Going Gluten-FreeMay 20, 2015

Finds from the National Restaurant Association Show

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Posted by Mary Fran Wiley – frannycakes.com

When I went gluten-free 10 years ago, I prayed that I could get a salad that a server wouldn’t mess up. Sometimes, I would even go crazy and ask for a simply prepared piece of meat and steamed veggies. Eating out was hard, and servers looked at you like you had three heads when you started to ask about ingredients and gluten. In the past few years, there have been major shifts in all aspects of the food industry - from the packaged goods we can pick up at the store to eating pizza and pasta in restaurants with friends. It’s a whole new world for gluten free.

That has never been more obvious to me than this weekend when I took some time to visit the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. Standing out amongst the industrial size dishwashers and human-sized espresso machines were some remarkable innovations in gluten-free foods heading to a restaurant (or grocery store) near you.

The Trends

The biggest trend that is rocking the restaurant world is the focus on knowing ingredients. Everyone I talked to was excited to talk about not only their products, but what goes in them. When I started asking questions about gluten contents and manufacturing processes, there was never any hesitation. FARE was even on hand to meet restaurants and teach them the importance of food allergy training.

Everywhere you turned at the show, you could see the restaurant industry’s dedication to delivering healthy (and tasty) options to restaurant goers. There were lectures on how to calculate nutrition information for menus and kid-friendly healthy options were highlighted throughout the show.

The Tastes

Next year, I need to make sure not to eat for several days before attending because there were so many new foods to try.

Just Hemp Foods

I’ve been hearing more and more about the health benefits of hemp lately, and Just Hemp Foods is a company focused on bringing it to your diet. The hulled seeds can add a nutty flavor to a variety of foods from salads and smoothies to brownies and sauces. I’ve already ordered a bag to add a new superfood into my diet.

Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars

Stopping by this table was one of my biggest mistakes of the show - because I fell in love with their gluten-free fig bars. They tasted just how I imagine Fig Newtons taste (they were my favorite cookies before going gluten-free). The only problem with them is that I couldn’t order them from Amazon the moment I got home.

Cup4Cup

I have been a fan of this flour since its debut - and the culinary world is quickly becoming super fans as well. They won a FABI (industry) award at this year’s show for their fantastic Wholesome Flour Blend and were debuting a new wholesome cake mix. Whether you bake from mixes at home, own a bakery and want to order in 25lb bags, or fall somewhere in the middle, they have you covered.

Enjoy Life Foods Mixes

Finding their way to a store near you very soon, these baking mixes are taking your allergen-free baking to the next level. Each mix is boosted with whole gluten-free grains and protein to make them healthier without sacrificing flavor.

Bob’s Red Mill

This company has long held a bit of real estate on my pantry shelves, and their offering just keep getting better. This year they were introducing a new 1:1 equivalent flour blend for baking as well as highlighting their Grains of Discovery line. I’m eagerly awaiting sorghum’s renaissance and finding it on menus of trendy restaurants the same way farro (unfortunately not gluten-free) worked its way there a couple years ago.

SmartFlour

This company started out supplying restaurants with gluten-free pizza crusts and flour blends and recently branched out into the consumer space with gluten-free frozen pizzas. The most exciting thing from them, at least in my opinion, was that their blend is so good, that Nature’s Bakery is proudly using their flour in its gluten-free fig bars.

Cheatin’ Wheat

Cheatin Wheat was the first gluten-free flour blend that I had purchased that turned out consistently delicious gluten-free baked goods. I found them several years ago at an expo when their business was just getting started, and now they are taking over the gluten-free world. Commercially, they sell their flour blend and pre-made whoopie pies, but consumers can order their fabulous mixes and flour blends on their website.

Hail Merry Snacks

These vegans sure know how to make foods you just can’t get enough of, and their new hummus is no different. I very nearly stole the whole tub of their new Sriracha Hummus right off their sampling tray. I wasn’t the only one - that hummus was another gluten-free FABI award winner.

Koval Distillery

I knew about these whiskeys before the show (they are distilled in my neighborhood), but you need these in your liquor cabinet. Even though gluten doesn’t survive distillation, I still get nervous when I drink, which is why I love these. The millet whiskey is made from 100% millet - no wheat, barley or rye at any point in the process. The bourbon contains, like all bourbons, corn as the main grain but, unlike others, uses millet to round out the grains. The result? Some of the best whiskey I’ve ever had.

Pickett’s Ginger Beer

I’ve seen one too many ginger beers without ingredients lists because they are alcoholic and can get away with it, or have unnecessary gluten. That’s sad for a girl who loves both ginger and delicious cocktails like a Dark & Stormy or a Moscow Mule. This ginger beer changes that! Pickett’s is concentrated syrup that comes in a few strengths and is gluten free. It is available both to consumers and to commercial customers.

Seattle Cider

This is a relative newcomer to the market, but it stands above most of the competition. This is a group of ciders that skip the too-sweet apple juice flavor in favor of dry sophisticated flavors, which make them a mature drink and one you could enjoy all afternoon from the comfort of your porch. I tried varieties with gin botanicals and basil. Two thumbs way up from this gal.

All in all, it’s a good time to be gluten-free. New products are hitting the shelves all the time, each one tasting better than the last. Restaurants are focusing on serving healthier foods and keeping diners safe. Let’s hope that the 2015 National Restaurant Association great finds are just the beginning of excellent products to come.

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