Product Review: Pao Bread

Pao Bread is a Brazilian cheese bread snack that is commonly sold by street vendors. Now, thanks to Portland entrepreneur Jewelie Schultz, you can get some gluten free and much closer to home. Pao bread, known as pao de queijo in Brazil, is normally made with tapioca starch, cheese, and eggs, so Schultz didn’t have to modify the recipe to make it gluten-free. She did have to discover the right kind of cheese combination to get an authentic flavor. The product is manufactured in a dedicated gluten-free facility here in Portland.

The bread comes pre-measured into balls, frozen, and ready to bake. They take about twenty minutes to bake and are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. We got our hands on some samples courtesy of the baker herself (see our disclosure policy) and tried them out. We also gave some to a few of our friends and taste-testers. Here’s what it looks like fresh out of the oven.

After a bite…

What these totally remind me of is a snack I used to make for myself when I would get home from high school. My friends and I would get home, go to the kitchen, wrap some cheddar cheese in a wheat tortilla, and microwave it. If you microwaved it correctly, the cheese would bubble and the tortilla would be delicious. They also taste kind of like goldfish crackers, but are much more of a texture sensation. Everybody we had try them, including ourselves, thought they were good. Schultz lived in Brazil as an exchange student, and did her best to come up with a recipe that tasted authentic.

Here’s a list of the ingredients: tapioca starch, eggs, safflower oil, cheddar cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes, annatto (color)), Parmesan cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), milk, water, kosher salt. The ingredient list is pretty short, and there isn’t any leavener. I was going to say that they’re pretty allergen-free until I noticed that they’ve got egg and dairy. On the minus side, the number one ingredient is tapioca starch, which we’ve discussed before, and has almost no nutritional value. Thanks to the eggs and the cheese, though, this probably isn’t as bad as a lot of the gluten-free breads out there. And hey! – We’re talking about a snack here, anyway.

And as a snack, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with something like this. They’re quick, easy to make, and kind of fun. They’re locally made, which is cool. I always like supporting local small businesses. Paobread is available at the Portland and Lake Oswego Lamb’s Markets, the Eastmoreland Market, and the Alberta Co-Op, among other places. You can also get them at the Moreland and Montavilla Farmers Markets. See their website for more details on where to buy. Here’s their website for more information.

Product Review: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar

Yes you read that right: Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

Of course, they call it Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar. I’m probably not the best person to be reviewing Macaroni and Cheese, because I’ve really always been more of a Ramen guy. When it comes to Ramen, I like it packaged, cheap and unhealthy. For a fact, the sort of Ramen I like is nothing like what you’ll get at a Japanese restaurant. It’s too bad I don’t know of anybody making gluten free Ramen. As a matter of fact, I just did a Google search on gluten free Ramen noodles and came up with a lot of people suggesting rice noodles, which we all know is just not going to be the same. Do I sound bitter?

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar

Luckily we’re not talking about Ramen today, we’re talking about Macaroni and Cheese. My doctor happens to love Mac ‘n’ Cheese (hey Dr. B.!). As you would expect, the Trader Joe’s gluten free Rice Pasta and Cheddar box contains a bunch of noodles and a cheese packet. The cheese packet actually says “GLUTEN FREE CHEESE” on it. This is a little strange, but reassuring. Here are the ingredients: rice pasta (rice flour), cheddar cheese (cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes), whey, buttermilk, butter, salt, natural flavor, sodium phosphate, and annatto extract (color). If you’re wondering what annatto is, it’s a South American tree extract commonly used in lipstick and also to color (you guessed it) cheddar cheese.

The box makes two and a half servings. Trader Joe’s counts one cup as a serving. A serving is 280 calories. So the whole box would be 700 calories. Like a lot of the Trader Joe’s gluten free products I’ve reviewed, the Mac ‘n’ Cheese has a lot of salt. Weighing in at 390 mg in a serving. So the box has almost a half teaspoon of salt!

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac 'n' Cheese

To me there’s this fascination with super-processed comfort foods like Mac ‘n’ Cheese or Ramen. It was all I could do to keep myself from sticking a finger in the powder to taste it. As you might expect, the instructions are easy to follow and it’s a quick meal to cook. I have this memory of watching someone make Mac ‘n’ Cheese and seeing them add butter, but the butter is already in there! I want to know how they make powdered butter.

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac 'n' Cheese

And here is the finished product. Mine ended up too soggy, but I’m sure that’s my fault. It is rich and wow is it salty. I actually think it’s too salty, but like I said, I’m not really a Mac ‘n’ Cheese guy. Other people might like it that salty. Also, we both agreed that the noodles are a little strange. They kind of crumble in a strange way when you chew them. I like my Mac ‘n’ Cheese with some applesauce. Luckily we had some around.

I didn’t really like this product and I’m thinking its main audience is going to be gluten free people who really love the regular sort of boxed Mac ‘n’ Cheese mix.

Here are links to some of my other gluten free Trader Joe’s reviews.
Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancake and Waffle Mix
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Banana Waffles
Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Pancakes
Trader Joe’s Pancake and Waffle Mix A’La the Shasta MountInn Bed & Breakfast

We want to know: I’d love to hear from some real Mac ‘n’ Cheese fans to see if Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar compares well to the real thing. Do you have a favorite Trader Joe’s product? Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: once (but we feel confident about our score.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars (too salty)
Price compared to “regular”: Same

Gluten-Free Product Review – Nana’s Chocolate Crunch Cookie

Those of you who are aware of the origin of our current poll will know that it started with an awful cookie. The time has come to unmask the cookie in question, which was bought at our local New Seasons Market. Here’s our review:

We have a love-hate relationship with gluten free and vegan products. I have eaten many delicious vegan cakes and cookies. I have not eaten many good gluten-free and vegan cakes or cookies. This is a fact that I hope will change some day.

As for the Nana’s cookie, it tastes like something that was extruded and freeze-dried instead of something that was stirred, formed into a cookie, and baked. I do think these have a target audience. While doing a little research for this review I noticed that this is a popular cookie. If you like Twinkies and Ding-Dongs, or fakey packaged cookies, you might like this cookie. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with liking snack cakes or fakey packaged cookies. I’m just sayin’…

You might like this cookie and it's OK with me.

You might like this cookie and it's OK with me.

Overall rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same price I guess.

Nana’s Chocolate Crunch Cookie