Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Roundup of Gluten Free Product Reviews: Three Thumbs Up, One Thumb Down

Recently I have received a spate of gluten-free products to sample and potentially review here at The Crispy Cook. My blog review policy is to only feature products that I would buy for my own family and so you don't see product reviews for eats that just aren't tasty or otherwise considered wonderful by me and the other members of the Crispy Test Kitchen and Eatery. I am making an exception in writing about a product that I do not recommend at the very end of this post below because of an egregious labeling error that I feel members of the gluten-free community should be aware of.

First, let me introduce you to the wonderful gluten-free products that I received from various companies to sample and potentially review.

In celebration of April as National Pecan Month, Larabars sent me some of their Pecan Pie energy bars. I don't need extra energy or snacks between meals, so I had my resident teen athlete and annoyingly skinny husband do the taste testing on this product and they both pronounced an excellent verdict: great taste, nice nuts to crunch on, and moist, soft texture. We also received some Carrot Cake Larabars to sample and these were also well received.

I like the Larabar brand because they contain simple ingredients, are readily available in most supermarkets around here and are affordably priced. I've purchased them before for my family and will do so again and again. They are a nice after-school-before-sports treat and are nice to have on hand for a gluten-free source of energy for my celiac husband when he's busy at the bookstore without a chance to heat up a lunch in between customers.

The Crispy consensus is that the Peanut Butter and Jelly flavor is the best, followed closely by the Pecan Pie and Carrot Cake flavors. Interestingly, these bars are not baked or cooked, but ground together with the various ingredients, so they are described as suitable for folks seeking raw and minimally processed foods. You can find other dietary information (about vegan, kosher, allergy and other dietary issues) on the Larabar website here.

Verdict: Thumbs UP!

Next up, we have a review of Udi's hamburger buns (whole grain and classic) and hot dog buns. I received a package of each from the Udi's company and Dan let out a whoop when he saw them in the freezer. He is not so much into sandwiches on sliced bread, being more a bun sandwich devotee. Since I am a very desultory bun baker, he was out of homemade buns, and immediately went off the store to buy some tofu pups to stuff into the Udi's hot dog buns.

The Udi's hot dog buns were great. They need to be thawed at room temperature or in the microwave (1 minute in the microwave, wrapped tightly in waxed paper did the trick for us) and then they have a great springy texture. They don't crumble and rip easily like other gluten-free breads and buns we've tried (and made). His tofu pups topped with sauteed onions and some newly gluten-free Nance's sharp and creamy mustard and Dan was in hot dog heaven.

The Udi's hamburger buns were also given high marks for both flavor and texture. The whole grain buns were particularly toothsome and made a great housing for a batch of Dan's barbecued tempeh. Right now you can get a $1.00 coupon for Udi's breads on their website so you can give these buns a test drive of your own. Locally, you can Udi's products in the freezer case at Pure and Simple in Glens Falls, Four Seasons in Saratoga Springs, and Wild Thyme in Ballston Spa.

Verdict: Thumbs way UP!

Glenny's Foods sent me a box full of various kinds of snacks. Most were gluten-free, but they also popped in a bunch of brownies and blondies that were chock full of wheat, though they were not labeled as being gluten-free. Therein lies the reminder that even when one expects that a product is gluten-free and safe to eat, one should still examine the ingredients and labeling to make sure.

Of the gluten-free Glenny's products that were sent for review, my family generally gravitates toward the salty over the sweet, so the American Fries were the first to be snacked upon. These baked french fry-shaped potato snacks were deemed winners by the Crispy Crew for flavor and novelty shape. Second to be devoured were the Soy Crisps, with the Feta Cheese, Garlic and Olive Oil flavor the clear favorite.

We also had sweet treats to sample in this generous Glenny's package: four flavors of Brown Rice Marshmallow Treats and some Fruit and Nut Bars. I am chagrined to note that the Glenny's Marshmallow Treats are much better, both flavorfully and nutritionally to my homemade GF krispie treats (made with store-bought mini-marshmallows and either Cocoa Krispies or puffed rice). The Glenny's marshmallow treats are made from organic ingredients, including vegan marshmallows, and sweetened with brown rice syrup and organic evaporated cane juice and we especially enjoyed their CRISPY, crunchy texture.

I brought the Fruit and Nut Bars in the car for my daughter to share with some of her softball team members for a pre-workout snack and we didn't note that they were gluten-free. This informal tasting panel gave the Fruit and Nut Bars a solid B for taste and texture. They were judged a little too sticky by some of the gals.

Overall, an impressive selection of really high quality gluten-free snacks that everyone in our family thoroughly enjoyed. I would suggest to the Glenny's company that they offer a Gluten Free Deluxe Snack Sampler Package on their website (the Deluxe Snack Package offered now contains those glutenous brownies and blondies), because this might prove popular in the gluten-free community. I could foresee a marketing opportunity for the company to offer this to newly diagnosed celiac and gluten-intolerant folks, as well as being an attractive option for college care packages for gluten-free students.

Verdict: Thumbs UP!

And now for a disappointing product review. I was delighted when Tasty Bites contacted me about sampling some of their gluten-free Indian and Asian foods. I was already familiar with their products and had purchased their simmer sauces on several occasions to whip up quick meals. I was aghast to receive a package of Barley Medley which was not just mistakenly popped into my Gluten-Free box of sampler products but was labeled as being gluten-free. Barley is, of course, one of the grains that must be avoided on a gluten-diet. Some people confuse wheat-free with the term gluten-free, and this is an important distinction.

Here's a photo of the Tasty Bites Barley Medley package on the rear where it is clearly labeled as being "gluten free", when of course it is not. When I contacted Tasty Bites to let them know about this labeling error and to inquire as to whether the other ostensibly gluten-free foods that they sent me that were in fact safe for my GF husband to eat, I got no response.

Verdict: Thumbs WAY down.

I appreciate the companies that are making strides to make more gluten-free foods available to us and appreciate when they reformulate their existing products to eliminate gluten ingredients. I am going to continue my blog policy of limiting my product reviews to foods that I can recommend without reservation and give my critical feedback back to the companies directly. However, I feel that Tasty Bites needs to improve their labeling and understanding of what gluten free means and so I included them in this product review roundup.

What do you think? Have you noticed any other great gluten-free products out there? Have you noticed other food products which have been incorrectly labeled "gluten-free"?


girlichef said...

Wow, how crazy that they label it GF when it isn't. That could be really dangerous to somebody who just takes them at their word! Great reviews...and Peanut Butter and Jelly Larabars are my favorite =)

Wendy @ Celiacs in the House said...

Really like the way you did these reviews, Rachel. I am just stunned that the Tasty Bite company has made such a major mistake. This is the first I've heard of it.

CarolKicinski said...

Yummy,It is very testy and Jelly Larabars are my favorite.thanks for sharing