For day three of our 12 days of Christmas, we taste tested the gluten free Christmas cakes on offer from the main supermarket chains. Christmas cake to me should be a step up from a normal fruit cake, with possibly just a hint of alcohol to add real depth to the fruit.
I have vivid memories of my nan making Christmas cakes and Christmas puddings. She would start by soaking the dried fruit overnight in cold tea to plump up the raisins and sultanas. She always made them during the October half term and as children we all had to stir the cake and make a Christmas wish. She would then cook the cake and steam the puddings (wrapped in muslin cloths) and then store them for Christmas, feeding them with brandy at regular intervals. It was a proper ritual, and one we looked forward to excitedly, as it formed part of the build up to Christmas. When we manufactured gluten free food for a living, I followed the same tradition (although only the staff got to stir the cake mix and make a wish!).
All the products are reviewed independently and the commentary is our own.
Click the video below to see the results of our taste testing.
Christmas is a time of year when we all want to feel a little bit special and indulge when we eat out. Frequently, when eating out over Christmas, I have been left with a very basic meal and yet Christmas food is all about the trimmings. Most major retailers now provide a raft of gluten free Christmas food, in fact this year a few supermarkets have really upped their game! We decided to create a ‘shopping list’ of gluten free Christmas products that are readily available nationally. Caterers can then easily source these products and add them to their Christmas menus to create a meal for us that is just as special as ‘normal’ Christmas meals.
The first day is all about mince pies. So, whether you want to provide gluten free mince pies for your diners to have with coffee or mulled wine, or whether you want to serve them as a dessert, play the video below to see which mince pies came out the best in terms of taste and texture.
All the products have been tested by us and commentary is completely independent. Some products may not have been available at the time of our testing and thus may not be included, but we have tried to provide a full range of food items including mince pies, stuffing, Christmas puddings, bread and so on, basically the generic mainstays of a Christmas meal.
Each product taste testing will be released daily over the next two weeks via the website www.glutenfreetraining.co.uk, so please drop by and read the blogs and play the videos.
I do agree that basics (by that I mean bread and flour substitutes) are more readily available than they used to be – certainly there has been a massive expansion in free from aisles in the last couple of years. However, I do wonder whether statistics will show, in time, that despite this, the vulnerable (i.e. the old and sick), adhere less to the gluten free diet than they did when it was available on prescription.
There is no doubt that gluten free prescriptions cost the NHS money. Statistics are constantly banded about stating that a prescription loaf costs the NHS more than supermarkets sell it for – so how can that be? Surely, that should be investigated rather than having consultation after consultation about whether coeliacs should receive basic food items on prescription. Moreover, the same sort of outlandish charges appear to apply to other medicines too, such as paracetamol.
Aside from that, there is this popular misconception that coeliacs get their gluten free prescriptions free. That is just not true. There are certain medical conditions that preclude patients from paying for their prescriptions, but one of them is not coeliac disease.
However, the main question is, what’s going to happen when the gluten free bubble bursts? All those companies that invested in providing gluten free food for, let’s face it, the non-coeliac community or ‘life-stylers’ as they’re sometimes referred to – what will they do? It will no longer be financially viable to manufacture food for only one percent of the population, retailers won’t stock the slow moving items (there will be too much waste) and basically the whole gluten free market will implode. What do coeliacs do then? We’ll be back to buying vac-packed bread from small health food shops – if such places exist any more as they have been squeezed out by the supermarkets.
Adding on to this there has been yet more product withdrawals, with manufactured items being mislabelled as gluten free – see (http://www.worthingherald.co.uk) and http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk. I still don’t get how this happens? These businesses are supposed to have procedures in place that reduce the risk of contamination to basically zero. Having been a manufacturer, I am fully aware of the stringent processes one must adhere to. Okay it was slightly different in that I didn’t provide food for supermarkets, however the regulations are the same. I was able to make everything in a dedicated gluten free environment – there was no risk of the wrong flour or baking powder being used etc, so how come these companies can’t do it?
As always there has been a raft of articles on whether giving up gluten is good or bad for you and whether gluten sensitivity exists (http://www.postindependent.com, http://uk.businessinsider.com, http://www.netdoctor.co.uk), http://www.scienceworldreport.com. I think that sadly the crux of the issue is that for some people too much gluten-containing foods simply makes them ill. Those people may or may not have gluten sensitivity, they may or may not have coeliac disease – it is not our place to judge. They, as well as us coeliacs, unfortunately are tarred with the same brush as the gluten free dieters (those people under the false impression that following a gluten free diet means that they will lose weight or that it is somehow healthier for them).
Don’t get me wrong, having been a coeliac for over 20 years means that by and large I cook from scratch and eat very well. However, cake is still cake whether it’s gluten free or not. Just because it’s gluten free does not mean that it is healthy. In fact, to replace the gluten, commercial manufacturers tend to add sugar, salt and fat to add texture and taste to gluten free products. Therefore gluten free manufactured food can be actually less healthy. Both the following articles slam the perception that just because it’s gluten free, it’s good for you – http://www.sbs.com.au and http://www.mirror.co.uk.
On the subject of gluten free dieters, an Irish cafe owner caused a storm when he stated that he would refuse to serve anyone requesting gluten free food unless they could prove they were a coeliac with a doctors’ note. http://www.newstalk.com. As much as this is mildly amusing, it’s also very scary. I remember having a similar conversation with a chef in a Facebook group and he was adamant that ‘real’ coeliacs should make themselves known when they order their meal. The thought of us all having some sort of tattoo on our foreheads, or carrying some sort of identity card to prove we are what we say we are is very intrusive. I know it must be frustrating to go to the effort of providing a safe gluten free meal, only to watch the diner then eat bread with it or order a gluten-filled dessert, however has it really come to this? No-one would question a vegetarian’s desire to not eat meat – why do we then question a diner’s need, or want, to avoid gluten?
I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if the gluten free dieters said – “I’m cutting out bread in my diet as I’m getting fat, so can I have it without the bread?”, rather than can I have a gluten free roll with my starter. As I said before gluten free cake is still cake! Moreover, there are so many levels of sensitivity, that who are we to judge. I know people that can eat cooked egg but not raw egg – so they say to the establishment “Can I have my meal without mayonnaise?” Does it then matter if they then eat cake? No, not really.
On a more serious note, there has been new research into the causes of coeliac disease as reported by http://www.independent.co.uk. I never realised that not being breastfed was considered to be one of the causes of coeliac disease. Certainly solids were added to my diet as a very young infant, but I was still breastfed. Moreover, the food I was given would have been baby rice in my bottle (which would have been gluten free anyway)….can you imagine that now! So, the theory is that it’s the amount of gluten that we are exposed to before the age of two, that could be a determining factor in us getting coeliac disease. I will be interested in following this research to see how it pans out.
Lastly, and always on a high note!, http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk reports that there is yet another brewer who has developed a gluten free lager – yay! I can’t wait to go out to a pub in the evening and not have cider!