Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For...

...because you just might get it!

It used to be that I had a pretty easy time telling gluten-free foods apart from their traditional, gluten-containing versions. This was especially true when it came to breads. Regular bread was soft and moist and chewy and had good flavor. Gluten-free bread was typically dry, crumbly, somewhat flavorless, and to me, at least, most palatable only when toasted.

But as gluten-free breads have gotten better and better (largely thanks to the superb gluten-free bakeries popping up around the country), it has gotten harder and harder for me to distinguish gluten-free bread from "evil" bread. Normally, this would be a wonderful development. Tasty gluten-free bread is a welcome addition to the GF cornucopia. I've discovered, though, that there are also times when good or great GF bread is a double-edged sword.

During my recent trip to Quebec, and in particular, during my time in the Parc National du Gaspesie (where I stayed at the Gite du Mont-Albert), I spent my days in the backcountry. Each day, the kitchen staff at the Gite prepared a bag lunch that I could take with me in my backpack. Then, later in the day - usually sometime around noon or one o'clock - I'd open the bag and see what they'd packed for me. Often, there was a sandwich - maybe ham, or turkey, or tuna salad.

I knew that the kitchen staff were aware of my gluten-free dietary needs. But as I held the sandwich in my hands, staring at those two slices of bread, I began to second-guess the meal. Had they remembered to use GF bread? You see, the GF bread from their local bakery in Saint Anne des Monts was so close to the "real thing" that I had a hard time telling the difference. It was only seeing a Glutino-brand snack bar also packed in my lunch that gave me the confidence to chow down on the sandwich.

And there's the rub. Normally, I'd praise such good GF bread (and I'm still praising it, even if it doesn't sound like it right now). But there have been times when it's a mixed blessing. Those times are typically when someone else has made the meal for me. Because whereas in the past I could easily tell if they'd used GF bread or not, now the distinction was getting harder to pinpoint. I'm now having to take it on faith that they did the right thing, and that I won't get sick. By and large, this is a good problem to have, but in some twisted way, I miss the nasty old GF breads...if only because I confidently knew that they were, in fact, gluten-free.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever found yourself second-guessing whether or not a food was gluten-free, because it looked and tasted so much like the traditional, gluten version? If so, do tell!

- Pete


mare said...

has this happened to me? Not yet, but soon I hope. I agree with the double edged sword - being served a tasty meal but not not having faith that it's safe is an extra burden.

It's great when someone else cooks but if you take away the safety net of being able to relax in tasing it being GF, I'm no longer sure we can *win* this!

GFE--gluten free easily said...

I would have been wary in general just having someone else pack my lunches. You were brave! I am so glad it turned out fine! However, to answer your question, yes, this has happened to me ... not so much with bread. I really don't eat much GF bread. I am not near any good bakeries, upscale grocery stores, etc., and still don't really miss bread. But, in restaurants, I've been served entrees like a seafood dish in creamy sauce over buckwheat noodles. The creamy sauce was a reduction sauce made from cream and I was told the buckwheat noodles were 100% gluten free. The dish tasted too good and I just felt suspicious the whole time eating it. I did fine, so it was apparently gluten free. (I usually react fairly quickly to gluten and always know at least several hours later if I've been glutened.) I've since learned that a lot of buckwheat noodles do also contain wheat, so I guess I lucked out.

It's hard to trust others, because usually the full knowledge is just not there. When I started feeling funny in a very high-end restaurant after eating what I was told was a GF appetizer (and should have been), the chef came out and offered to bring me the crab cake appetizer instead because their crab cakes "contain panko breadcrumbs and are gluten free." Of course, I told him that was not the case, but he said they consulted with a nutritionist on all their foods and she had said the panko breadcrumbs were GF. He was not interested in being educated. Needless to say, I have not returned to that restaurant.

Along these lines, soups are another concern usually. Soups, of course, can often be made GF easily but rarely are. I've had the good fortune to have some wonderful GF soups in restaurants, but I was doubting the whole time.


peterbronski said...

Hi Mare... Yes, not having faith that it's safe is a bit of an extra burden. Fortunately, it's pretty seldom that someone prepares a meal for me in this way (especially without me having any oversight at all), so the situation doesn't arise often.

Hi Shirley... I'm glad you lucked out with the buckwheat noodles! Our supermarket sells several brands, and they're all a blend of buckwheat AND wheat. That's unbelievable about the high end restaurant - usually they're pretty knowledgeable. But panko breadcrumbs are definitely bad news (even if they are tasty =)). And yes, soups are dangerous territory as well. These days, pretty much the only soups I eat are the ones we make ourselves at home. Too much risk (and too seldom gluten-free).

Cheers, Pete