Coeliac Awareness Week 2021 kicks off today and runs until Friday, May 14, highlighting the psychological impacts of living without gluten.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease that is thought to affect 1 in 100 Irish people, many of which are still undiagnosed. I've been living without gluten for almost ten years now and at first, I found it really hard to adjust. At the time, there weren't as many gluten-free products available on the market and even though I was a chef, I didn't actually know that much about gluten - for the first few weeks I basically survived off bananas and eggs, and I lost a lot of weight very quickly.
Once I realised that there were some gluten-free products available in some stores, I began to sample everything I could get my hands on, which took a heavy toll on my wallet. I was stuck with bread that resembled cardboard and found it very difficult to eat out but thankfully, we've come on in leaps and bounds, and Ireland now has an amazing range of gluten-free foods and restaurant options available for coeliacs to enjoy.
Every time I see a new gluten-free product, I have to try it, so I've definitely found that there are some foods that you're better off spending your money on than others. Here I've listed three of my favourites for you to try this week - let me know what you think of them via the FOOD&WINE social media channels.
Specially Selected Luxury Popcorn Extra Buttery Toffee
RRP €1.39, available in Aldi stores nationwide
Toffee popcorn is one of those foods I associate with childhood, but as far as I can remember, the bags from my youth never tasted this good. This Irish-made popcorn has won several awards for Aldi, including a bronze medal at the Free From Food Awards 2018, thanks to its perfect texture and flavour. Crisps and popcorn can be a minefield for those newly off gluten, so having mainstream options in local supermarkets can be a godsend. More often than not, I have a bag of this golden popcorn squirrelled away at home for workday snacks or to enjoy with a movie and it is regularly found on my shopping list - there is a possibility I have a mild addiction to this gluten-free treat!
Promise Rustic White Handcrafted Sourdough
RRP €4.49, available in SuperValu, Tesco and many other retailers around the country
Gluten-free bread has come a long, long way in the almost decade since I've been eating it - these days, it's very rare that you'll open a loaf of bread to find that all of the tiny, too-sweet slices have massive holes in them caused by uneven, forced proving. Promise, one of Ireland's top gluten-free brands, has a really great selection of baked goods available in most large stores around the country, but the sourdough loaf is a real favourite of mine. Sometimes buttery toast is all you need and this delicious bread truly reminds me of the slices I used to enjoy during my gluten-filled days, which is a compliment of the highest order. To be honest, you can't really go wrong with any of the Promise loaves, but I always come back to this sourdough whenever I'm craving white bread.
READ MORE: How to master gluten-free baking
The Foods of Athenry Gluten Free Multiseed Toasts
RRP €3.95, available in SuperValu, Tesco and many other retailers around the country
I have a real love for The Foods of Athenry, a family-run Irish company whose foods are synonymous with good quality for a lot of people. While any of this company's products will be a welcome addition to your table, the multiseed toasts are, and always will be, my top pick.
I came across them by accident in 2016 - on the last leg of return journey from my J1 in New York, I boarded my final flight in Heathrow that would finally get me home to Ireland after several incredible, but long months. When I stepped on board, I came face to face with my friend Yvonne, who was working as a flight attendant with Aer Lingus at the time. I hadn't seen any of my friends or family in person in months and I was extremely jet-lagged at this point, so I burst into tears and made a total show of myself. Luckily, Yvonne had a level head at this surprise encounter and after she guided me to my seat and we took off safely, she set me up with an Aer Lingus gluten-free snack box. Other than good Irish tea, I don't actually remember what was in the box except for these crackers from The Foods of Athenry.
As we flew over the Irish Sea, I absolutely devoured these crackers and ever since, they've held a really special place in my heart - they were the first really good quality gluten-free foods I'd had in months and because I first tried them after such an adventure, they always remind me of coming home. You might think nostalgia has coloured my opinion of these crackers, but I've bought them hundreds of times since and shared them with gluten eaters and avoiders alike, all of whom have enjoyed them just as much as me. Although I will always love them simply slathered with butter, these crackers are perfect with a cheeseboard - the savoury seeds work really well with soft cheeses - or topped with some peanut butter.
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