Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gluten-free musings on Expo East

Expo East, which was held at the Baltimore Convention Center last weekend, is the food industry's showcase of natural products. But it could easily have been dubbed a fashion show for gluten-free items. They were everywhere you looked.

In a "New Products Showcase," where new items that have caught the eye of Expo organizers were set up, I thought I might find a few that were gluten free. It turns out so many were labeled gluten free my hand was getting tired from writing them down.

When these were whittled down to the winners, three products labeled gluten-free were still standing: Little Duck Organic's Tiny Fruits, best packaging, Brad's Raw Leafy Kale, most innovative, and Nibor Chocolate's Daily Dose, best of press. Luna Pops' Hibiscus Lemon pop, which won the best new food prize, contains only gluten-free ingredients.  It is made on the same machinery used to make flavors that contain wheat, but Dina Mills, a company representative, said the equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between flavors.

One of my personal favorites from the show - "home free" crunchy vanilla cookies came close, making it into the finalist category for best food.

On the main exhibit floor, I spent two days sampling new gluten-free items and talking with gluten-free company representatives. I ran into George and Ceil Chookasian, owners of Foods by George, who have been making gluten-free products as long as Gluten-Free Living has been publishing. We marveled at all the changes in the gluten-free market place -- so many of them positive. (Watch for my upcoming blog on what I thought were the most interesting new products at Expo East.)

But I did run into one remnant of the "old" gluten-free days when a representative of one company insisted to me that vinegar contains gluten. She said she had done her research, and she was sure that vinegar was not gluten free. When asked I for details on the research, she said when she accidentally eats something with vinegar her tongue swells and her head gets foggy for three days.

I told her that at Gluten-Free Living we respect anyone's right to make their own diet decisions based on whatever information they choose. But I do not think a company representative has a right to give incorrect information in a forum where people who represent gluten-free companies should know what they are talking about.

On vinegar the facts are simple and indisputable - the gluten peptide in vinegar is too large to carry over in the distillation process. This is true even when vinegar is made from wheat. And according to the Vinegar Institute, vinegar is usually made from naturally gluten-free apples, grapes, corn and rice. Malt vinegar, which is fermented and not distilled, is usually made from barley and is not gluten free.

 Although Gluten-Free Living did the ground-breaking work on vinegar and distillation, most reputable celiac disease support groups and medical centers now agree distilled vinegar is gluten-free.

This includes the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, the Celiac Center at Beth Deaconess Medical Center, the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, the Celiac Disease Foundation, the Gluten Intolerance Group, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, the Canadian Celiac Society, the American Dietetic Association, the Vinegar Institute, the Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Center, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

Any research on the topic from reputable sources would quickly reveal these facts.

So while I applaud and appreciate all the new gluten-free products being made by a wide variety of companies, I do expect all of them to make sure they know what they are talking about. Knowledgeable company representatives can make good decisions about the steps they have to take to make sure their products are truly gluten free. And they know to dismiss misinformation that needlessly limits options and causes gluten-free consumers to worry about ingredients that are known to be safe.

I am glad most of those I talked to at Expo were in that category.

Amy Ratner

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