There is no denying that availability of gluten free Christmas products is no longer an issue, particularly for mince pies. We are spoilt for choice.. isn’t it wonderful?
But I wanted to see how they stood up to a bit of scrutiny. As a judge for the Free From Food Awards I have seen the variety and quality of gluten free foods really change in the last few years. But its not always been in the right direction. We now have more choice of products and retailers, but the quality, ingredients and sourcing is still way off where it needs to be.
To be sure of a balanced judgement I enlisted some expert help. The longer I live gluten free, the less sure I am sometimes of my own judgement of free from products like bread or pastry. Naomi (@GingerGourmand) is a passionate baker, food blogger, founder of Band of Bakers and recently judged 50 or so mince pies in a local baking competition. She has no dietary restrictions, but high expectations of baked goods, so was keen to hear her thoughts on the free from supermarket festive offerings.
All tasting was conducted blind to remove any brand bias or expectations.
To be really honest, the overwhelming feeling from the review was of overly sweet, underwhelming, under filled, pale, flavourless impersonations of mince pies. I am no snob, and have bought my fair share of shop bought versions in the past. But seeing them laid out together, having looked at the ingredients and prices, it was rather disappointing.
Sainsbury’s – Iced mince pies (gluten, wheat and dairy free). The icing makes for a super sweet offer, albeit nice to see something different, the overall sweetness needs to be reduced. Pastry was pretty crisp and thin though which was good. The addition of that icing not only makes them sickly, but a long list of additives and processes sugars, making for a junk filled pie.
Sainsbury’s – Mince Pie (gluten, wheat and dairy free). Compared to their iced mince pie, this pastry was crumbly and dusty.. too much tapioca? Leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.
Waitrose – Mince Pie (free from gluten, made without milk). Dry pale pastry, which ate more like a biscuit. The filling was quite flavoursome, with discernible spices. Pretty clean ingredients except the usual xanthan gum and emulsifiers, but the packaging was far from festive and looks very economical.
Asda – Apple and Cranberry Mince Pie (gluten, wheat and dairy free). Like an imitation Mr Kipling with a very liquid filling, incredibly sweet and not remotely linked to a mince pie. Traditional mince pies were unavailable at local stores.
Tesco – Deep Filled Mince Pie (gluten, wheat and dairy free) The pastry on this looked and tasted more like shortbread. The bottom and top were nicely browned, however the sides were strangely pale and almost undercooked. Full of filling where we could taste some spices rather than pure sweetness. Certainly the best value though at £1.75 for 4.
Holland & Barrett – Lovemore Luxury GF Mince pies (gluten, wheat and dairy free) A rather empty mince pie clearly made by the same producer as Tesco with the same pastry issues. Not really luxurious as they claim.
We Love Cake – Waitrose (gluten, wheat and milk free) Crispy pastry that didn’t disintegrate, although it was a bit light on filling. Large sized single mince pie that felt like a treat.
Marks and Spencer – All Butter Mince Pie (gluten free and nut free). Undoubtably the best pie, but only when compared to the other products. This is attributed to the 13% butter in the pastry which gave the whole mince pie a more rounded flavour and a better structured pastry. Filling was a bit sweet, but overall this was the preferred pie of the group. The only product to not contain almonds or declare traces, so ok for those allergic to nuts and overall, pretty clean ingredients for a mass produced long life pastry product. They can be frozen too.
Too much use of palm oil, either as an ingredient or processing aid and too many processed forms of sugar.. Dextrose, Wheat glucose syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, fructose in addition to plain old treacle and sugar.
For many of the pies, the ingredients were pretty standard, just too many preservatives, humectants and emulsifiers for my liking. Seemingly more than compared to many normal mass produced mince pies.
And as Naomi and I agreed, somewhat controversially, is too much use of margarine to make them dairy free too. The compromise for me, is too far. Not only on product quality, but also the ingredients that need to be used instead to perform a baking miracle. We end up with a pie of highly processed ingredients and additives to make a pastry product without 2 of its essential ingredients.
Amazingly, the Co-Op confessed to not stocking a single gluten free mince pie offer. However Ocado stocks an interesting range including ones from Hale and Hearty, Root and Wings Organic GF ones (a shocking £5.49 for 6) and the clean and sold out Foods of Athernay which look to have a rich, fruit packed filling.
So if you disagree let me know. If you know of the best GF mince pie, get in touch… Meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen making my own from scratch!