You know how it feels. You’re walking down the aisle at the grocery store and you stop to pick up a product that you’ve purchased before, you glance at the label in passing, and you see it: WHEAT!
Your heart sinks. You start to feel shaky. How long has it contained wheat? Did they change their formula? Have you been unwittingly contaminated?!
It happens to all of us at one time or another. Reading labels isn’t easy stuff. Manufacturers use different symbols and terminology, and just because a product doesn’t contain wheat doesn’t necessarily mean it is gluten-free.
Hummus with Gluten-Free Symbol
It happened to me the other day on a rare trip to Wegman’s. There isn’t a Wegman’s near me, so it’s an unusual treat for me to be able to cruise their well-stocked aisles. In the hummus department I found something very disturbing: gluten-containing hummus!
Really?! What’s the reason for that? I make hummus from scratch and it certainly doesn’t need any wheat! (see my easy pumpkin hummus recipe)
Hummus is one of those go-to dips for me at parties, where I usually feel safe dipping my carrot stick in the creamy condiment. Not anymore. Wegman’s has hummus with wheat and hummus without wheat. To their credit, their hummus without wheat has a gluten-free symbol on it, but in all honesty, it was pure chance that I noticed the one with wheat was off-limits to me.
This revelation spurred me to examine some other products I assumed always contained wheat and others I thought were ordinarily safe. Which brings me to some happy news: I finally found gluten-free imitation crab! I know it sounds icky put that way, but it makes a gluten-free California Roll possible! I had heard rumors that there were some “crab sticks” (as they’re called in the sushi world) made with tapioca starch, cornstarch and surimi.
GF sushi options now may include wheat-free crab sticks
Wegman’s actually carries one they say is exclusive to their chain, and they sell it in their sushi, although you have to read the label all the way through to be certain. (Sure seems like they should be calling that out, since it’s such a great new food choice for those eating gluten free.)
We still must avoid most of the dipping sauces like hoisin, as they typically contain soy sauce made with wheat. (Some great brands of gluten-free soy sauces to try though, include San-J and now, Kikkoman - only their specially-labeled sauces are GF). Always ask about the sticky rice as well, as some sushi restaurants use malt vinegar (gluten) instead of rice vinegar (gluten-free) to help make the rice sticky.
All this is really good news for those of us who like sushi, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to find, and it remains unlikely that your neighborhood sushi joint will be serving gluten-free California rolls anytime soon. Still, it’s something to look for, and another reason to read labels with vigilance.
Until the FDA finalizes its proposed rule under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) to establish a federal standard for “gluten-free,” we consumers are left to pour over and decipher packaging information as best we can. Currently, the easiest indicator of the safety of our food is the Gluten-Free symbol from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (run by GIG – the Gluten Intolerance Group). It is a stamp of assurance that a product is tested to 10 parts per million (“ppm”) gluten – the current suggested scientific standard is <20ppm — and that best practices are in use to prevent cross-contamination, even if the processing plant also produces foods containing gluten.
In the meantime, read those labels! Wheat must be declared as a food allergen if it is contained in any food product. Barley and rye (grains also containing gluten) need not be declared, but are usually either listed ingredients or are identified as “malt,” which is typically made from barley unless otherwise indicated. Food manufacturers can change their formulas at any time. If you have any questions about the safety of a product, contact that manufacturer directly and do not eat the product until you are sure. Your health is too important to risk for a snack.