Sunday, October 31, 2010

GF: Pass The Monocalcium Phosphate Please

As gluten free consumers we have a lot of choices these days when it comes to baked goods, pastas, mixes, and prepared dinner entrees. That is quite an improvement over just five years ago—new products are entering the marketplace nearly every day, produced by both small suppliers and mainstream food giants. And every day, these new products are reviewed by hundreds of celiac sites and food bloggers. Of course, there is no accounting for differences in taste, but the most useful reviews I’ve seen lately are blind taste tests. A great example is “Gluten Free Pancake Mixes: A Blind Review,” on the Breaking Bread Blog

This is not some sort of paid review, inside deal, or infomercial. This is a thorough and thoughtful review of nine different mixes (plus a homemade version.) I wouldn’t call it a scientific study, but it was comprehensive with a taster panel of eight adults and ten kids ranging from ages 3-8. Sad thing is, I pretty much knew what the results would be before I read it. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed it, but when it comes to these types of line-ups, products made by the industrial food giants always seem to win (Bisquick was the winner, in case you were wondering.) That makes me wonder whether we, as consumers of prepackaged and processed goods, have developed a taste for industrialized food, and the “real” thing now tastes less authentic or tasty to us. Compare, for instance, the ingredients of Bisquick and Pamela’s Ultimate Baking and Pancake Mix:

Bisquick: Rice Flour, Sugar, Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Modified Potato Starch, Salt, Xanthan Gum.

Pamela’s: Brown Rice Flour, White Rice Flour, Cultured Buttermilk, Natural Almond Meal, Tapioca Starch, Sweet Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Grainless and Aluminum-free Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum.

Not only does the Bisquick contain modified flours, sugar is the second ingredient. Want to know where the fluffiness in the pancakes comes from? It is the monocalcium phosphate, and one of the major users of this chemical is McDonald’s for their Big Mac hamburger buns. Sodium aluminum phosphate is a chemical leavener and acts as a buffering agent in flour mixes. Similarly, in some mass-produced gluten free sandwich breads these days, enzymes and “natural” mold inhibitors are used to the same effect. The result in all these cases is better texture, and according to a myriad of taste-testers, better taste. Make no mistake, though, these are industrialized ingredients that you won’t find in your health food store or coop’s bulk ingredient bins.

Another case in point: Recently, a reviewer of our new gluten free Three-Cheese Pizza commented that the sauce tasted too sweet to her. That blew me away and really got me wondering what we have inadvertently trained our taste buds to expect. Our tomato sauce is nothing but vine-ripened fresh tomatoes and naturally-derived citric acid. To some, the sauce may seem “sweet” because there is no added salt, no added sugar, no calcium chloride, no chemical citric acid, and no spices. We don’t use inferior tomatoes, and we went to great lengths to find the cleanest, premium, full-bodied flavored tomatoes.

There is no question that taste is just about as individual as fingerprints. One of the hardest things when first going gluten free is that non-wheat-based food just doesn’t seem to taste as good. Or is it that it tastes different? Kind of like natural peanut butter is an acquired taste. After years or a life-time of eating wheat (and often processed foods,) your palate has come to expect certain taste sensations. Industrialized food giants know all about this, and food chemists have developed an arsenal of ingredients to tickle every pallet. Now they are adding them to gluten free foods. They’ve even created taste sensations not found in nature. In the words of one of my co-workers when discussing Halloween candy, “My favorite flavor is purple.” For many on a gluten free diet, changing habits means conscious eating and eating healthier foods. For many, it means getting used to the taste of “real” food again.


Anna M said...

I think sugar is one of those universal ingredients lately and it should not be. I recently took all processed sugar out of my diet except honey and maple (I'm a Vermonter, have to have Maple!). It's amazing how sweet an apple is!

I don't find your breads or pizza shell sweet, just tasty as hell and I start every morning with a bagel from your company. I don't even add butter because they are buttery enough, just a little cottage cheese or cream cheese and I'm good to go.

Kimberly Dunn said...

Don't you DARE change your is PERFECTION on a shell! The majority of this nation is addicted to sugar (personal belief) and don't realize what good food should taste like. Your products are all perfect! and I thank you for that!