Gluten-Free Taste Test
My wife used to love breads and baked goods, until every sandwich or plate of pancakes meant hours of bloating and discomfort. Her pain was brought on by a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. She eventually cut gluten from her diet entirely. That was 12 years ago. I, meanwhile, played the supportive partner, sampling her gluten-free breads and cookies—and was decidedly underwhelmed.
Texture is gluten-free’s pitfall. Gluten is what gives baked goods and breads elasticity, so they rise into airy but chewy loaves. It’s also what gives crackers their crunch and cookies their crumble. Without the protein of gluten, foods can be very dense and brittle. They may also be chalky or grainy, with a bitter aftertaste. To make matters worse, butter, milk, and sugar—which taste yummy but heighten the fat, cholesterol, and sweetness quotient—are often used copiously to mask the grainy texture of gluten-free foods.
In the past five years, growing awareness of gluten intolerance and celiac disease has meant more Americans are being diagnosed with sensitivities and allergies to the über-prevalent protein. According to the National Institutes of Health, between 2 million and 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, while gluten intolerance is even more common, affecting as much as 15 percent of the population. In response, gluten-free-product sales grew from $600 million in 2005 to $1.2 billion in 2009, according to SPINS, a market research firm. And the astounding variety of products and their widespread availability is only expected to increase in years to come.
With all that growth, options must have improved since my better half kicked gluten to the curb … right? Only one way to find out: taste test. Because my two kids are also gluten intolerant, I enlisted their help in reviewing dozens of gluten-free offerings—from breads to pastas. Here are the picks that scored our top marks for taste and texture.
French Meadow Gluten Free Multigrain Bread (pictured on page 30): This organic, honey-sweetened loaf combines amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum, and teff flours, lending to a rich, nutty flavor and slices that don’t crumble. $5, 1 loaf; frenchmeadow.com
Kinnikinnick Brown Sandwich Bread: A dark, hearty loaf made primarily with rice and potato flours, this brand stands up to strong flavors—I used it for a veggie reuben—and is moist enough for sandwiches. $6, 1 loaf; kinnikinnick.com
The Grainless Baker Flax Seed Bread: Buttery and slightly sweet, almost like a brioche, this rice-, corn-, and tapioca-starch-based offering is an all-around tasty option. $6, 1 loaf; thegrainlessbaker.com
Kinnikinnick KinniToos Chocolate Vanilla Sandwich Cookies: This Oreo-style treat offers deep cocoa flavor, creamy filling, a smooth aftertaste, and no hint of graininess. $5,
7 oz; kinnikinnick.com
Pamela’s Products Pecan Shortbread: Pamela’s makes a variety of excellent cookies, but this buttery shortbread was a favorite. Three types of rice flour lend a just-right crumbly texture. $4, 7.25 oz; pamelasproducts.com
Glow Gluten Free Double Chocolate Cookies: These dessert goodies achieve a perfect balance of chewiness to crunch with garbanzo, fava bean, and coconut flours. $5.50, 5.4 oz; glowglutenfree.com
Andean Dream Quinoa Pasta Gluten Free Macaroni: This fair-trade brand blends quinoa, a protein-rich grain, and rice flours to craft noodles that hold together beautifully and have a nice nutty flavor. $5, 8 oz; andeandream.com
Ancient Harvest Quinoa Organic Gluten Free Pasta Shells: Some corn-based pasta is grainy, but this corn and quinoa option is smooth, slightly chewy, and cooks evenly. $3, 8 oz; quinoa.net
Ener-G Foods White Rice Pasta Macaroni: Though it looks more like ziti than macaroni, these rice tubes don’t fall apart in sauces—a common drawback to gluten-free pastas. $3,
16 oz; ener-g.com
Namaste Foods Pizza Crust Mix: Light and fluffy inside with a crunchy exterior, this takes more time to prepare than premade crusts but is definitely worth it. $5.50, 16 oz; namastefoods.com
Authentic Foods Pancake & Baking Mix: Combining rice, garbanzo, and fava bean flours, these pancakes are light and fluffy with excellent texture. $8, 1.25 pounds; authentic foods.com
Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Bread Mix: This combination of sorghum, tapioca, and rice flours makes a toothsome bread and is easily modified to serve as pizza or pie crust. $6, 19 oz; pamelasproducts.com
Glutino Gluten Free Pretzel Twists: Made with corn and potato starches, these little snacks have a crispy snap hard to distinguish from their wheaty cousins. They are a lunchbox favorite in our household. $5, 8 oz; glutino.com
Lundberg Rice Chips: Made of brown-rice and corn flours, these light, crunchy chips come in eight flavors. The kids voted for Original Sea Salt, but I preferred the Fiesta Lime. $4, 6 oz; lundberg.com
The Grainless Baker Cheddar Snackers: These crackers deliver real cheesy flavor—not surprising since cheese is the first ingredient, followed by rice and potato flours. $6, 12 oz; thegrainlessbaker.com
Mitchell Clute is a Fort Collins, Colorado–based freelance writer and editor who is newly converted to the joys of gluten-free eating.