I HAVEN’T played a lot in the field of gluten-free baked goods. My previous experience involved frozen brown-rice bread, inedible unless toasted, and gloppy brown-rice noodles. When my editor proposed a gluten-free tasting, I gave a wary yes.
Going gluten-free feels like it has bypassed trend to mainstream. I can’t keep count of how many people I know who are gluten-free.
As a result, there are lots of gluten-free options. Post-tasting, I can say things have gotten a lot better since the early days. Manufacturers have figured out how to prevent the pasta from sticking together and added more flours to give it a better texture. Bread is lighter, and even tasty without toasting. We concurred that some store-bought, gluten-free baked goods taste nearly as good as the real, gluten-filled thing.
My editor, Kathy Triesch Saul, and I rated everything based on taste/flavor, texture and ingredients. Here are our results:
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For comparison, we cooked all five pastas according to directions, adding olive oil and salt to the boiling water, then adding more olive oil and salt for tasting.
Maninis Spaghetti, $5.99
Hands down our favorite, we loved the al dente texture, almost indistinguishable from regular fresh pasta. It looks like good egg pasta, and the flavor was superior to the rest. The ingredients weren’t as pure as others, with cane sugar on the list but, damn, it tasted good. Also, it’s a local company.
Orgran Buckwheat Pasta Spirals, $4.39
We were surprised by how much we liked this. The texture was close to regular pasta, and Kathy noted the earthy, grassy flavor. The pasta is a rather unattractive dark taupe color. But cover it in sauce, and I’d eat it any day.
Schar Fusilli, $5.49
Schar touts itself as the No. 1 gluten-free pasta in Europe. With corn and rice flours as the main ingredients, we were skeptical. But we liked it. The flavor is slightly bland, but the texture had a nice chew. It was our third choice.
We split on our final two. I preferred TruRoots Ancient Grain Fusilli ($4.39), despite a slightly rubbery bounce, but Kathy could not get past the overly chewy texture and lack of flavor. Kathy preferred the al dente texture of Ancient Harvest Quinoa Spaghetti ($3), but I objected to the gritty feel.
We sampled each bread untoasted, with salted butter.
Canyon Bakehouse 7 Grain ($4.49)
With its light, springy texture and yeasty flavor, this was our clear favorite. Like most gluten-free prepared breads, it has sugar; here, it showed up as organic agave. But we would happily eat the bread plain or in sandwich form, a major upgrade.
Udi’s Whole Grain ($4.99)
Udi’s seems to have cornered the market on gluten-free, with good reason. It was the sweetest of the breads, with a soft, slightly dry texture. It tasted like a basic, good white bread, though it does use canola oil.
Essential Baking Super Seeded Multi-Grain ($6.59)
This local bakery has gotten into the gluten-free game with a multigrain entry. With flax and sunflower seeds and pear and plum to sweeten it, we liked the ingredients. The texture was a little dry and became gummy while chewing, but it has a nice, dark crust and a deep flavor.
Food for Life Rice Pecan ($4.99)
Our loaf had been frozen, but that couldn’t account for the lack of flavor and dry texture after defrosting. It wasn’t close compared to the others. Its most redeeming quality is the shorter ingredient list, which included organic, good things like pecans and chia seeds.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.