The Best Foods at the DC Gluten-Free Expo
In only its second year of existence, the Washington, DC Gluten-Free Expo featured 64 exhibitors and drew an estimated 1,300 attendees, up from 704 attendees from the 2011 Expo. Most of the exhibitors were food manufacturers – some large, others very small – and almost all of the attendees were patients. Most exhibits included product samples, looking to attract new customers.
I do not have celiac or a gluten intolerance. However, my sister does. I know it's hard to find the perfect blends of gluten-free flours, and the extreme difficulty getting a "gummy" stickiness of baked goods. Pizzas, cookies, brownies, cakes – anything that would normally require flour – comes out dense and crumbly. With that in mind, we found the best products at the Expo for these problems.
This was the best thing I ate all day. Sweetie Beans is a bakery located in Port Jefferson, NY, and had three different baked goods: pumpkin, vanilla and chocolate cake bites. They were fantastic – moist, flavorful, fluffy. Unfortunately, Sweetie Beans products are not yet available outside of their Long Island bakery. But stop by if you're ever in the area! For more information, see SweetieBeans.net.
As close to "normal" bread as I have ever tasted for a gluten-free product, the cinnamon raisin bread sample wowed. Located in Loveland, Colorado, Canyon Bakehouse products can be found in health food stores around the country. Though I only tried the one bread (and was impressed), a number of breads, muffins and buns can be ordered through CanyonBakehouse.com.
Rudi's was serving cheese quesadillas on their new gluten-free tortillas and did not have any problems often associated with corn tortillas. Though Rudi's increased the gumminess of the product, it worked. Rudi's is widely available – Safeway, Costco and some WholeFoods carry the products – so keep an eye out for some. For more information, see RudisGlutenFree.com.
Unfortunately, one of the base ingredients to making beer is malted grains. "Grains" equals gluten. Thankfully, some manufacturers have begun to break into the gluten-free beer market – Bard's and New Planet among them. Every beer taster is different, so I will not pass judgment on either product, but both were quite delicious.
Just because someone is a gluten-free baker does not necessarily mean that the basic baking skills are there. Thus, it always impresses me when a successful baker (or bakery) breaks into the GF market. This is exactly the case with Denver-based Udi's. According to those I overheard raving about the product, Udi's crust is the best widely-available gluten-free option on the market.
Not every gluten-free manufacturer is small or something that needs to be specially ordered off a website. Take Nature Valley, famous for their granola bars and available in every grocery store across America. Nature Valley was at the Expo featuring its new line of gluten-free products. If you are looking to break into eating GF but are unsure of where to start, Nature Valley may be a good place to turn.
The gluten-free pizza market is a tough one to crack. Most manufacturers go with the crackerlike crusts, similar to thin crust pizza from a major chain. Others opt for a thicker crust which suffers from the crumbles. Some places have gotten it right. There were a number of pizza makers at the Expo, each with pros and cons. The best of the bunch was Bella Monica from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Pete's Apizza, which has multiple locations in the DC area, has long been a personal favorite. When my sister (with celiac) is in town to visit, she insists on going to Pete's for their GF pizza . For the Expo, they brought gluten-free pasta served with either Bolognese sauce and pesto sauce. These dishes were the talk of the Expo!