Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Product Reviews

The Gluten-Free household is ongoing!

I'm still going to try and focus on brands available at one of the major grocery chains in my area (Wal-Mart, Meijers) because I think it'll do more good than focusing on very specialized items only available online or through independent health stores.  The point is to try and do this with what's available, not what we can necessarily ferret out of far corners. 

Envirokids Peanut Butter Panda Puffs Cereal

So with the handy excuse of finding gluten-free cereal that JD's super-picky kid would eat when he visited, I picked up a box.  They're fantastic, and almost an exact taste match for Peanut Butter Crunch.  I might keep a box around even if we're not expecting a visit, because a handful of these is a pretty tasty crunchy snack.  A bonus is that a percentage of each box goes to endangered species preservation and has fun endangered species info on the box for those kids who find the box more entertaining than the cereal.  Pricey as cereal (10.5 oz for $4.00-$4.50) but relatively cheap as snacking material. 

Blue Diamond Nut Thins

After a few initial bad experiences with gluten-free crackers that had the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts, this was a win.  These are rice-based, but the nut meal gives it body, flavor and crunch that holds its own against any regular commercial cracker.  I tried the Almond ones specifically, and they're diabolically good either on their own or with cheese.  I'm also guessing they would make a good crouton substitute on a salad.  Relatively pricey (4.25 oz for $2.50-$3.00) but then those tasty nut meals are expensive ingredients!  They're filling (lots of protein) so they may go further than regular gluten crackers as snacks. 

San-J Tamari Soy Sauce

This has been unofficially designated "soy crack" in our house, and would recommend it to anyone regardless of gluten tolerance!  At first I thought (wrongly) that tamari and miso were fish-based, and avoided them because I particularly hate anything that smells or tastes of fish. I think this mistake dates back to when a visiting exchange student made miso soup in our house and the seaweed stink drove me right out on a long hike until it cleared.  I did a bit of research, and found that both tamari and shoyu (what we in america think of as soy sauce) are essentially fermented soybeans.  Shoyu is a combination of toasted wheat, soybeans, salt and a specific mold spore, fermented much like wine or beer.  Tamari used to be the fermented sludge at the bottom of a cask of miso (somewhat like vegemite) and highly prized, but the kind Americans find on store shelves is probably just a blend of soybeans, salt and spores (no wheat) slow-fermented over a longer period of time for a stronger and more complex flavor.  Read your labels carefully, because apparently there are a few brands sold as tamari that are really shoyu and contain wheat.  San-J is labeled gluten-free.  The flavor is very strong so a little goes a long way, but it's oh-so-good in sauces. I've also heard Eden brand tamari highly recommended, but it was not available in the major grocery chains near me.   Apparently Shoyu and Tamari have the same variety of taste and quality as fine alcohols, but what we get on chain grocery shelves in Michigan is the equivelent of boxed rose' wine coolers.  A specialty Asian market might have more varieties of authentic tamari if you're a foodie looking for a new area to explore.

Mrs. Leeper's Macaroni and Cheese

This is so far from a win that I can't invent a category low enough.  Have you ever had the REALLY off-brand dollar store mac and cheese with pasty noodles and a day-glo orange sauce containing real cheese-flavored product that tastes like salt-dough?  Yeah.  It's that bad.  I know that the traditional "substitute" foods for special diets are supposed to look vaguely and taste nothing like the real thing so that you're not only grossed out but frustrated at the bait and switch.  I think we can safely be past that now.  Companies are stepping up and going the distance to actually make cookies taste like cookies.  They have the demand and the competition to do so.  Mrs. Leeper's is old school in the worst way. 

Which leads me naturally to...

 Annie's Homegrown Mac and Cheese

This is the absolute closest thing to the Kraft mac and cheese I have found.  It's exactly what I'm  talking about when I say companies are stepping up and realizing that substitutes have to actually taste like what they're substituting for.  Annie's uses a heavier weight noodle that cooks up firmer and doesn't shed starch.  It's also more forgiving of cook time so you can actually get al dente.  The cheese sauce is real cheese and actually tastes like it.  Personally, I like to augment it with a few slices of american cheese, but I did that with Kraft as well.   Its sticker shock, however (approx $4/box) means it's a "sometimes treat" when I really need comfort food.

Gluten Free Bisquick

This is, to all intent and purpose, exactly like regular Bisquick as far as behavior, texture, and taste.  That makes it a win!  Especially when JD makes pancakes with a little honey, raisins and diced apple chunks.  Like all gluten-free ready-made products, it costs more.  But if you simply HAVE to have the occasional biscuit, pancake or strawberry shortcake, this is a win.


Anonymous said...

Have you tried Crunchmaster crackers? They are my absolute favorite, but I like the nut one's too.

I'm surprised Mrs. Lepers was such a fail, how disappointing. Her corn spaghetti is tasty, if you get a chance. I don't like rice spaghetti, so it's nice to have a substitute. Also, quinoa shells make really nice mac and cheese.

Also--totally love GF Bisquick. Yum yum. It makes great, quick pizza.

Meowser said...

The price gouging that goes on with these products makes me gag a little. FOUR DOLLARS for a tiny little box of mac and cheese? You can't tell me rice pasta is THAT much more expensive to make. Not that I can digest cow's milk anyway, but they're not the only ones who charge out the yingyang for this stuff. It pisses me off.

JeanC said...

Definitely check labels. Before I personally needed to worry about gluten I was making a dish I wanted to share with some GF friends. I'd found a small bottle of GF tamari at an Asian market I had found in Vancover WA while visiting my mom. Since it was going to be quite a while before I made it back there, I grabbed the big bottle of tamari right next to it (same brand and label).

Imagine my consternation upon returning to Idaho and looking at the ingredients list to find the big bottle of tamari had wheat in it :(

Now I know where the two Asian markets up in Spokane are, I am hoping to find GF tamari in larger bottles since I like to do jerky and my favorite recipe calls for quite a bit of soy sauce.

I do agree the GF Bisquick is very good, but the packages are just too small for cooking for hubby and I and still too pricy. But is very good for in a pinch cooking. I'm working on a homemade version, luckily, between the Co-op and WInco I have access to most of the GF flours I need.