Tag Archives: gluten-free food

What Does the Box Say? – Comparing Gluten-Free and Non-Gluten-Free marketing claims

We’ve all heard statements like these about gluten-free food: “The gluten-free products market is experiencing a double-digit growth” and “They are considered healthier than conventional products (source: PRWeb.com).

It’s become a truism that manufacturers make gluten-free products to cater to the “fad,” rather than to help those of us with gluten-related disorders (GRDs). According to this perspective, gluten-free, like organicall natural, and wholesome, is just another buzzword. 

Marketers seek to draw in people without GRDs who are health-conscious enough to buy a product they think is better for them, but not enough to realize it isn’t, really. (The same thing might be coming for “kosher.”) Marketing research, as presented in this report—the complete version of which sells for an astonishing $3,995.00—backs up this idea that “health perceptions fuel [the gluten-free] category growth.”

Is it true? Just who do marketers think gluten-free consumers are, and what do they think we want? Are GF labels crammed full of more health claims than other products? Are they feeding us all the nonsensical health claims they think we’ll swallow?

To answer these questions for myself, I did some amateur market research, looking at what marketers are putting in their gluten-free (GF) product descriptions and their non-gluten-free (NGF) product descriptions. Then, I created tag clouds showing the most common words and phrases for each:

Looking these over, I’m come up with some conclusions of my own. I’d love to hear what stands out to you, too!

The method to my madness:

  • I researched descriptions of both gluten-free (GF) and non-gluten-free (NGF) products. Note that the sample size is small—just under 60 products in each category—and that I used copy from manufacturers’ websites, rather than package labels themselves, because I’m lazy. Pay me $3,995 and I will redo it. For a full list of the products I included, click here.
  • I looked only at brands with exact gluten-free and non-gluten-free equivalents. (Thanks to Sprue Jr. for this smart idea.) I left out things like Goldfish Puffs (which are yummy, but more like Cheetos than Goldfish), Nabisco Rice Thins (which I really hope aren’t meant to imitate Wheat Thins), and Chex (even though it’s the classic mainstream-product-gone-GF; wheat, rice, and corn Chex are just too different).
  • I created the word clouds using tagcrowd.com. A word or phrase had to appear 4 times across all descriptions in a category to make the cut. The NGF cloud is smaller than the GF cloud because fewer words were repeated often enough.
  • At 33 mentions each, the outliers “gluten free” and “gluten-free” (who knew the food industry was so divided on the hyphenation question?) were taking over the whole GF picture, so I removed them.

A few general observations:

As a vegetarian, I had no idea till doing this just how many brands of GF breaded chicken products exist. Mind. Blown. You’d think someone could take a break from dinosaur-shaped extruded meat to manufacture some GF phyllo dough.

Some classic, mass-market products reproduced in gluten-free versions are presented with almost identical product descriptions, distinguished only by the addition of “Now available gluten-free!” In other cases, the gluten-free product information is considerably longer, taking great pains to explain a) why a gluten-free version was created, b) what steps have been taken to ensure the product is gluten-free, or c) both. The NGF versions were very rarely longer, probably because we already know those foods rock.

Many food manufacturers making GF products were already focused on whole grains, organics, etc., which in my opinion partially contradicts the claim that everyone’s getting into the GF game to make money. These are companies that already cared about health and want to include former customers, now gone GF. Whether their products really are good for us is another question.

Poptarts aisle

Poptarts: not yet gluten-free, or healthy.
Photo © MTSOfan | Flickr

Now, on to specific claims:

GF food tastes good, kinda.

To give the GF labelers credit, many of them call their products “treats.” They promise that “everyone” will “enjoy” or even “love” their foods’ “delicious” “flavor,” “taste,” and “texture” (on the last point, they may protest too much—the word doesn’t appear in the NGF cloud, because it doesn’t have to).

“Best” and “favorite” make the cut for GF (but not NGF) foods, though they’re slightly more wary about claiming to be “classic” or “traditional” (several GF products went for “unique,” instead, which could mean anything). NGF foods are apparently “easier” and more “fun” than GF ones, but then, we already knew that.

GF foods are good for you, kinda.

First, let’s take a moment to appreciate how silly it is that health claims like “all natural” are so prominent in both sets of product descriptions, considering that every one of them comes in a package, box, or bag. A recent comment by a reader, John, sums up my feelings on this topic better than I could myself, so check it out.

So, GF and NGF foods are about equally likely to call themselves “healthy,” though the GF foods throw in a few “health”s for good measure. GF products are way less likely to be “organic,” and also less likely to claim to be “all natural” (or even partly “natural”) or to avoid “fillers” and “preservatives.”

On the subject of “fats” and “trans fats,” as well as specific “grams” per serving of the good stuff, the GF products are silent compared with their NGF counterparts, though not necessarily because they’re worse. (This has been discussed here and here.)

With nearly as much frequency as NGF products, GF products reference “whole grains,” but the oversized “brown rice” tag signals that’s the primary whole grain being used; too bad, because it’s lower in several nutrients than the whole wheat that dominates in NGF foods.

Neither set of products makes many caloric claims, probably because these terms are closely regulated so pizzas, cookies, and pretzels can’t get away with claiming to be low-cal. Only the GF products admit to being “sweetened” (though the NGF ones are, too!).

GF foods are gluten-free, kinda.

A fair number of the GF products point out their “certified” status and make explicit claims about the safety of their “ingredients” and “dedicated” “facility” where “products” were “produced.” A handful even reference “celiac disease”—yay!

Others, though, are mentioning their facilities and so on to warn us that they aren’t dedicated. So take this one with a grain of salt, produced in a gluten-free facility.

GF foods are far more likely than NGF foods to mention freedom from allergens such as eggs and dairy (and wheat, mentioned more on products where it’s not than where it is). I don’t mind manufacturers killing two (or more) “allergies” with one stone; in an age of multiple allergies, it’s a smart move.

produce aisle

Where are the labels? Are these healthy? Gluten-free? Who knows?!
Photo © I-5 Design & Manufacture | Flickr

Shocker!

At least in this sample, the GF foods don’t seem to trumpet health more than their NGF counterparts, other than freedom-from claims. I was also surprised not to find the words “crave” or “craving” in the GF cloud, since that’s the essential function of these foods: to satisfy that yawning hole left in all of us by the Oreos, pizzas, birthday cakes, and chicken nuggets of yesterday.

Which similarities and differences surprised you? Are any words missing that you’d have expected to see? Do you buy gluten-free food products, and if so, what do you look for on the package labels?

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Dear gluten (it’s me again),

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Almost a year. And I’ve been thinking. That letter I wrote . . . maybe it was a bit hasty. Oh, I’m not taking anything back. I still hate you. I walk by cafes where you sit and avert my eyes; I see you on the subway and change cars; I tell my friends I won’t show if you do.

In truth, all that avoiding you has taken a toll on my social life. But mostly, things have been better. I smile wider, I laugh louder, and I can’t recall the last time I pulled a Myrtle. But I can’t say I’ve been quite as happy as I’d hoped. I thought you were the only thing holding me back—now I fear there’s more.

Still, everyone says I’m better off: my friends, my sister (once your pal, she too has given you up), and even my doctors, not that my love life is any of their business. Certainly, my parents have been happy enough to see you replaced at family gatherings.

Replaced? Yes, I admit, there have been a few new sweethearts. The Whipped Pastry brownies, the King Arthur Flour vanilla cakes, the flourless peanut butter cookies, the Everybody Eats baguettes, the Food Should Taste Good and PopChips . . . It’s been a whirlwind. You may call it promiscuous, but I prefer “keeping busy.” And, by the way: not to brag, but they’ve been good. Almost as good as . . .

Do you know, gluten, that you cause me physical pain to this day? I dropped all that tissue transglutaminase on your doorstep, but instead of a whole new life I found a donut-hole in my heart. You haunt me; you obsess me.

Kindly do not misunderstand. I don’t want you back (several systems in my body wouldn’t stand for it). But here we are, in the thick of the holiday season, and you’re cropping up at all the parties, grinning in that rye old way of yours, trying to get a rise out of me. I hope this isn’t too bold—I can be honest with you, right? We’ve known each other a long time—but just the smell of you makes my mouth water.

I started 2013 with no resolutions, dear gluten, but by the end of January, you’d given me one: stay away—far away—from you. And I’ve been good. I’ve stuck to my guns. It hasn’t even been so hard: it’s in my DNA to hate you.

Still, you and I both know your very purpose is to form bonds, and Stockholmy though it may be, I feel your pull. I’ve scanned too many appealing pictures of you online, eyed you regretfully from across too many crowded rooms. I think I’ve gotten away, then snap! I’m back in the cereal aisle making doe eyes at the Cheerios. Something about you is . . . elastic.

So I wonder if, maybe, I should let you back in. Just a little. A taste. How’s this: At one of those parties, we can both get a little tipsy, and one thing can lead to another, and then for many days to come I can thoroughly regret it as my friends berate me for my lack of will, and I lie in bed, clutch my stomach, and cry for what shall never be. You’re happy, I’m unhappy, and we both get a nice little reminder of my 2014 resolution. Good, right?

I guess what I’m asking is, gluten, what are you doing New Year’s Eve? Because I’ve got a sloppy midnight kiss with your name all over it. All you have to do is show up dressed as a cake pop.

Yours wafflingly,
Molly

P.S. Gotcha, sucker.

Dear reader: If you’re looking for more that’s-kinda-weirdness about love and gluten, try this song, about 48 seconds in. And if you liked my letter, please share. You, I truly do ❤.

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Socca tartlets, four ways: Yes, that’s right, it’s a recipe.

I love food blogs. I started reading them when I started cooking for myself, and I read them more now than ever, because it’s a good way to stay connected with other gluten-free people, because it’s practically a requirement for my job (I work on cookbooks, among others), and because there’s nothing quite like some good food porn.

Though I talk about cooking surprisingly little on this blog, I do it pretty much every day. And not only because, being gluten-free, I sorta have to: I love it, too. But I’ve never really considered this a food blog. My focus has always been on stories about gluten-free life, so even though I’m constantly using and making recipes, I’ve steered clear of posting them.

I’ve decided to make an exception, though, because 1) the recipe is worth it, and 2) recipes are kinda like stories, if you think about it. I certainly read food blogs for pleasure, not just utility. A recent New Yorker piece backs me up with the perceptive claim that “cookbooks are like novels…This is what recipes are: stories of pretend meals.”

This recipe—my first ever on this blog—tells a story of the housewarming party my sister and I threw back in August, a story that I have until now neglected to tell. It’s a story of careful planning and intense preparation to serve a spread of food that wasn’t imitating anything gluten-y but didn’t leave anyone thinking, “good for gluten-free.” It’s a story of summer produce and steamy kitchens, told when it’s become just chilly enough to think of those things nostalgically. It’s a story of hard work and great payoff: everyone praised the food and, more importantly, had fun.

It’s also a story of why I don’t usually post recipes. You’ll see what I mean.

The proud hosts with the full spread (minus desserts; I'll tell you about those soon)

The proud hosts, the full spread (minus desserts; I’ll tell you about those soon). The DJ is back there in the corner, too. Kindly ignore.

Socca is an amazing food. I first discovered it through David Lebovitz’s blog, then saw it again on The Kitchn, and then found out it’s apparently Mark Bittman’s favorite food—all of which puts me (and you, should you choose to join) in good company.

It’s a chickpea flour flatbread that can be thin and broiler-blistered, or thick and soft, plain or topped with garlic and onions or pizza toppings, or with the toppings mixed right into the batter. It’s good with every kind of sauce, spread, vegetable, cheese, and seed I’ve ever tried throwing at it. You can make it taste like a pizza or a tart or a frittata. You can even make it into crackers and dip it into hummus, for an incestuous snack. It’s good hot, warm, room temp, and cold. Depending on toppings, it’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, even grain-free—though not low-FODMAP, and probably not paleo. (But if you’re going to cheat, you couldn’t choose much better.)

In short, if you’ve never before bought a bag of chickpea flour and think of it as nothing more than the odd aftertaste to some gluten-free cookies, then boy, are you missing out. Try this recipe next time you’re entertaining or just feel like serving yourself an elegant starter.

We worked from a recipe on The Kitchn, tripling it and making four different toppings. We also had two different sizes of muffin tin, so we had regular mini tarts and extra-mini tarts. Socca itself is incredibly simple and forgiving, but my MO in the kitchen (and in life…?) is to take simple things and make them complicated. You can re-simplify as desired.

Here we go!

gluten-free socca recipe

Get ready for more stunning food photography such as this “process shot” of the plain crusts.

How many does the recipe make? Good question.

As a cookbook editor, I’m well aware that recipes require yields. However, I must inform you we did not count our tartlets. As you can see in the pictures, there were approximately a billion.

The original non-tripled recipe makes two thin 10-inch-diameter soccas, so the total area will be about 2 x π52 = 50π, which you can then divide by the area of your muffin pan cups (about .93752π for a mini or 1.3752π for a regular), which means that if you made the single batch you should get about 57 extra-tiny tartlets or 26 regular-tiny tartlets.

If you make the triple batch as listed below, you’ll have about 171 extra-tinies or 78 regular-tinies (or somewhere in between, if you used a mix of both sizes, as we did, and no, I am not going to attempt any further calculations). This is the most math I’ve done in a long time and if it’s wrong I take no responsibility.

The bare bones you need for socca crust—toppings below (note: you can make a more reasonable batch by dividing each of these amounts by 3)

3 cups chickpea flour
3 cups water
4-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

muffin tin socca

Cute silicone muffin liners, right? Just please, please, don’t be an idiot like us and spray them with cooking spray. IT NEVER COMES OFF.

What to do!

  1. If it’s summer, turn on the air conditioner. Do this several hours before beginning. Forget about the bill.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  3. Mix the socca ingredients together and let sit. The minimum recommendation I’ve seen is 10 minutes, but I believe I’ve read that the texture gets better the longer the ingredients sit. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter.
  4. Make all the toppings. HAHAHA, just kidding, you’d better have done that part in advance. (See below.)
  5. Grease mini muffin or muffin pans with cooking spray. Or, if you’re using silicone, please don’t grease. We did, and it ain’t pretty.
  6. Pour very small amounts of socca batter into each muffin hole. You’re going for just barely covering the bottom of the cup, but half the time you will accidentally pour for too long and get thicker tartlets no matter how hard you try to make them uniform. Ours were all slightly different thicknesses, and they were all good, so don’t worry.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes. We were opening our oven a lot and no doubt cooling it down, so you may actually want to bake for less than 10 if you aren’t. I think we left them in for longer than 10, actually, but you’ll want to start checking by 10. When they’re brown around the edges, you should be good. If they brown too much, they’re still great. Again, don’t worry too much.
  8. Let cool, probably in the muffin pans for a bit and then on a wire rack if you have one. We don’t yet, so they went directly onto serving platters. They were still awesome.
  9. Painstakingly spread toppings onto each of the billion tartlet crusts you’ve created.
  10. If you have guests arriving within hours who will not take kindly to the oven still being on, you may wish to broil the topped tartlets for a minute or so before serving. If you have a kitchen torch, you may wish to go nuts with that instead. You may, however, wish instead to find time to shower before your party, in which case you may
    decide to skip this step.
  11. Take pictures. Collect compliments. EAT.

Zucchini Butter Topping

Use this recipe, also on The Kitchn. We used olive oil and garlic, and only made a half batch because one of our “farm-fresh” zucchinis turned out to be half-rotten. We also added fresh parsley and topped the tartlets with thinly sliced cherry tomatoes. VEGAN! If you want them to be not vegan, you know what to do.

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable little placards made by Althea

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable placards made by Althea

Sweet Potato Topping

Microwave two large sweet potatoes. Let cool, then remove peel. Save in Tupperware in your fridge to “use in another meal.” Add to compost three weeks later. Meanwhile, mash the peeled sweet potatoes and add all those Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, basil) and salt and pepper. Garnish the tartlets with little bitsles of fresh rosemary. VEGAN! No, you don’t need to add butter to the mash.

The apple, onion & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

The fig & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

Fig & Goat Cheese Topping

Make incredible orange-zingy fig jam by simmering a pack of chopped dried figs with water, sugar, orange zest, a cinnamon stick, and a dash of cloves until jammy. Blend until even jammier using an immersion blender or a standalone. Althea masterminded this and thinks other ingredients went in there, too, but she can’t remember. (Brain fog.) So, throw in whatever sounds good to you. Spread tartlets with cooled fig spread, then goat cheese, then a dab of honey for show. NOT VEGAN. But make yourself some nut cheese and sub in agave for honey and you’re golden (provided your sugar wasn’t filtered through bone char…erlack!).

Fig goat cheese rosemary socca recipe

Apple, onion, goat cheese & copious rosemary

Apple, Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Topping

Slice yellow onions thinly. Don’t cut off any digits with the mandoline. Caramelize. No, but really. Do yourself a favor and really caramelize, for longer than 20 minutes. Do it for an hour. Or more. Go crazy. I hear this even works in a slow cooker. Slice granny smith apples thinly and sauté with rosemary and a bit of cinnamon. Layer strands of onions, slices of apples, and blue cheese onto the tartlets. NOT VEGAN. But still probably awesome without the cheese, or with a vegan kind. I really don’t know because I was busy putting blue cheese on everything.

And we all ate happily ever after (or, at least, it felt like we were eating forever). The end.

Have you tried socca before? If not, what’s your favorite gluten-free dish? If so, isn’t it GREAT? How do you like to make it?

Gluten-Free-Wednesdays-Thumbnail

Because I’ve always kinda wanted to have something suited to the purpose, I’ve linked up this post in the Gluten-Free Homemaker‘s Gluten-Free Wednesdays carnival….

…and Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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“You don’t need this one, do you?”: A tale of the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo

Today I have a story for you about my spam filter.

I get a lot of email, so the little guy really gets put through his paces. (Yes, my spam filter is a little guy. He resides inside my Gmail apparatus, where he sorts desperately through the onslaught of slush, never recognized when he does something right but always excoriated for his errors…sort of like the stereotypical publishing intern.)

Email spam onslaught

Photo © Jean Pierre Gallot | Flickr
Looks like someone’s little guy has been on vacation.

If you’re wondering why I get so many emails, it’s because:

  1. I have a giveaway addiction. If you follow me on Twitter, you may already be aware of this. (If you don’t follow me on Twitter, join me! You’ll never miss a Kinnikinnick giveaway again.) This wouldn’t be a problem except that, to get extra entries, I sign up for all kinds of newsletters that I never have time to unsubscribe from, much less read.
  2. I love deals. So I always sign up when Express wants to email me updates on their end-of-season sales, and I can’t bring myself to quit Groupon Goods or Blackboard Eats (someday they’ll post a passcode for Risotteria). Plus, I’ve joined all the gluten-free-specific deals sites now, too. So many delicious, edible goodies to completely ignore.
  3. I’ve posted my email address on my site. Therefore, the bots are all over me.
  4. I’m very, very important. Thus, I receive important correspondence. I’m sure you guessed this one already.

Given all of the above, I can’t possibly be expected to sort through my emails myself. Gmail’s new “promotions” tab helps somewhat, but my spam filter must do the rest. And, occasionally, out of spite or exhaustion, he flubs it. He shows me something I never wanted to see, or he hides something I really, really wanted to see…such as the email welcoming me to attend the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo in Secaucus, NJ, as a blogger this September 7th and 8th.

No, little guy, no! What’s wrong with you?

I’ll sort him out later. But because of his hyperactivity, I didn’t find out until just a couple days ago that I get to go to the Expo to see, to taste, to learn, and to report back to all of you.

GFAF Expo Blogger Badge (Gluten Free and Allergen Free Expo, Secaucus, NJ)Still, I’ve managed to pack several weeks’ worth of excitement into those days. I’ve never been to a gluten-free expo before, and this one looks like it’ll be a blast. They’ve got an awesome lineup of classes (I’m looking forward to the presentation on turning glutenful recipes gluten-free by Chef Richard Coppedge, Jr.), and I know all of the vendors will be distributing samples and swag. (See above re: love of deals and giveaways.)

I’m sure my mind, strained as it is by my mountains of email, will be even more boggled by the array of gluten- and allergy-free choices available today. I feel lucky (-ish) to have been diagnosed at a time when the gluten-free market is exploding. And I feel lucky (-er) to be able to go and check some of them out in a couple of weeks.

Do you want to feel lucky, too? You can get in for free by volunteering, or you can buy tickets here (including special “early bird” tickets if you want to beat the crowds). And if you don’t live in the area, you can check for another location near you—they’ll be in Dallas in October.

And, of course, if you happen to be as into giveaways as I am, you’d better believe I’ll be doing one. Check back next week to enter, and after the event I’ll send a bundle of Expo surprises your way.

Want to be sure you don’t miss it? Ignore everything I said about clogged inboxes and sign up to follow me by email below! (Or, if Facebook or Twitter float your boat, I’d also love to see you there.)

Photo © Gluten Free Allergen Free Expo | Flickr

Photo © Gluten Free Allergen Free Expo | Flickr

Tell me your best stories of spam filters gone awry or bursting email inboxes. Will you be at the Expo, or have you been to a similar event? Which class looks best to you? Any vendors I should be absolutely sure to check out?

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