Gluten Free Products With An International Flair

My friends at Health Flavors recently sent me a fantastic box of Orgran and Candy Tree samples so that I could give their products a go (Thanks Josef).  In all honesty, until the package arrived, I had never heard of or tried any of their products so this was a very welcome opportunity.  Orgran is an Australian brand that makes a side-range of gluten-free products and one of their importers/distributors, Health Flavors, is located just north of New York City in Westchester County.

The products I sampled included: (Orgran-branded)Essential Fibre Rice and Corn Pasta; Corn Pasta (Penne); Rice and Corn Pasta; Buckwheat Pasta; Molasses Licorice; Toasted Corn Crispibread; Vanilla Cake Mix; and Multi-Grain O’s with Quinoa.  From the Dutch company Candy Tree came Organic Strawberry Vines.

Needless to say, it took me a bit of time to work my way through all of the products I received but in the end I was beyond pleased with quality and, more importantly the taste of the products.  So onto the reviews…

First up was the Molasses Licorice.  Yes, that’s right you read that correctly an honest to goodness gluten-free licorice.  You are probably thinking that’s all well and good but it can’t possibly taste like the real deal.  Wrong!  I am a self-confessed licorice junkie and I have missed my sweet little dark morsels since being diagnosed with Celiac.  This was the first time in many, many years that licorice has crossed these lips and in one word it was HEAVEN.  First of all, there is no way you could even tell that this was gluten-free.  It was so wonderfully soft in texture and the taste!  It was mildly sweet (as a good licorice should be) but had the wonderful licorice bite to it that exploded onto your palate with just the right amount of spiciness.  Trust me, I know my licorice and this is quite possible the best (gluten-filled or gluten-free) that I have ever come across.  It comes in a great resalable pouch that keeps the candy nice and soft.  The licorice pieces do stick together but isn’t that half the fun – pulling them apart as the anticipation builds?  If you love licorice like I do, do yourself a favor and give this a try.

Next  up was the Toasted Corn Crispibread.  This was quite unexpected indeed.  I suppose I was expecting something similar to a Wasa Crisp flat bread-type cracker but while this had the same shape it was far better tasting.  Think naked cheese doodle because that is exactly what it tasted like.  A large, flat, cheese-doodle without the dreadful orange powder that gets all over your hands.  I really enjoyed these and topped then with everything from cream cheese, to dip, to brie and the held up extremely well.  What is nice about these is because they are plain you can pretty much pile anything on top without having to worry about combating flavors.  I even snacked on these plain as they make for a great tasting treat that is terrifically crunchy.

The next product in my gluten-free tasting frenzy was the Multi-Grain O’s with Quinoa.  Now I was not sure what to make of these at first.  I was thinking, hmmm, these look too healthy to actually taste good.  I have always been a fan of quinoa so was intrigued by these O’s.  They also contain psyllium fiber which is great and not something you see everyday in a breakfast cereal.  So how did they taste?  Well, they are quite plain and actually reminded me of plain Cheerios – and is quite frankly the closest we Celiacs will get to them.  If you are restricting your sugar intake for whatever reason then these would be a perfect option.  What I really liked about their plainness was that I could mix them into other cereals or add a bit of sweetener without ruining the taste and more importantly without overloading it with sugar.  If you are looking for a sugary sweet breakfast option then look elsewhere because that is not what these are about. 

The pastas were enjoyed during a pasta marathon I decided to have.  I prepared a small amount of each of the pastas I received (Essential Fibre Rice and Corn Pasta; Corn (Penne); Rice and Corn Pasta; and Buckwheat).  I topped them all with same sauce to get a feel for how they not only tasted, but more importantly held up when loaded with sauce.  The Essential Fibre and Rice and Corn pasta was very good as was the Corn penne and Rice and corn (mix) pastas.  All cooked perfectly to al dente and tasted like pasta should with a wonderful hint of graininess that really made them taste like the real thing.  Perhaps the biggest stand-out was the Buckwheat variety.  It was one of those things I just never bothered to try – quite frankly because I just didn’t think it would compare to more traditional grains in taste.  Well, I will be the first to admit I was wrong.  The Orgran Buckwheat spirals was quite possibly my favorite out of all the pastas sampled.  It had a great (and delicious) nuttiness to it that really paired well with my sauce of choice (creamy white) and held the sauce perfectly.  It had a truly complex flavor that, while pronounced, did not take away from the sauce – and I can see this being a truly diverse pasta able to compliment any sauce you top it with.

Back to the candy front, I was eager to try the Candy Tree Organic (yes, organic) Strawberry Vines.  These were produced in the Netherlands (on of my all time favorite destinations) and were really very, very good.  These were far more subtle in flavor than the Molasses Licorice I raved about earlier but still full of flavor without being too sweet.  The small vine shapes are like mini-Twizzlers and I really enjoyed these as well.

Finally to the pièce de résistance of the products…the Vanilla Cake Mix.  This was the last item I needed to prepare so that I could give a comprehensive overview of the Orgran products I received.  This past Saturday I finally found some time to bake a cake.  Well, I didn’t really need a large chunk of time as the mix was really simple – just throw in eggs, margarine, water, and mix.  Simple.  While mixing the magnificent aroma of vanilla emerges and I could tell that I was going to be in for a treat.  30-35 minutes later I pulled a perfectly brown, well-risen cake from the oven.  I of course sneaked a slice in the middle of the day and was truly amazed at the amazing taste.  It was truly full of fragrant vanilla but not too sweet so that you could really appreciate the complexity of the flavors all melding together to make a fabulous vanilla cake.  My non-GF other-half raved and raved about how good this cake was and we found ourselves sneaking pieces various times throughout the day.  Ultimately the cake only survived until Sunday evening and I now have to place an order for some additional boxes J. 

Overall I was really impressed with the Orgran products and it was good to see a company that clearly tries to provide healthful, great tasting options to Celiacs.  You can view the complete gluten-free product line on their Web site.  You can find their products at a variety of online retailers that carry gluten-free products.  If you are on Facebook, why not become a fan of Orgran Natural Foods USA?

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