THREE YEARS ago on Mother’s Day my then five month old had his first allergic reaction and was dashed to hospital in an ambulance. Some bloody Mother’s Day.
But last night I was a guest at the FreeFrom Food Awards and it set me thinking how amazing it is that, three years back, I had no clue about allergy and no part to play in its weird old world whereas now I am privileged to know a wonderful circle of people who share a common cause.
From the fellow allergy parents with whom I’ve swapped tips and pilfered recipes and ad hoc support, to the specialist paediatric dietitians who have doled out their advice in late night Twitter discussions, the hard-working teams at the Anaphylaxis Campaign and Allergy UK, the people who work in industry but take allergy seriously enough to make it their mission to improve services (I’m thinking of Wan Mak at Sodexo and others), the fellow allergy bloggers, and the people like Russell Johnson of Incognito Cakes, who I met last night and who has four kids, a full time job and a wife who is allergic to wheat and dairy, and who spends his evenings whipping up gluten, wheat, dairy, egg and soya free cakes and cake mixes in his kitchen in Derby.
Last night, his company rightly scooped a ‘highly commended’ in the Foods for Children category for its Cheeky Little Monkey cake mix.
Then, of course, there is the omnipresent Alex Gazzola, aka @healthjourno, who is something of a Coeliac disease and food hypersensitivity guru and a dedicated campaigner against all quackery, not to mention one of the core team of people who make the FreeFrom Food Awards such a growing success.
Now in its seventh year, the event is the brainchild of the formidable Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the Foods Matter allergy and intolerance websites. She and Cressida Langlands set up the awards in a bid to “encourage and reward innovation and excellence” in the ‘free from’ market and, judging by the increasing number of entrants and the heaving crowds at last night’s party (heartening to see heavy hitters from the big supermarkets among the guests), her efforts are having serious impact. Later this year they will be launching the inaugural FreeFrom Eating Out Awards, which we can only hope will revolutionise allergy provision in the restaurant industry in the same way.
Anyway, for the past two years I’ve been chuffed to be invited to be a judge at the awards, which basically involves sitting around eating cake and shouting at people who want things with nuts in to win.
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I’ve been really keen to see more products that cater for multiple allergies scooping the big prizes.
Two years ago Michelle introduced a specific ‘nut free’ category to address this need. Frustratingly, while there are many really wonderful entrants across the board, there is still a paucity of genuinely nut free entries. Is this because there aren’t enough products out there, or because manufacturers aren’t putting themselves forward?
So, as a judge, when I come across a gluten free pasta brand that has nominated itself as a ‘nut free’ product (as this year) I think that’s just taking the piss. It’s like an apple being nominated in the ‘not a banana’ category. I gave them marks like this:
But there were some great entries, too, to whom I gave marks like this:
Anyway, here is a full list of all the winners and below is my own pick of the best products – most for for multiple allergies – from the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014:
Pan’Artisan pizza bases, breads & dough balls
This company makes conventional pizzas, breads and more for schools and food service, all in a nut free factory. D’you hear that, schools and cafes and service stations and public attractions? Huh?
Meanwhile, Pan’Artisan’s gluten free pizza bases scooped ‘highly commended’ in the Foods for Food Service category. I had a munch and they’re good – crisp base, slightly chewy, a little sweet like the Venice Bakery UK bases (see below) but I’d happily eat one.
While the gluten free bases contain nothing but rice flour, potato starch, olive oil, cane sugar, tapioca, yeast and salt and the bulk of the gluten-containing bread products are little more than wheat, water, rapeseed oil, yeast and preservative they haven’t been able to give me any more info on potential traces from the likes of egg, sesame etc so I’m chasing that. But at the moment I really love these people. If your local school or cafe hasn’t got an allergy safe bread or pizza option, tell them about Pan’Artisan. www.panartisan.com
Venice Bakery pizza bases & flatbreads
I can’t hail Pan’Artisan and not Venice Bakery, whose seasoned gluten free pizza bases won the Innovation Award. Gluten, egg, nut, sesame, dairy and soya free, with a good chewy, crisp texture and longish shelf life, what’s not to like? www.venicebakery.co.uk
Bfree plain bagels
These aren’t for us as they ‘may contain’ nuts and are made with pea protein but you’ve got to credit a bagel that’s gluten, egg and dairy free, as well as low in sugar. These new bagels were co-winners of the Breakfast Foods category with judges hailing the “great flavour”. Best toasted. www.bfreefoods.com
Focaccia per Tutti
Well, let’s be honest, this is focaccia “per tutti” except for those with nut allergies (again). But this Italian bread – overall winner of the awards – is brilliantly free from eggs, dairy, gluten, wheat and soya, so fair play to them. They just contain ground almonds, which from our point of view is a bugger. www.focacciapertutti.com
Big Oz cereals
I love Big Oz cereals because they are one of the few gluten AND nut free cereal makers around. Their chocolate buckwheat flakes with raspberries took ‘highly commended’ in the Nut Free category but the range extends from brown rice puffs through millet flakes and honey pop corn puffs. www.bigoz.co.uk
Ilumi ready meals
I’ve raved about Ilumi ready meals before. Egg, dairy, gluten and nut free meals ranging from curries to soups and stews, made from 100 per cent natural ingredients with no preservatives, additives or sweeteners AND vacuum packed for a long shelf life and no need to refrigerate… They quite rightly took the non-veggie Ready Meals gold medal with their Lamb Rogan Josh, and the Nut Free category with their Kerala Chicken Curry. www.ilumiworld.com
The Black Farmer sausages
When Sidney was still allergic to wheat these were a boon for parties – gluten and wheat free but also free from egg, nuts, sesame and all. The chipolatas (great for mini sausages on sticks) landed ‘highly commended in the Meat-Based Ready Meals category. www.theblackfarmer.com
Just Love Food Co cakes
It’s notoriously tough to find a nut free celebration cake, so this company’s party confections were deservedly ‘highly commended’ in the Nut Free category. You can find them in the major supermarkets and online. Of course, I only wish they were dairy and/or egg or gluten free, too. But I would say that. www.justlovefoodcompany.com
Fun Foods 4 All Bob the Builder pasta shapes
These gluten, wheat, egg and dairy free pasta shapes are super-cute for wheat free kids and scooped ‘highly commended’ in the Children’s category. www.funfoods4all.co.uk
Nairn’s Gluten Free Biscuit Breaks
Love these and am SO pleased they won the Best Scones, Sweet Biscuits and Cookies category, not least because they are one of the very few products ticking loads of allergy boxes. Gluten, egg, soya, nut free biscuits that taste really properly like digestives. (Dairy free, too, but manufactured on a line that also handles milk, annoyingly.) Come in little individual packs, so perfect for snacks on-the-go. www.nairns-oatcakes.com
For more on the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014 see here.