The weekend before last I travelled to London for the Allergy & Free From show hosted at Olympia. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a giant food exhibition from the biggest and brightest Free From producers in the UK, Europe, and beyond. If you’re Charlie, then the Allergy show is the Chocolate Factory.
Long time readers of my blog might have a sense of deja vu – I attended in 2014 and 2013, although I was helping out on a stand those years and therefore didn’t see half as much as I saw this time round.
It’s a huuuuge show, so all I can do is give you my personal highlights and recommendations. Brands with a star next to them (*) means this company provided me with freebies, but you should know by now my good opinion can’t be bought with free food. 😉
I must say, the organisers did a great job this year, and I’d like to extend a thanks to them for organising the show (incredibly they are only a small team!) and also for organising the bloggers meetup. I felt like they rejigged the space again this year – the aisles were wide and I didn’t get squished at all, despite it being plenty busy on all three days.
The Pastry Room – if I could only tell you about one new discovery I made at the show, this would be it. They had a small stand so you might have missed them, but they produce a range of gluten-free mixes (pastry, scones, cookies and sponge cake) that are stored in the freezer. So what’s special about that? Well, the fat has already been added, meaning that when you make your pastry, everything is as cold as possible, and you end up with a properly flaky gluten-free pastry! I know it’s a cliché at this point, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between their pastry and regular gluten-containing pastry. They also seem to have achieved a truly chewy gluten-free cookie.
Unfortunately they don’t currently deliver to Holland (waaaah) and I don’t think I’d even have space in my tiny freezer (double waaaah) but I may have dragged my mum over to this stand and forced her to order some for when I come to visit. Thanks mum!
They keep for 18 months in the freezer so if you have the space you can definitely order in bulk!
Green’s gluten free beers – these guys have recently undergone a fantastic rebrand and their new labels are looking good! Their beers are always very easy to drink and I particularly liked their blond beer. (I said the same thing last year, but it doesn’t stop being true!)
Isabel’s Free From* – no, it wouldn’t be an Allergy Show post without mentioning Isabel. She was celebrating her 10th anniversary at the show with a fully pimped out stand.
She’s storming ahead in the Free From world, so much so that she even had some celebratory cookies printed!
She’s got a few new products out – a baked doughnut mix and a pancake mix, but most exciting of all was the prospect of her upcoming gluten-free gravy granules, a corner of the market that seems to be rather lacking. I may be a “knit your own muesli” type, but you can guarantee that when cooking a big meal, I will always, always forget about the gravy until the last minute.
Romeo’s Gluten-free Bakery – I haven’t had the chance to visit these guys in Islington yet, so I treated myself to one of their loaves of bread. It was £5. Yes, that’s a lot of money. I don’t eat a lot of bread, so I treated myself to a seeded loaf after I tried all their samples – for research purposes! – and it was really, really nice bread. If you’ve got the money, definitely try these guys out. They were also absolutely lovely, which always helps.
Tesco Free From Chocolate Celebration Cake* – this one is a bit of a wild card, actually. When I lived in London I did occasionally eat Tesco’s Free From range, and the main benefit is that they are pretty inexpensive. Taste-wise, I’ve always thought of them as not bad. At the bloggers meetup, we were generously presented with goodie bags, and the rep from Tesco ended up giving me an entire FreeFrom celebration cake. I was quite overwhelmed with the freebies and couldn’t possibly eat everything before I was due to fly home on Monday so I thought about finding a local food bank to donate to – but it was a warm day and by the time I got home the cake had not fared well AT ALL. (This is not a criticism of the cake itself, I wasn’t able to carry it upright you see). So we put it in my mum’s fridge and thought we’d try a slice of the mush for dessert.
It was divine! It’s unfortunately not dairy-free, as it’s made with butter – real butter! Tesco have done a really good job with this gluten-free cake – it was fudgy and moist and chocolatey but not sickly sweet at all. I don’t know whether keeping it in the fridge perhaps improved it but I loved it, as did my mum, and we both hung our heads in shame for being supermarket snobs.
Lakritsfabriken – Swedish for “liquorice factory”, these guys were showcasing their premium gluten-free liquorice. For premium read = expensive. Still, I didn’t even like liquorice before – we went over to satisfy my Danish mother’s insatiable desire for decent liquorice. A few samples of their salted, chocolate covered offerings and I was a convert. It had nothing to do with the attractive Swedish man on the stand, NOTHING, I promise! 😉 I am still gutted that we bought a pack of these and then I forgot to eat them before I flew home. We were given a huge amount of liquorice toffee to sample with our purchase so at least I can console myself with toffee and the satisfaction that camaraderie between Scandinavian nations is not a thing of the past.
Well, this is starting to sound like a school ceremony, and we all remember dozing off at those, so I’ll make this part snappy…
Great Food – yummy little falafelly balls, with a variety of different flavours/veggie combos. I would eat these on a regular basis if I could get hold of them on the Netherlands, and I don’t eat a lot of premade foods.
Punjaban Curries – delicious authentic curry bases. A family run business based on family recipes.
Pana Chocolate – one of many raw chocolate offerings at the show. They have a variety of interesting flavours (fig and wild orange was my favourite) and although raw chocolate can be a bit weird when you first try it, even one square satisfies your chocolatey cravings (and I say this as strictly NOT a one square kind of gal!)
BFree – their bagels and wraps are just wonderful
Greenfrog Botanic body wash* – I was given a bottle of this as part of the bloggers goodie bags, and although I said to the guy I couldn’t promise to review it I thought I’d mention it as it smells really good. I don’t believe in Ayurvedic medicine, but the body wash is organic, biodegradable, and suitable for vegans and those with sensitive skin.
Udi’s Gluten-free Blueberry Breakfast Bars* – I’m on the fence about Udi’s as I find their products to be rather hit and miss. But these were actually pretty decent and reminded me of Nutrigrain bars.
And a quick shoutout to Moral Fibre for winners of the “Best Named Brand” category.
Room for improvement
Udi’s Chocolate Flavour Sandwich Cookies* – these Oreo rip-offs brought 60% less joy to my belly than other gluten-free Oreo substitutes. It’s weird because I’ve tried their other cookies in the past and actually really liked them.
The 1000s of Paleo snack products – if people thought the gluten-free “trend” was annoying, then Paleo must be insufferable. Many of these were promoting some of the most shameful pseudoscience I have ever come across. I feel like I should support Paleo brands as they are expanding the gluten-free marketplace, but I feel it’s a passing fad for most – those on a “serious” Paleo diet (if there is such a thing) are not consuming prepackaged snacks. They are loading up on steak and vegetables.
Every brand that uses the following phrases: “guilt-free”, “no naughties”, “no nasties”. Firstly, I hate the constant plastering of the concept of guilt all over food. No food is inherently good or bad, and the narrative created by these brands only serves to normalise disordered thinking about food. Also, “naughties” and “nasties”? What are we, three years old?
The end is nigh!
So thanks for making it to the bottom of a rather epic post, and I hope it has been useful, enlightening or entertaining.
For those who live far from London, fear not, there are several other shows!
Liverpool (Exhibition Centre) – October 2015
Glasgow (SECC) – March 2015
Berlin (STATION) – April 2016