Friday, 7 December 2012

Gluten free mince pies: M&S, FreeFrom and Hale & Hearty

It is nearly Christmas and the stores are full of red and green-wrapped seasonal food..much of which is unsuitable for people who cannot tolerate wheat and gluten.  However, there is an increasing range of gluten free food readily available so I decided to run some comparisons.  Today I tested three mince pies, two bought from a speciality store - the kind that sells both rice cakes and vast arrays of vitamins, and the other from Marks and Spencers.  I have been increasingly impressed with the efforts MandS are making to minimise allergens where they really are not needed in a recipe. In doing so they are making many prepared foods available to people like me, so that we don't always have to cook from basic ingredients.

For readers outside the UK, a mince pie is pastry filled with a rich spicy mixture of dried fruits, traditionally eaten at Christmas.

We tested the three mince pies both hot and cold, and considered flavour, texture and ease of handling. All three, I am pleased to say, would be acceptable both hot and cold.  However, they did differ quite a bit, on these three characteristics and also in their packaging.

Prices for a box of four:
M and S £2.49
Hale and Hearty £3.85
OK Foods £2.25

cold pies cut in half

hot pies cut in half

These three mince pies looked quite different, which made it easy to remember which was which in the testing.  The MandS one is an open tart with a small spice-dusted marzipan star on top.  The HandH one is also open, but has a pastry star dusted with icing sugar.  The OK one is a closed tart with a full pastry lid.

The flavours and handling characteristics of these tarts differed when they were hot and cold.

M&S mince pie
MandS: these tarts looked pretty though the filling looked a bit stingy.  They had a soft almost pliable pastry which made them easy to handle, and a rich spicy filling.  The flavour of the nutmeg was quite strong, and it might almost be too much for people who don't like spice - I found my own homemade mince one year, made to my taste with lots of spice, was not enjoyed by my sister.  Given the strong flavour of the filling the tarts did not need any more filling to be balanced.  The marzipan star was firm and gave an interesting contrast to the light pastry and the gooey filling.  These were good hot and cold, but the tart citrusy flavour didn't come out in the cold tart.

These tarts are presented in a cardboard box without an interior cellophane wrap.  They had a shelf life of about a week from when I bought them.  They can be frozen and used within a month.

Other allergens: nuts, cow's milk and eggs.

Hale & Hearty mince pie
Hale andHearty
These mince pies are not only gluten and wheat free but also contain no soya, milk or sulphites and are suitable for vegetarians.  While they say gluten free they also say tested to below 20ppm, which suggests they are possibly made in a facility which also handles wheat and so might not be suitable for super sensitives.  I haven't had any reaction yet and ate these half an hour ago, so judging by my delicate system they are ok.  Update from company Just to assure you that our mince pies are made in a dedicated gluten free facility and are milk free too!
20ppm means we comply Food Standards.
These tarts come in two separate cellophane wraps inside the cardboard box, so would be excellent for slipping into your bag to take to a party.  They have a shelf life of five months from when I purchased them.

These tarts were the prettiest, I think, with the pastry shell filled to the very top with the mincemeat and a white dusting of icing sugar.  They held together very well both when hot and cold. If you were having a party and didn't want crumbs all over the place these would be the ones to go for. The filling was mellow and well balanced- it didn't have the punch of the MandS one but I think anyone who liked mincemeat would find this acceptable,  My tasting partner, who isn't gf, said these were what he would expect from a mince pie.

OK foods mince pie
The OKfoods mince pies are also dairy free.  These lidded mince pies were firm and succulent, but crumbled especially when hot.  It was difficult getting the pie out of the foil, and the lid came off. They would be good as a hot pudding with custard or cream.  The fruity mixture was treacley with no pronounced spikes of flavour. They were the cheapest as well, though not much cheaper than the MandS tarts.

Other allergens are nuts and sulpher dioxide and may contain traces of egg and peanut. They had a shelf life of three months from when I bought them.

In general I was very impressed with these tarts.  They are vastly superior to anything available in the stores a few years ago.  I would be happy to be served any of them.  My personal favorite was the Hale and Hearty as it was the perfect mince pie in texture and flavour, and was so easy to handle.  For a bit more drama the MandS one was a close second, but I think more people would find it over-spiced and might be startled by the flavour.  As a fresh food it also takes more organising to have available for an impromptu party.


and after I got posted this I got sent  a link by Living Streets charity to a mincepie calculator ( how many have you burnt off by walking)  ...and if you enter soon you get a chance to win a Kindle..easier to read when walking than paperbacks as you can make the text big.


  1. Hello from Hale & Hearty!
    Just to assure you that our mince pies are made in a dedicated gluten free facility and are milk free too!
    20ppm means we comply Food Standards.
    Glad you liked the mince pies – happy Christmas. Have you tried our Christmas Pudding too?


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