Every year for the last 4 years I have had the honour of being invited to judge for the Free From Food Awards. This year has been just as exciting as previous years.
The panel of judges consist of industry professionals from many backgrounds including nutritionists, dietitians, food journalists, food producers, chefs, cooks, bloggers, people with (or who have children with) allergies, intolerances or coeliac disease.
This mixture make for an interesting, varied and sometimes hotly debated panel who are viewing and tasting products from a multitude of different perspectives.
The products entered are assessed for their appearance, taste, texture, aroma, nutritional profile, usefulness and what they are free from. There is extra attention paid to products which are new to the market, innovative or difficult to replicate at home.
Here are my thoughts on the categories I had the pleasure of judging.
Milk Alternatives, both animal and plant -
There were a strong contingent of lactose free and goats milk products on offer. Although not suitable for my diet it is great to see the market catering for many different needs.
Gallo UK offered two tasty milk alternatives, a 3 grains rice, buckwheat and quinoa, and a Venere wholemeal black rice drink
Coco Mojo presented a banana coconut milk with added pea protein which was tasty and a great dairy free alternative to the multitude of protein shakes on the market.
Coldpress offered an almond, banana and raw cacao shake.
The Progressive Food Company have created longlife individual portion packs of soya milk, although quite small they present businesses with a great option for providing soya milk for customers.
There was a great flax milk, high in omega 3 from Ooomega
There were two fantastic almond based yoghurts which were free of soya, dairy, lactose and refined sugar from Nush.
A wonderful full, creamy almond yoghurt with blueberry and live vegan cultures.
Also a banoffee flavoured almond yogurt with live vegan cultures. As it was free from refined sugar this would be a great way of giving live cultures to children with dairy allergy.
The freefrom cheese market has come a very long way in recent years.
This year I was very impressed by an artisan smoked cashew cheese from the Tyne Chease company.
Tesco entered a tasty supermarket own brand dairy free cheddar cheese with jalapeño and chilli.
Bute Island have vastly improved the taste and texture of their dairy free cheese which is also soya free and can be bought ready grated.
And then there was the contentious spread that made me eat my words! I was absolutely convinced it was a brand I knew and trusted. I was amazed to find out that it was a new formulation of Vitalite, a brand I would usually avoid. I look forward to finding out if it is as useful in cooking as the brand I usually use, Pure sunflower.
Breakfast cereals and baked goods -
The granola offering was strong again this year with The Cooperative Freefrom Berry Granola sporting lovely fruity pieces.
The Tesco own brand white bagels and the BFree oaty loaf were perfect glutenfree staples for breakfast or lunch.
There were porridge oat snack bars from Pulsin, breakfast biscuits from Nairns and even a glutenfree brioche from the Wildcraft Bakery (sadly not dairyfree)
Confectionery chocolates and sweets -
This year all 16 chocolates suitable for me being dairy, lactose and gluten free. However there were no sweets entered this time.
A great range was offered from bars, blocks, a tobelerone alternative, easter eggs, caramels, fudge and chocolate coated pili nuts.
Booja Booja hazelnut truffles shone out from the crowd for me. I tried to find fault with them but couldn't muster more than a request for more!
The Honeycomb milk alternative bar from Cocoa Libre continued their high standards and looked very pretty.
Pacari entered bars of high cocoa content, 70% and 100% chocolate, enticing me to think of new recipes to use them in.
The Asda Luxury easter egg contains cocoa nibs and comes complete with truffles, a great product from a supermarket.
I was very excited by a potential Tobelerone replacement made by Bonieri which was refined sugar free and very tasty. Sadly the packaging had too many may contain ingredients for me to want to purchase it.
I was very impressed by the Raw Salted Caramel Fudge from artisan company Living Food of St Ives. It smells divine, a sweet vanilla aroma with the texture of fudge from the combination of ground almond and coconut oil.
Equally impressive were some Raw Chocolate Covered Caramels from Dakin Delights.
Lastly I was intrigued by Raw and Wild activated raw chocolate and coconut pili nuts which are rich in calcium, phosphorus and potassium.
To top of the heated discussions of the day I was torn by the selection box offerings from Asda and Tesco. They looked the part but I'm not sure they tasted good enough for my taste buds.
These are my favourites but there are heaps more categories and products to hear about. Find all the entries at Freefrom Food Awards and listen to other judges through the links provided.
The Shortlist is here;
Award winners will be announced on 17th April 2018 and you can follow via #FFFA18 on social media