Navigating store-bought gluten-free baked goods can be like walking through a minefield. On the one hand, the cracker or cookie or pastry is wheat-free. SCORE. On the other hand, it’s almost always full of genetically-modified sugar and isolated starches that aren’t part of a traditional diet. FAIL.
Recently a reader emailed me asking me to decode the label on her Glutino Gluten-Free Toaster Pastries Strawberry Flavor.
This is what I found.
Here’s what the manufacturer claims:
“The strawberry is nature’s way of giving you a kiss, a little peck to perk your spirits, to start your day off with a wink and a smile. This is your day, go and get it. Gluten-free. Kosher. Dairy-free.”
Glutino Gluten-Free Toaster Pastries Strawberry: Ingredients
- STRAWBERRY FILLING:
- *APPLE POWDER (APPLES, CALCIUM STEARATE),
- *WHITE GRAPE JUICE CONCENTRATE,
- *MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH,
- *CITRIC ACID,
- *MALIC ACID,
- *NATURAL FLAVOR,
- *TRICALCIUM PHOSPHATE,
- *BLACK CARROT JUICE (FOR COLOR),
- *SODIUM CITRATE,
- WHITE RICE FLOUR,
- PALM OIL,
- MODIFIED POTATO STARCH,
- RESISTANT CORN STARCH,
- MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH,
- TAPIOCA SYRUP,
- SUGAR BEET FIBER,
- BAKING POWDER:
- *SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE,
- *SODIUM BICARBONATE,
- *CORN STARCH,
- *MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE,
- XANTHAN GUM,
- MODIFIED CELLULOSE,
- NATURAL FLAVOR
Glutino Gluten-Free Toaster Pastries Strawberry: DECODED
WHOA NELLY. The lazy part of me looks at that super long ingredient lists and says, “DUH. Just don’t eat the stuff.”
But that wouldn’t be fair to you, so here we go!
The first ingredient is Strawberry Filling, and the first ingredient in the filling is Sugar. Because this does not specify “cane sugar” or “evaporated cane juice,” we are safe in betting that the sugar is from GMO sugar beets. That’s because there are no GMO sugar cane crops, but 95% of all sugar beet crops in the U.S. are genetically-modified.
Next up within the filling is Apple Powder, which is made of apples and calcium stearate. Calcium stearate is a surfactant used in soaps and hair sprays. As a food additive, it’s purpose is to act as a flow agent to keep the apple powder from caking.
Glycerin is used both as a sweetener and a filler.
Next up is Strawberries. I am glad to see these here. I was starting to think there wouldn’t be any strawberries in this strawberry filling. The only downside to strawberries is that they aren’t organic. While I often buy non-organic produce or ingredients, I don’t ever buy non-organic strawberries. That’s because strawberries are one of the most pesticide-laden fruits on the planet, consistently scoring in the top three in the Environmental Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen list (which tests for pesticide residues on produce).
White Grape Juice Concentrate is an additional sweetener, and probably also a source of natural pectin (which helps the filling thicken). This is also the purpose of the Modified Tapioca Starch and added Pectin.
Both Citric Acid and Malic Acid are natural flavor enhancers, and the citric acid has the added benefit of acting as a preservative.
Next up in the strawberry filling is the ever ambiguous Natural Flavor. While this may not be nefarious, it often hides unseemly yet “natural” flavorings (like vanilla flavor derived from glands on a beaver’s anus). Without contacting the manufacturer, there is no way to know if the natural flavors added are wholesome or not.
Tricalcium Phosphate is a calcium salt, and I honestly have no idea why it’s added to the filling. It’s usually used as an anti-caking agent in powders or a raising-agent in baked goods. But I can’t imagine why a strawberry filling would need either of those.
Finally, Black Carrot Juice is added to the strawberry filling for color, and Sodium Citrate is added as an acidity regulator.
And now I pause to take a deep breath.
That was just the strawberry filling. We soldier on.
For the ingredients in the pastry dough, we start with Water (self-explanatory) and White Rice Flour (also self-explanatory). Some may have a small concern over the arsenic levels in rice, but I don’t share that concern so long as the rice is eaten in moderation.
Palm Oil is an ancient oil that’s good for you, but unfortunately it’s usually not sourced well. Without contacting the manufacturer, we have no way of knowing if this type of palm oil is destructive to rainforests and orangutan habitats. (The African varieties of palm oil don’t destroy orangutan habitat, and you’ve got the added bonus of them being super-high in antioxidants like vitamin A.)
Modified Potato Starch, Resistant Corn Starch, and Modified Tapioca Starches are all isolated starches used to give the white rice flour a better texture more ideal for pastry dough. Both potato and tapioca starch are traditional and can be collected in your own kitchen. But resistant corn starch is likely from GMO corn, and it can’t be casually made without a laboratory.
The Eggs, unfortunately, do not come from pasture-raised hens. Nor are they even organic. This means the eggs likely come from hens raised not only in confinement, but stacked on top of each other in cages so small they hardly have room to turn around. They are likely “battery hens,” and perpetuate a type of cruelty to chickens that I find offensive. They are also routinely fed anti-microbials and arsenic and have their beaks cut off to keep them from aggressively harming the chickens that share a cage with them.
Tapioca Syrup and Sugar are added as sweeteners. As before, the sugar is most likely from GMO sugar beets since it is not specifically labeled “cane sugar.”
Sugar Beet Fiber and Inulin are both added to increase the dietary fiber of the dough so that it’s texture is more like pastry flour.
Salt and Baking Powder are both self-explanatory. Unfortunately, the baking powder is almost certainly from genetically-modified sources.
Xanthum Gum is used to give the dough a more sticky consistency so that it’s easier to work with. It is almost always derived from GMO corn, GMO soy, or wheat. If you have any allergies to these or wish to avoid them because they are GMO, then beware. Unless a food is certified GMO-free, or the ingredient label specifies GMO-free Xanthum Gum, you can bet it came from one of these undesirable sources.
While in itself xanthum gum is probably not nutritionally harmful or bad, its presence is certainly a sign that you’re buying an industrially processed food. Think of it like a warning flag that should make you aware of the other ingredients in the food. If you see it on a label and find no other questionable ingredients, then all is well. If you see it on a label and see a plethora of other questionable ingredients, then know that the food is highly processed.
Modified Cellulose adds bulk to the flour without adding calories. It is most often derived from GMO corn or wood pulp.
And lastly, we once again have the ambiguous Natural Flavor.
Glutino Gluten-Free Toaster Pastries Strawberry: THE VERDICT
This is a no brainer!
What should I eat instead?
Your best bet is homemade. I have made and enjoyed these Gluten-Free Pop Tarts from Gluten-Free on a Shoe String.
If you don’t need to avoid gluten, then the best compromise I’ve found are these Organic, GMO-Free, Toaster Pastries. They are still an obviously processed food, but at least it’s made with organic and GMO-free ingredients.
Want Your Labels Decoded?
In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!