It looks like bread, behaves like bread and is named after bread, but Pão de Queijo is actually made from tapioca and cheese, and could be the next big thing in the lucrative gluten-free market.

Hugely popular in its native Brazil, Pão de Queijo literally translates as ‘cheese bread’ but is a kind of cheesy dough ball, which is eaten as a hot snack and can be used to make everything from pizzas to rolls.

Made with tapioca starch and cheese, the gluten- and wheat-free dough is now set to make it big in the UK’s thriving free-from market, after a new bakery mix won a major award at last year’s prestigious Baking Industry Awards.

The mix, which is supplied by ingredients company Ireks, scooped the Innovation Award, sponsored by Asda, at a glittering London ceremony after judges were impressed by its versatility.

“It is a product that is crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and has nothing to do with bread,” explains Maurice van Tongeren, director of Ireks UK. “You can eat it during breakfast, lunch or dinner with soup; you can eat it anywhere and that’s what makes it really outstanding.”

Although new to the European market, Brazilian cheese balls have a long history, he added. “Pão de Queijo is a heritage product, so was eaten by the slaves many years ago in Brazil. It is made from tapioca starch from the manioc root, and is eaten in the south of Brazil. Later on, they added cheese to the manioc and then you had these cheese balls, the Brazilian cheese balls.”

It was this combination of heritage and novelty that Van Tongeren believes helped the product to win the award. He says: “It is something that everybody is looking for – street food, new things and new tastes, but also heritage and tradition.”

Headquartered in Germany, Ireks supplies bakers with a wide range of ingredients for bread and confectionery, including improvers, mixes, malt and sours for sourdough.