Gluten-Free Is Not For Me
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
"I'm thinking of cutting gluten out of my diet for a few weeks, to see if it helps with my digestion," I told my best friend this weekend. He laughed at me.
"Good luck with that," he scoffed.
"What, you don't think I can keep it up?" I asked.
"No, it's not that," he chuckled. "It's just that gluten-free food tastes like shit."
Not caring that he works for Whole Foods ands knows what he's talking about (for the most part), I set off to do my weekly grocery shopping with a new twist: Don't buy any bread or products with gluten in them, and test out a few gluten-free prepackaged meals and mixes. The good news in all of this is that I didn't spend very much money, thanks to Walmart's fantastic gluten-free section (more on that later). The bad news relates to the pancakes above. They look nice, don't they? A bit sloppy but relatively normal?
The pancakes were made from one of Bob's Red Mill gluten-free pancake mixes. I've always had good luck with other Bob's Red Mill products in the past, but I'd never tried any of the gluten-free mixes. Why would I?
In addition to the mix, I added -- as called for -- some soy milk, vegetable oil and one egg. The resulting batter was smooth and creamy, and made pancakes on the griddle that puffed up immediately and looked every bit like the fluffy pancakes of your breakfast dreams. I invited my best friend over for breakfast that morning, and set a plate of downy pancakes in front of him along with some scrambled eggs, with a dish of lightly macerated strawberries and some maple syrup on the side for the cakes themselves.
"They look good, don't they?" I asked, pleased with myself.
"Of course! They're pancakes!" He smiled as he appraised the plate in front of him. I hadn't told him they were gluten-free. I chuckled to myself as I dressed the pancakes with berries and syrup. We dug in.
One bite later, I was ready to scrape the pancakes out of my mouth with a razor blade. "OH GOD, THESE ARE HORRIBLE."
The pancakes tasted almost exactly like wallpaper glue, hideously salty and with an unmistakably chemical aftertaste. The only ingredients in the mix, however, were all natural. And salt was one of the very last ingredients. I was flummoxed as to what had gone wrong and had to admit to my friend that the pancakes were from a gluten-free mix I'd bought at the store, not my regular pancakes from scratch.
We ate the rest of the eggs and the strawberries, but the pancakes went untouched. "Don't feel bad," my friend consoled me. "But just remember, I told you so."
Perhaps I'll make another batch this week, to try and duplicate the error. Or perhaps there was no error and my friend was right: Gluten-free food tastes like shit. But I think the greater lesson here is this: If you're going to eliminate a certain food from your diet, just eliminate it and move on. Don't buy a food product that's imitating some other food, and expect it to taste good or even like what it's attempting to imitate.
On the other hand, thanks to my shopping trip, I now also have some gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix to try, too. I'm not going to let it go to waste, but I'll definitely be baking them with lowered expectations.
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