Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gluten-Free Product Reviews

I'll be going through gluten-free products with a vengeance (as our budget allows) in search of the ones that best compare with mainstream gluten-containing products.  Since I'm fairly new to this, there may be a lot I'm missing (i.e. ALL rice pasta tastes like kindergarten paste?).  I wanted to give my first impressions as someone just setting out to explore this new lifestyle, hopefully helping others with their own trial-and-error.

Bob's Red Mill Pizza Crust Mix

The first reaction is "OMG I can make homemade pizza again!"  happy dance.  My review is mixed and a bit hedged.  As a substitute for a commercial pizza crust mix, like Jiffy's, it holds up reasonably well!  As a substitute for my own homemade foccacia pizza crust, it falls flat.  That may be an entirely unreasonable expectation on my part, of course.  The good news is that the mix is actually complete; including a packet of yeast. It bakes well, holds it's form, and re-heats well in the microwave for at least three days (which is how long it took us to finish the pizzas).  The bad news is that it's bland, and somewhat mealy in texture.  I would highly recommend some doctoring if you do use it.  Try brushing the finished crust with garlic-flavored oil, mix Italian herbs into the dough, or sprinkle the outer crust with shredded cheddar cheese to bake into the bread.    The crust might also be made crispier if, after the initial bake or for the last ten minutes, it was put directly on the oven rack or a pizza stone instead of finishing in the pan.  Since each package makes two pizzas, you can experiment two ways, or leave one alone as a control in case the experiment goes badly. The crispy crust might help with the texture issues. 

Bob's Red Mill Pancake Mix

Made these last week. It isn't Bob's fault this one disappointed me, but it would help if the label were changed to "Whole Grain Pancake Mix".  If you're expecting the sweet, fluffy flavor of buttermilk pancakes you would get out of other commercial mixes, you'll be badly surprised.  If you're expecting the heavy, nutty, semi-bitter flavor of whole-grain pancakes, you'll probably be very happy.  That said, there are positives on this mix.  It does behave just like regular pancake mix and fluffs up beautifully.  The package also gives directions to make small batches (6-8 4 inch pancakes) at a time instead of needing to use the whole package in one go.  Since they're heavy and filling, that was enough to feed both of us with enough leftover to pack for lunch the next day.  Unfortunately I was expecting the sweet buttermilky flavor and had to use a lot of syrup to make them palatable. JD made them for breakfast again yesterday and added 1/4 cup of powdered (confectioner's) sugar to the dry mix, with a splash extra milk to balance the texture.  They were MUCH closer to what I expected.  I'm sure if we experiment once more using buttermilk instead of 2% it will bridge the gap. 

Betty Crocker Gluten-Free Brownie Mix

This is a new product on the shelves with their regular baking mixes.  It turned out so well that I'm going back for their gluten-free cake mixes!  I could tell when I mixed this up that the flavor would be that of very dark chocolate, not the sweet milk chocolate I'm used to.  So I added three tablespoons confectioner's sugar and one of sesame oil (to balance the added dry ingredients).  It still tasted like dark chocolate, but wasn't quite as bitter.  If you love 70% or higher good quality dark chocolate, you'll be absolutely in love with these brownies.  Check the bake time by the toothpick method.  I had a roast in at the same time and the brownies took twice as long as package directions indicated to bake.  The batter should be mixed smooth; no lumps.  It's thicker than normal brownie batter and won't really rise or flow, so spread it smoothly in the pan.

DeBoles Gluten-Free Rice Penne

This had good texture for penne pasta, but gave my home-made red wine tomato and vegetable sauce an annoying undertone of library paste.  It also didn't hold up that well; by the end of the meal it was already going to pieces under the sauce.  I'm glad I kept the sauce separate, because I think it'll taste better over rice than these rice noodles.  I probably won't buy this brand again, unless to try their corn-base noodles for comparison.

 Thai Kitchen Rice Noodle Sides

This is Ramen for grownups, and diabolically tasty!  Be sure to check the label, because we found that the rice noodles in peanut sauce in the 9.77oz is labeled gluten-free, but the 5.9oz size of the same flavor is NOT gluten free (label says "contains wheat").  The labels are all over the place too, so depending on the package size and batch, it may be in big words under the flavor, or in tiny letters off in a corner.  I like the little bring-to-work size.  I had the Spring Onion flavor yesterday and it was heaven.  It had a separate packet for the seasonings and another for the spicy pepper oil; so you could theoretically spice to taste.

Those are the specific gluten-free brands we've tried this week, in our frenzy to find the right flavors.  I'm sure our experimentation will settle down once we find favorite brands and products, but I'll keep letting you know what we find!


Anna Guest-Jelley said...

I'm a fellow unapologetically fat woman who recently found out she's gluten intolerant. One thing that took me forever to find was a bread that I like. If you don't have one yet, I suggest Udi's. It's actually soft! So many of the others I tried were like eating a really dense brick. Blech.

Best of luck in your gluten-free adventures!

KellyK said...

Ooh, Betty Crocker makes GF cake and brownie mixes? I will have to see if my MIL (also gluten-intolerant) has tried those.

Meowser said...

Funny you should mention the Bob's pizza crust, I had my own adventure with that last night. The yeast I got with mine fell flat, and I also didn't realize that if I was mixing by hand instead of using a stand mixer (since I don't have one), I'd have to mix it longer to get everything to soak in. So I tried the second half of the mix with my own yeast (which is actually Bob's, too, strangely enough), and this time I proofed a tablespoon of yeast with a tablespoon of sugar and got it nice and fizzy, then did my mixing. It turned out perfectly fine that way, though as you said, kind of bland, which was actually not such a bad thing since we were having it cheeseless with anchovies.

Sherry said...

Yeah, it's been our experience that the rice pastas all taste like library paste. They go from not-quite-done to overcooked mush in a heartbeat, too. The best we've found is Tinkyada (Tinkada? I don't have any on hand to check just now...) brown rice pasta. It does better with cheesy sauce than marinara, but even then it's just not the same.

The DeBoles corn pasta (again, in my experience) is whole-grainy but yards better than the rice stuff. Still not the same as wheat pasta, but I wouldn't be put off it by your experience with the rice stuff.

If you can find it where you are, I highly recommend Ancient Harvest brand quinoa pasta. We've bought it at Whole Foods and Harris Teeter, as well as some specialty stores. (We're in the southeastern US.) I had to do a Google search to find the brand name, and it appears you can order it from Amazon, too. It's got its own flavor, but the texture is good.

Good luck finding the products that taste best to you!

Anonymous said...

Good reviews! Ive been gluten-free for a year now, and I heartily recommend Pamela's Pancake and Baking mix for light, soft, not-whole-grain-tasting, grit-free pancakes. It also makes great pumpkin bread. (its not for the lactose intolerant though--the mix contains milk products.)

Also, for cakes and brownies, I've found Namaste mixes to be better than Better Crocker. Not as dense, not as gritty. Truly like "real" cake.

Anonymous said...

oh and I forgot--go with Tinkiyada rice pasta--the texture and flavor are TEN TIMES better than any other gf pasta product out there.

Elizabeth said...

I had a temporary gluten intolerance after abdominal surgery and I found that I LOVED the "Ancient Grains" Quinoa Pasta (quinoa and corn, actually). In fact, I like it so much that I still use it over wheat pasta even now that I can eat as much wheat as I want. The only drawback is that it comes in only 3 shapes (spaghetti, macaroni and rotini--and the rotini is hard to find). To me it has a texture identical to wheat pasta and better flavor.

Elizabeth said...

Just reading the comments above me more carefully and I see someone else has recommended the quinoa/corn pasta as well, and it is "Ancient Harvest" not "Ancient Grains."

To my palate the taste (while slightly richer) would be difficult to distinguish from wheat under any kind of a sauce.

Meowser said...

Trader Joe's makes a pretty good brown rice pasta (some people have speculated that it's made by Tinkyada). At least, the penne is good; haven't tried the long stuff. But there's very little margin for error cooking it; too little and it's like rubber, too much and it's like glue. And I like the Ancient Harvest elbows too, although the same warning applies about cooking time.

For long pasta, I think I'm going to get a pasta machine and make my own; I did ravioli with this one recipe that turned out great, and would probably be even better in a machine. I've heard that the storebought GF pastas don't do as well with straight pasta as with tubular.

JoGeek said...

Sounds like the vote is for Ancient Harvest pasta! I'll have to look for some. I'd love to make my own of course (a ravioli press is on my christmas list!) but I also like to have a box or two in the cupboard for a "pick up" meal if we're tired or going out. Thanks for the advice!

JeanC said...

I've had to go wheat/gluten free in the last couple of months and for pasta I am extremely happy with Tinkyada Rice Pasta. Mu hubby even likes it and he doesn't like pasta in general. I have found with rice pasta it is very important to have a big pot and lots of water. Regular wheat pasta I would use a smaller pot, but that didn't work with the rice pasta.

Going gluten free is a royal pain in the derrière, but I am managing it. Luckily (or unluckily) I have a number of friends locally who've had to go gluten free, so I have recipe resources at my disposal.

I need to lay my hands on a good bread recipe, I've been waiting for one of my friends to have time to email me hers, along with her pizza crust recipe. At the moment I would commit mass murder for a sandwich :D

Shaunta Alburger said...

Loved your blog! I'm definitely a new fan. I'm also a fat woman, and like your partner was very sick before I realized it was gluten that was making me icky. I wanted to tell you that I love LOVE the King Arthur pizza crust (and cake, and muffins. The bread, not so much.) Bob's Red Mill tends to use bean flour in their mixes and I don't like the beany after taste. King Arthur is as good as any homemade pizza I've made. My non-GF teenage daughter likes it better than the regular kind.

Maven said...

Bob's Red Mill products are awesome. I use a lot of them on the rare occasions I bake. I especially like their coconut flour and amaranth flours. :)