There are sometimes a few perks that come with writing about food and being invited to be on the panel for the inaugural Free From Food Awards Ireland this year was definitely a perk. I will never say no to an invitation to try out new gluten free products!
The Free From Food Awards Ireland were founded by John Burke, a Coeliac and businessman, who brings the Awards to Ireland having been a judge in the UK awards for a number of years. The purpose of these awards is to reward the producers of gluten free products for quality and innovation and also, importantly to provide feedback to those producers. Judges were invited to ‘Just come open minded and willing to taste! ‘ so that is how I approached my two days of judging.
Although the event ran over several days I was only available for two days and sadly missed out on judging the pizza section. However in my two days I was surprised and delighted to see how many gluten free products there are on the market now, whether in stores or online.
The range and quality of products is so much improved from the time of my initial diagnosis ten years ago and I can see that now producers are moving past just trying to make replacement products and are moving towards experimentation, working to create high quality products that taste great and also happen to be gluten free or free from allergens such as dairy, oats and soy.
There were experienced judges there to chair and talk the panel through our tasting process and this was incredibly useful, we were asked to judge around certain categories: quality, flavour, aroma, texture, ingredients, price and Fee From declaration. Although this was blind tasting we were given confirmation of which products had free from labelling and which were working towards that end.
The value of awards such as the Free From Food awards is not just in rewarding the work that has been done by established suppliers but is also in highlighting the work of emerging producers and helping to get new products on supermarket shelves. Without the kind of attention participating in these awards brings it is often difficult for small producers to bring their products to a wider audience.
Being in a position to give feedback to suppliers through our comments is enormously empowering, it is so important for them to hear back about what works, what doesn’t, is it more important to have a full flavoured bread or do we value texture more? What are we looking for in our Free From Food apart from confidence that what we are eating isn’t harming us?
Advocacy is essential to ensure that suppliers continue to invest in research and development of Free From products, advocacy ensures that these products make it on to our supermarket shelves and in to venues such as airports, hospitals, sporting arenas etc. It is important that people who want ready availability of high quality, safely produced, interesting and delicious Free From products work towards that end and I feel that John Burke and his team, who were all a pleasure to work with and did their utmost to make this an enjoyable experience are doing amazing work and I truly appreciate all of their efforts. I look forward to seeing the results of the judging when they are announced later this Summer.
For more information on the Free From Food Awards see their website www.fffa.ie