Awards here. The shortlist will be published on Wednesday 8th February 2017.
Have you tried any of these products? Would you consider buying them?