I recently had the opportunity to go to the Gluten Free Expo here in Chicago. It was an excellent opportunity to find new and exciting, kosher and gluten-free products, as well as to learn more about eating and cooking gluten-free. With so many booths and so little time, I devised a plan to systematically go around the room to each vendor, determine if their products were kosher, then find out more information about the product. I was surprised by the number of kosher and innovative products that were at the expo. Here are some of the highlights:
Sun Butter: Many people that have gluten allergies and sensitivities also have nut allergies. Sun Butter came up with a healthy, nut free “peanut butter” alternative made out of sunflower seeds. It spreads just like peanut butter with a similar no-stir consistency, tastes comparable to peanut butter, and is great for NFE’s (Nut Free Eaters) and schools with a no-nut policy (excluding teachers and administrators !).
Enjoy Life: The Enjoy Life Company had a huge booth at the expo. They make a wide variety of gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, but not taste free, snacks, cereals, and baking products – like chocolate chips. Certified Gluten-Free, these products can be used as tasty substitutions for everyday gluten-filled granola bars, cookies, and cookie mixes. The Chocolate Chip Cookies were amazing – crunchy, with great flavor, and you’d never know they were gluten-free! You could melt the Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips, dip the Enjoy Life Chocolate Chip Cookies in the melted chocolate, and make awesome gluten-free Enjoy Life Half Dipped Chocolate Chip Cookies! YUM!
Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery: It can be incredibly difficult for GFE’s to find a good tasting bread substitute. Most gluten-free breads are dry, crumbly, don’t have the fresh “real-bread” taste, and don’t satisfy the way “standard” bread does. I was seriously impressed with the Rudi’s bread. My favorite was the Cinnamon Raisin Bread, which really tasted like the Cinnamon Raisin Bread you would buy at your local bakery. Although I didn’t taste it toasted, I would bet that having it warm and crispy with a little bit of butter would be incredible. The Multi-Grain and Original varieties were also really tasty, with a good texture and flavor. This bread is also really healthy, made with all natural and organic ingredients, and is certified Gluten-Free. This was one of my favorite products at the Expo.
Gluten Free Oats/GF Harvest: Although I learned a lot at each booth at the expo, I definitely learned the most at this one. There is some question as to whether oats are actually gluten-free. There are those that say that no-matter how the oats are grown they are not gluten-free, and then there is the opposing opinion that oats are by definition gluten-free but there is cross contamination with other grains that are not gluten free being grown in the same area. Each individual should consult with his/her physician or nutritionist to determine what the right answer is for them. For those that are able to eat “gluten-free” oats, this is the perfect product! This company goes through an incredibly rigorous process to ensure that their oats and oat products are free of cross contamination and are gluten-free. You can find out more about this amazingly thorough process at http://gfharvest.com/cleaning.aspx. Certified by the OU, USDA Organic, R5 Elisa Tested (an accurate and rigorous test for gluten in “gluten-free” foods), with Certified Fields/ Combines/Storage Bins, Non-GMO pedigree stock (non-genetically modified), and certified (most importantly) Gluten-Free! Products include rolled oats, stabilized groats (whole, minimally processed oats), oatmeal cookie crisp granola, and oat flour.
Michael Seasons Thick and Crunchy Kettle Cooked Chips: Sadly, Gluten-Free does not mean calorie and fat free. For those GFE’s that are looking for a delicious nosh, without a lot of calories but with a lot of flavor, the Michael Seasons Thick and Crunchy Kettle Cooked chips are for you. They were delicious! Crunchy, but not too greasy these chips come in Cheddar, Jalapeno, and Lightly Salted flavors. They even have a 100 calorie pouch that you can throw in your bag for a quick, mid-day, snack.
Glutino Milk Chocolate Covered Pretzels: Sometimes you come across a product that completely takes you by surprise. I almost didn’t take a sample taste of these pretzels…I’m so glad that I did!! They were rich and creamy, and I had to keep myself from “tasting” the entire bowl. They put all the other chocolate covered pretzels I have ever had to shame – gluten-free or otherwise. They are coated with a premium milk chocolate, and the taste reflects the quality! The company also makes a Yogurt-Covered Pretzel for another great snack option. Both varieties are dairy and of course gluten-free.
Crunchmaster Crackers: There are times when you just need a crunchy cracker. The Cruncmaster company makes a wide variety of seriously interesting Multi-Grain, Multi-Seed, certified gluten-free tasty crackers. I was impressed by the interesting flavor of these crackers, and sampled more than one! These crackers are all natural, low in saturated fat, cholesterol free, wheat free, and actually a good source of fiber – that’s a lot to ask of a little cracker! What’s also great about these crackers is that they are available in your local grocery store and warehouse club (at the time of the Expo). The demo ladies were also incredibly nice…I’m sure that made them taste even better!
Mama Mia: I expected to find different snacks, breads, flour replacers, and pastas at the Expo, and didn’t consider that the other peripheral products a GFE might need would be represented at the Expo also. It makes complete sense that a GFE would require gluten-free seasonings, spices and dip mixes too! The Mama Mia Company makes a line of seasonings and mixes that can be used as dips, soup seasonings, and rubs. The company also makes wheat free, dairy free, soy free, and yeast free Pizza Crust Mixes and Beer Batter Fry Mixes. Certified by the Chicago Rabbinical Council, these mixes are the perfect solution for a quick prep gluten-free party!
Udi’s: The other bread company at the Expo was Udi’s. Of all the booths at the Expo, this one was the most packed with visitors. I had more people tell me how much they loved the Udi’s breads and rolls than any other product. What is impressive about Udi’s was the vast selection of products they have. It can be hard to find bagels, hamburger or hot dog buns that are gluten-free, but Udi’s has them. They also have a line of granola, pizza crusts, muffins and cinnamon rolls – all certified gluten-free. I thought the Udi’s baked goods were pretty good for gluten-free products, but I thought that the Rudi’s sandwich bread was better – a little better flavor, less crumbly, and slightly moister. I recommend trying them both and seeing which one you like best!
Glutentox Home: Want to test your food, drinks or even cosmetics for gluten? The Glutentox Company claims that with their kit you can test to 5ppm or 20ppm the
G12 antibody. It detects Gluten from wheat, barley, rye and oats…but not chocolate…
AllerBling: Another non-food product that I found at the Expo that I had to write about was the adorable AllerBling – a cute, food allergy bracelet. It’s great for kids because it looks like its fun to wear, and you can customize it according to the specific allergies your child has with different charms. The charms are extremely clear to read with picture and text allergy representation. The pricing was also very reasonable, so you could actually purchase a few and not worry so much about your child leaving one on the playground!
Happy Baby Organic Puffs: When my kids were toddlers they lived on Cheerios and the baby “puff” snacks that were available at the time. They loved the bite sized treats, and felt very grown up being able to feed themselves! For today’s GFE toddlers, Happy Baby Organic Puffs are the perfect gluten free snack. They are fortified with Iron, vitamin D, calcium, and other vitamins, sweetened with 100% fruit juice, made with whole grains, and certified gluten-free! They come in a great selection of flavors like sweet potato, banana and strawberry. These were so good I’d recommend them for non GFE toddlers too! The Happy Baby Company also has other gluten-free products available on their web site and in stores.
Bakery On Main: Want to grab a snack when you’re on the go? Love those chewy granola bars that are packed with fruit, chocolate, peanut butter, or nuts…but need to eat gluten-free? The Bakery On Main has a great selection of gluten-free granola bars and granola products, that are healthy and yummy. You could toss these into your GFE kid’s lunch box – and they wouldn’t even trade snacks with the other GFE kids! The company web site even sells gift packages with a variety of products that you can sample – pick your favorite!
Foods Alive Flax Crackers: Products with flaxseed are incredibly popular. Flaxseed is extremely healthy with lots of different vitamins, and packed with Omega-3 fatty acids which help fight inflammation in our bodies. Foods Alive had the great idea of making the healthy flaxseed into a terrific snack cracker! The company’s flax crackers “begin with the freshest and cleanest organic golden flax being soaking in filtered water. This begins the germination or life process and makes the seeds easier to chew and digest (so no grinding is required!). Then they add robust ingredients and gently dehydrate them overnight at a very low temperature to preserve the vitamins, minerals and living enzymes”. There is a huge selection of flavors, Original, Onion Garlic, Mexican Harvest, Italian Zest, Maple & Cinnamon, Hemp (yes…Hemp!), Mustard, and BBQ. All certified organic, raw, vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free, and of course Kosher!
NOoodle: One of the most unusual products I found at the Expo were NOoodle noodles. Completely calorie free! and gluten-free, these noodles are made from a high fiber Japanese yam-flour. No fat, no calories, no net-carbs, no gluten, and no soy!! They look a lot like rice or cellophane noodles that you might use for Asian cooking. Aside from a long list of health benefits, these noodles are great for GFE’s that are looking for a pasta alternative. The only caution I have about these super cool noodles is that I was very strongly warned by the company’s owner to closely follow the preparation directions on the package. This means first rinsing the noodles for one minute, then draining and actually “pan frying” them in a non-stick skillet until all the liquid is absorbed…not your typical noodle! You can then add your favorite sauce, chicken or vegetables for a flavorful and healthy dish for your entire family!
Domata Living Flour: For those that are interested in doing their own gluten-free cooking or baking (which is nearly every GFE), but don’t want to start mixing different alternative flours and ingredients, here is a great flour substitute. It’s pre-mixed and ready to go into your favorite recipes. Domata Living Flour, according to the company, is an all-natural, casein free, sugar free, wheat free, and gluten free all purpose flour – developed for those that are gluten intolerant, allergen sensitive and have autoimmune diseases.
Andean Dream Quinoa Pasta: GFE’s are always looking for a pasta alternative. Often gluten-free pasta is made out of rice flour, not as nutritious as it could be. The Andean Dream Company makes great, healthy gluten-free pasta made out of Quinoa! According to the company: ”Classified as a ‘supercrop’ by the United Nations for its’ high protein content, quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids, making it an unusually complete food”. This pasta is “super healthy”!! It comes in the traditional spaghetti, macaroni, fusilli – all organic and gluten-free!
San-J: I personally love San-J sauces. I was really excited to see a booth filled with San-J sauces…all gluten-free!! San-J makes gluten-free Asian cooking easy, with gluten-free salad dressings, teriyaki, tamari, soy, and specialty sauces – and they all taste as great as the traditional gluten varieties! If you really like the sauces, they come in huge bulk sizes as well! The San-J company also has lots of recipes on their web site too. Easy to find, you can get the San-J sauces at your local grocery store, Whole Foods, or health food store.
Blue-Diamond: I think it’s great when a company known for the quality of it’s products comes out with an awesome new one. The Blue Diamond Almond company was my winner for the Best Chip Award at the Expo. The Almond Nut Thins were amazing in the Cheddar Cheese flavors – and I really wanted to take all the boxes home with me…but sadly they said no – I had to save some for the other visitors! They also make a fantastic “tortilla” chip in different flavors which taste as good – or better than the gluten variety. You can get some of the varieties in stores, with additional types coming out in the future. I’m “nuts” for these chips!!!
Shabtai: Last year when I went to Kosherfest I was blown away by the quality of the products from Shabtai Gourmet – and especially considering that they are gluten free (Hooray!!! They’re great for the GFE!!). The products are all gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, lactose-free, casein-free, corn-free, and 100% Kosher – but you’d never know it from their taste!! When I went to the Gluten Free Expo here in Chicago, I specifically looked for the Shabtai table to see what new products they had. This year at Kosherfest I wasn’t sure that they would let me near their booth because I had eaten so many samples last year!! (Oh no! She’s back…hide the YODELS!!). This year at Kosherfest, I spent some time talking to Cindy the owner of the company. She was incredibly nice and incredibly busy – her booth was extremely popular (no shock there!). I was so surprised, when a few weeks after Kosherfest I actually got a call from Cindy herself to discuss her products with me. Now that’s customer service. Cindy is charming and a pleasure to talk to. She is understandably passionate about her terrific products – and it didn’t hurt that I’m such a big fan!
My favorite product that Shabtai Gourmet makes is the Yodels. You can’t tell that they are gluten-free. They are that good. The cake is moist, the cream is perfect, and the chocolate…well it’s chocolate (all good)! They make wonderful bon bon’s, rainbow cakes, layer cakes, black and white cookies, awesome lace cookies (I had those at the Gluten-Free Expo), seven layer cakes, and Swiss cake rolls –YUM!!!! The most interesting product they had this year was gluten-free pie crusts. Pie crusts are notoriously hard to make even with gluten…without, it’s a “don’t attempt this at home” kind of thing. These were beautiful! While they are currently unavailable until Pesach, I was told by Cindy they may become available on their website after Pesach at a cost of around $14 for two.
Cindy and I are definitely going to be in touch (I hinted for a few samples…) and I’ll keep you posted. Shabtai Gourmet products can be found at some local grocery stores and online at www.shabtai-gourmet.com .