12 Feb 2015
The Free From Food Awards 2015: my day as a food judge
Posted: 12 Feb 2015
It's official, I've made it into the inner allergy sanctum! How so? Well last week I was a food judge for the Free From Food Awards. OooOOOooo!
I was invited by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson to judge two categories; breakfast and chocolate. That involved tasting 43 breakfast items and 23 different types of chocolate. Yup, that little lot wiped out my 'healthy eating' plan for the week.
The procedure for judging followed a pattern that Michelle has honed over the years. All the foods were displayed in unmarked cups/jugs/plates and each container was marked with a number. Each judge was then given a sheet with product descriptions including nutritional and allergen information, and a list of ingredients. But no names. It was all very cloak and dagger.
When tasting was in progress, the room was deadly silent except for, 'Can you pass number 12 please?' or, 'Is 38 at that end of the table?' The reason for the silence is to ensure that the judges don't influence each other, either with negative 'urgh!' or 'mmm yummy' noises.
When all the foods had been judged, we submitted our scores and discussed the resulting shortlist of products. We were judging on taste, appearance, ingredients, allergen labelling and nutritional value. Although we glossed over that last bit when it came to the chocolates! We also discussed the need for products in the market; e.g. does the free from world really need another gluten free cupcake?
So which products made the shortlist and which ones won?
Ahh, that would be telling! Also, part of the deal of being a food judge is that we don't spoil the surprise for the winners at the official Free From Food Awards Ceremony on 22nd April. Which makes total sense and adds to the suspense.
What I CAN tell you about, are some of the free from finds that got me very intrigued. But just to be clear these are purely my opinions and not those of the room. First up, Cocoa Libre. It's chocolate that's free from milk, nuts, egg, wheat and gluten free and is suitable for vegans. It felt really smooth in the mouth with a rich indulgent chocolate taste. Very yum. I tested the Dark Mint Winter Knackali, but they also do a range of fun animal shapes for kids. And look at these chocolate chicks for Easter! Sadly Cocoa Libre does include soya lecithin in its ingredients, but it's good to see another nut free chocolate on the market.
Next up, Coconut Jam. I repeat, Coconut Jam. Say what now?! Don't be confused by the name, it's like a sweet fudgey coconut toffee spread. Made from 100% coconut with nothing added, it's a game changer. Think heated and drizzled on free from ice cream, stirred into porridge, added to sauces, cakes, I could go on. And on. The concept totally spun me out, but ouch, it's pretty pricey at £7.50 for 300ml. Maybe if we all start nagging for it the price will come down? I also checked with the manufacturer (Coconut Merchant) to make sure it was free from the top nine allergen traces too - it is, another big tick.
Interestingly, a lovely parent on Facebook (Thanks Gill!) sent a photo of a similar product called Coconut Caramel which she'd found in M&S. It's made by Hey Boo, but this one includes a few more ingredients which you can view here on Amazon.
The only weird experience of the day for me came as we judged the milks and yoghurt in the breakfast section. I was a bit surprised to see that A2 milk was included. A2 is NOT dairy free, nor is it lactose free. But it does claim to have removed one of the proteins in milk to help wth digestion (the A1 protein). Just to clear up any confusion, avoid, avoid, avoid if allergic to milk, or you have a lactose intolerance.
To sum up, I had a brilliant day as a food judge and it was really encouraging to see that a wider range of allergens are being excluded from free from products.
Roll on the awards night!