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How to orient yourself in the jungle of gluten-free, organic, vegan panettone
How to orient yourself in the jungle of gluten-free, organic, vegan panettone

Once upon a time there was the panettone. Soft and with a pleasant scent of butter, announced the Christmas with its reassuring immutability: the classic square package was opened and –toh! - the rounded panettone came out, complete with raisins and candied fruit!

At most, there were two versions: the tall and thin one, without glaze on the surface, called "Milanese", and the other lower and wider, covered with a glaze based on sugar, almonds and egg whites. Both boasted a nice group of fans, who were divided between those who loved the crunchy icing and those who, like me, hated it cordially (and still hate it).

Last but not least, the "artisanal" panettone from 60 / 80,000 lire per kilo - this is the equivalent in lire of a current pastry panettone - were still far from invading the market: the panettone were for the most part industrial, manufactured by the usual brands. Less than a dozen, in any case.

Then times changed. It was a slow and subtle but inexorable drift.

From supermarket shelves and TV commercials, the first panettone without candied fruit peeped out, which stood out as the serious alternative, for connoisseurs, without the plasticky and multicolored pieces in the dough.

But if the proponents of the cake without candied fruit had been satisfied, why then discriminate against the party of those who hated being shoveled with raisins in their teeth?

And so, after the candied fruit, it was decided for a level playing field to remove the raisins as well.

It's a pity that without candied fruit and without raisins, Too bad that without candied fruit and raisins, the Christmas cake was sad, naked and raw, a little monotonous. So it was thought of add a touch of cream, maybe al chocolate, to give more strength to the dessert in a crisis of personality.

And from there, the downfall began.

In a short time, armies of panettone-like products began to flood the market:

- with custard

- with chocolate cream

- with pistachio cream

- with hazelnuts

- with eggnog

- Without candies

- with almonds

- with candied fruit from Madagascar

- without butter

- with olive oil.

To get to the current panettone produced unsweetened, gluten free, vegans, with candied onion, cheese or truffle (no, it is not an invention: the undersigned has tasted them, and wished she had never done so).

During the Christmas period, hundreds of “panettone” of all types and shapes peek out from the supermarket shelves.

"Christmas sweets", attention, and not "panettone", because to take advantage of the denomination you must comply with what is described in the specific disciplinary, sanctioned by a ministerial decree of 22 July 2005, which dictates ingredients and methods so that a dessert can bear the name "panettone".

According to the specification, a panettone as God commands must be composed of wheat flour, sugar, category A eggs - with no less than 4% of yolk -, butter - no less than 16% -, raisins, candied citrus fruits - no less 20% - natural yeast and salt.

You can add milk, honey, malt flavorings, but only natural ones, emulsifiers and a couple of allowed preservatives, ascorbic acid and potassium sorbate, but not used by the major manufacturing companies.

Even the eternal rival of panettone, the Pandoro, is regulated in the same disciplinary, but it must be said that the Verona dessert has not had the thousands of reinterpretations of the panettone.

However, today i alternative panettone are a reality, the demand is growing rapidly so that the manufacturing companies have equipped themselves by proposing products for various needs.

Wanting to do a bit of order, we can try to reduce the panettone to seven main categories:

1) Panettone with creams and chocolate

2) Panettone without raisins and / or candied fruit

3) Panettone without sugar or with the addition of other sweeteners

4) Organic panettone

5) Vegan panettone

6) "Apparent" panettone, that is, those that cannot bear the name "panettone" because it is not in line with the ingredients or the execution contemplated in the specification.

7) Gluten-free panettone

Panettone with creams and chocolate

With the addition of chocolate chips instead of raisins and candied fruit, or stuffed with the most disparate creams, from the classic chocolate or vanilla creams, through to hazelnut, zabaglione, pistachio, gianduia or even covered with icings in kind of chocolate, these products can easily be called "panettone".

It is in fact the specification that allows the producer to add "fillings, dips, coverings, glazes, decorations and fruit, as well as other characterizing ingredients, with the exception of fats other than butter", however reporting on the package "the ingredients used in addition or in replacement "of the original ones, for example" panettone covered with chocolate glaze "or" panettone with pistachio cream "and so on.

Furthermore, these products can also “be presented with shape characteristics different from the classic ones. As if to say that it can still be called panettone despite being covered with chocolate and having the shape of a Christmas tree. As long as there is a photo of the dessert on the label that we will discover once the wrapping is removed.

Panettone without raisins and candied fruit

After all, the most similar to the classic panettone we were used to. In this case, in fact, the Christmas cake is not filled with creams of all possible flavors nor covered with extra icings, but rather, a couple of typical ingredients are missing.

The humidity contained in raisins and candied fruit, in fact, varies the consistency of the dough as well as its absorption of flour, so a panettone without these two ingredients will not simply be a panettone "without", but will inevitably have a taste and consistency little different.

Nevertheless, the specification provides for a specific derogation for "the absence of raisins or candied citrus peel". So yes, that anonymous dessert with a vague Buondì flavor can still be called "panettone". Without candies.

Panettone without sugar or with other sweeteners

No, these cannot be called "panettone". And it cannot be done because there is no sugar, one of the fundamental ingredients provided for by the disciplinary.

Moreover, they are certainly not less caloric, considering that generally their caloric intake is similar to that of traditional products. In fact, compared to an intake of about 360 calories per hectogram of a traditional panettone, there is an intake of about 365 calories per hectogram in the corresponding product with other types of sweeteners.

These are therefore particular products, intended for those who cannot take sucrose because they suffer from intolerances or diseases, such as diabetes, but certainly not useful for gorging themselves with a large handful of panettone-like to the cry of "so much is without sugar!".

"Organic" panettone

In this roundup, the “bio” panettone could not be missing, that is, prepared starting from organic raw materials, but which respect the disciplinary of the panettone both as ingredients and as preparation.

These panettone can be found in specialized shops such as NaturaSì, but also in some large-scale distribution chains.

The "organic" panettone does not have any difference in taste compared to the traditional product, but "organic" is a brand that, rightly, you pay for: the difference is all in the price, which can even reach double that of a non "organic product. ".

"Apparent" panettone

Attention: your little hand is attracted to the panettone on which a beautiful Christmas tree stands out, complete with stars, lights and colored candles, but can't you see the magical word "panettone" in the middle of the beautiful Christmas scene?

Well, then know that you will never find it, because the product cannot be called "panettone". As much as you try to intortarti, or rather to bread, the dessert does not comply with the specification, and therefore is a simple "Christmas cake".

Maybe there is fine extra virgin olive oil inside, but there is no butter. Or there is no sugar, or perhaps the manufacturing process is not that required by the specification.

This does not mean that they cannot be excellent products, but they are simply not panettone. Remember this when you are looking for a real panettone and not a simple "Christmas cake".

Vegan panettone

And no, these, with all the good will, we just can't call them panettone. How can we claim to call panettone a product where there is no butter nor eggs but vegetable oils and emulsifiers, however natural they may be such as soy lecithin?

You cannot, by necessity or by choice, give up the basic ingredients of the classic Christmas cake and have the audacity to call it "panettone". Let's face it.

Gluten-free panettone

As absurd as it may seem, despite the lack of the main ingredient, namely wheat flour, these desserts can bear the name "panettone". According to the Italian Association of Sweet and Pasta (Aidepi), in fact, the choice was determined by the desire not to discriminate against those suffering from celiac disease.

Too bad that, in essence, it is a different product from the traditional one, in taste and consistency, despite the wording "panettone" in large letters on the packaging of the dessert. In addition, to get closer to the consistency of the dough given by gluten, these products must be added with thickeners and emulsifiers, certainly not categorized as "healthy" components.

Nonetheless, the whole "gluten free" sector is on the rise: gluten-free panettone and pandorius recorded an increase of as much as 70% last Christmas.

So, of the two: either we are all becoming celiac, or more and more people mistakenly perceive gluten as a lazy ingredient from which it is better to stay away: nothing could be more false.

In addition, the joy of being able to taste a "real" panettone is raised for no reason by replacing it with an alternative product, paying for it more expensive than the original dessert.

The test: gluten-free panettone

gluten-free panettone
gluten-free panettone

The first point of the decalogue engraved on the tablets of the law of Dissapore states: first try then speak. Consequently, we could not exempt ourselves from the test, in this case carried out by Chiara Cavalleris, correspondent of Dissapore, on a gluten-free panettone.

So we bought the gluten-free panettone Giampaoli al Prestofresco, a Piedmontese supermarket chain, for 6.50 euros.

Here are the impressions after tasting

gluten-free panettone
gluten-free panettone

CRUST: quite sticky, while the body of the panettone is slightly rubbery on the outside.

CUT: the sensation when cut is very different from traditional panettone. The consistency is hardened, which is not necessarily a negative aspect even if it is somewhat reminiscent of the spongy base used in DIY for flower arrangements.

TASTE: not bad for a gluten-free panettone, there is a lot of raisins, probably to compensate for the inevitable dryness of a gluten-free product, well distributed in the dough, and of a good level.

SMELL: hints (not pleasant) of citric acid, but luckily you can also perceive the egg.

Prices: how much the alternative panettone cost

gluten-free panettone
gluten-free panettone

Panettone is cheap. We are talking about non-artisanal ones, those of large-scale distribution, which despite being erroneously perceived as cheap products, are instead highly respectable sweets made with quality raw materials, having to wait for what is established by the relative disciplinary.

During the Christmas period, in fact, panettone in supermarkets perform the hard task of “owl” products, that is, sold below cost to attract customers and direct them to further purchases.

Thus, a panettone that costs no less than 4 euros in large-scale distribution is sold below cost at a price of two or three euros, instead of the 8 or so needed to cover all costs and have a minimum mark-up. The same goes for panettone enriched with creams and fillings, which are generally available for six to seven euros.

A real bargain, a sort of Christmas gift from the point of sale which, however, has the secondary effect of making the product perceive as invalid or of poor quality.

Taking the Esselunga stores as a reference, in this pre-Christmas period the Bauli panettone without candied fruit and raisins is sold at € 4.90 per kilo, the Maina gran nocciolato at € 5.98 per kilo, the Motta with gianduia and drops of chocolate at 5, 32 euros per kilo.

Le Tre Marie, on the other hand, is more expensive, at 10.90 euros per kilo, as well as the one without candied fruit. Tre Marie with extra dark chocolate is priced at 14.34 per kilo, and Coeur de Milan at 9.74 per kilo.

Higher prices Cova and Loison, brands considered to be of a higher or almost pastry segment: the classic Cova panettone is sold at 8.90 euros per kilo, while the Cova with green pistachio from Bronte at 10.90. The classic Loison panettone is instead sold at 15.87 euros per kilo, while the one without candied fruit at 19.72 per kilo.

In Carrefour stores, in particular in Corso Monte Cucco in Turin, the classic Melegatti panettone is sold for only 2.65 euros per kilo, the Cioco Soffice Bauli panettone at 6.66 per kilo, the Maxi Cioc Balocco panettone at 5.62 the kilo and the panettone of Milano Terre d'Italia at 8, 72 per kilo.

All prices are more than affordable, which inevitably go up when it comes to vegan or organic panettone.

As for vegan panettone, not always present in large-scale distribution, the average price recorded was around 20 euros per kilo, double that of an ordinary stuffed panettone, almost four times that of a classic panettone.

In particular, the NaturaSì online prices taken into consideration were those of the gluten-free Christmas cake from Pasticceria Fraccaro at “only” 35, 98 euros per kilo and the Kamut Aries Pasteria Christmas cake at 17.33 euros per kilo.

While on the Ivegan website the vegan panettone with almond and coconut milk, without eggs and without butter, is sold at a price of 15.40 for 750 grams, and the Christmas cake with chocolate chips is sold at a price of 16.40 euros., again for 750 grams.

Slightly cheaper are the organic panettone, with prices ranging from 13, 12 for 750 grams of Sorgente Natura, to the Christmas cake of Benessere Mio of 750 grams with chocolate cream for 13, 49 euros.

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