Free From Food Awards 2017 Shortlist
Treat yourself! Feast upon the 2017 Free From Food Awards Shortlist.
The standard of the entries just keeps on getting better. Indeed, so good are they now that ‘freefrom’ foods are often the first choice for foodies who, a few years ago, would not have given them the time of day!
The shortlist presents all the products entered into the awards. To find out which ones are the most deserving of your desire you will need to wait until Awards are announced on 28 March.
This year’s shortlist includes:
- Artisan gluten and dairy-free bread mix kits
- Beetroot and sweet banana ketchups
- Gluten and lactose free protein powders
- Fluffy tapioca Yorkshire puddings
- Pastas made from edamame beans, green peas and quinoa and chickpeas
- Coconuts in every possible guise
- Ostrich sausages
- 12 different gluten free beers
- No less than 25 excellent products which exclude all 14 major allergens!
You do not however need to wait until 28 March to delve into the best new discoveries. Along with several fellow judges I have written enthusiastically about personal highlights. I found *lots to love* within several categories I had the privilege of being on the judging panel for. Go to my highlights from the No-Top 14 Allergens, Food-to-Go and Food Bars, and the full series.
What is it like to be a Free From Food Awards Judge?
Judging occurs in a gorgeous North London home hosted by the Free From Food Awards founder Michelle Berriedale-Johnson. Leading up to the awards all the products entered start arriving, and arriving, and arriving. The number of products entered so great that judging takes up most of two weeks. That is nearly two whole weeks of all day testing by a pool of judges!
For each product a page is prepared listing the ingredients, the free from credentials and any preparation notes provided. Foods are prepared according to the instructions from their producer and served to judges. Judges do not see the brands, the product names or the packaging until they have individually rated everything and and post-rating discussion has resulted in selection of the products to receive awards. This avoids that judges are influenced by brand, product name or packaging. Well, it *mostly* avoids that, as there is a fun side-game where some judges will take delight in using their expansive free from foods knowledge to identify products based on their ingredients alone! :-)
During tasting and scoring, judges are encouraged, just like professional food tasters, not to influence their fellow judges. This means suppressing expressions of delight or dismay, verbal or nonverbal. We *mostly* behave. Once scoring is complete and the scores used to identify initial candidates worthy of awards there is open discussion where every judge has the opportunity to make a case and receive challenge and support.
Appearance, aroma, taste and texture play a big role in determining scores along with innovation, nutritional virtues and how well they fill a gap within the free from market. This year I recall sampling a pastry that I found bland, not terrible, but uninteresting. However this was a ready-made pastry that was entirely gluten-free and vegan and which held together fantastically well to make a firm case suitable for tarts, quiches and similar, and at a good price-point. This was therefore a product worthy of recognition for technical achievement and filling a market gap which would be valuable to lots of people.
Products can gain Commended, Highly Commended or Winner within their category. To gain a Commended badge means that the judging panel agreed that it had some impressive combination of taste, nutritional virtue or innovation, sometimes all three! Highly Commended products stand out even further and those that gain the Winner have typically delivered a ‘WOW’ factor to the judges.
Judges are free from industry professionals, dieticians and nutritionists, chefs, entrepreneurs and bloggers, allergy sufferers and the parents of children with allergies. There are plenty of different perspectives in play and it is great to receive challenge to one’s own preferences. Those, like me, that are gluten-free centred are reminded that free from is not just, and not always, gluten-free! Those with preferences for artisanal and high quality ingredients are reminded that affordability and availability are just as important.
Sounds terrific right? So you want to be a judge? Best consult with your gut microbiota first. Here is just some of what you might sample in just one day! I could only fit 30 items on each collage, there were more!
I went into my first year of judging with a background of experience of fine chocolate tasting. I knew about the difference between taste and flavour. Taste is the sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami, and possibly fat, that you can detect using your tastebuds alone. Flavour is made up of taste plus aroma and texture and is wonderfully more complex than taste. I was aware of some of the ways to think about flavour, such as the intensity and the difference between initial, middle and ending flavour notes.
I also knew *how* to taste chocolate which is something I am delighted to explain whenever I get the chance. First, just look at and feel the chocolate. Glossy or matte? How dark or light is it? Is it uniform? Hold it close to your ears and break it. Is there a clean, sharp snap sound? That is a sign of high cocoa solids and proper tempering (melting) and is something a chocolate candy bar majoring in sugar and vegetable fats will not do. Slowly move a piece into your mouth and bite into it no more than twice or simply let it rest on the tip of the tongue. One of the magical things about chocolate is that it will melt at body temperature, so chewing is unnecessary and will in fact change the flavour you experience. So instead of chewing, just let the chocolate melt, move it around with your tongue and focus on the flavour. Where do you detect it? When? Can you name the notes you are experiencing? Perhaps notes of fruit like berries? Perhaps spice like nutmeg and cinnamon? Perhaps darker notes like tobacco? What about the ‘when’? How does the flavour change? When do you detect sweetness? When is the intensity strongest? How long does the aftertaste linger?
Sampling a single piece of chocolate like this takes several very mindful minutes. It also isn’t really possible to speak whilst doing so.
Other judges will surely laugh when they read this. I went into judging with the intent of using my chocolate tasting approach to sample all the foods. In my first year I was on the panel for a category with 80+ foods to sample in one day including a break for lunch! Sample, make notes, assign a score, discuss and debate with the rest of the panel. Within the first 20 minutes I was roughly 15 minutes behind schedule, having barely prepared my notes on the first few samples. What I did not quite anticipate was how many foods there were to sample and how very different they are from one another even within the same Award category. This year within the Food to Go category for example we had Veggie crisps, multiple soups and pasta dishes, a Calzone, a Lamb Jerky Bar, Ice Cream, and 4 different coconut milks.
Food likes and dislikes vary hugely, influenced by the number of taste-buds you have, genetics, culture, familiar and unfamiliar foods, what your mother ate more or less of whilst you were in the womb and of course your preferences for various nutritional properties. Some people are extremely sensitive to tastes – hypertasters – and others far less so. Some can barely tolerate anything bitter whereas others barely perceive the bitterness in foods like sprouts and coffee. So it is no surprise that few foods tested by the panel are unanimously loved. At the end of a sampling round each judge contributes their personal scores and these are used to prepare an initial shortlist of contenders for the Commended, Highly Commended and Winner awards. Then each contender is discussed, with views put forward for why it deserves recognition. Only after awards are agreed upon are the brands revealed. The bloggers among the judges then scramble to grab pictures and brand and product names of the things they are keen to recommend, or perhaps just buy for themselves!
It *IS* great fun though, especially for a hopeless foodie like me, and discovering new favourites is just delightful.