Friday, February 09, 2007

Why Passover Is a Gluten-Free Goldmine

Please welcome guest blogger Lisa Mandl of Chicago, who generously shares in this post her many helpful ideas for how Passover can be a boon to all gluten-free folks, whether or not they are Jewish. This is the first of a series of articles, links, product reviews and recipes I will be posting over the next two months to help gluten-free Jews have a happy, healthy, delicious Pesach... and to help non-Jewish people with celiac disease take advantage of the wonderful gluten-free products on the shelves during the Passover season.

by Lisa Mandl

It's getting close to this time of year again. The first seder may not be until April 2, but some stores (especially Kosher ones) are slowly starting to prepare for Passover and bring in the special food. This is just a yearly reminder that you will be finding some additional food choices in not only Kosher stores, but in regular grocery stores. For those who've been gluten-free for awhile, this won't be anything new, but this information could be very helpful to those newer to the diet.

Passover is a great time for finding new and different gluten-free selections due to the restrictions of the holiday. During Passover, wheat, rye, oats, barley, corn, soy, rice & beans (the last two for Jews from European descent only) and several other foods are forbidden. This makes it possible to go to a Kosher bakery and typically be able to find something ready-made that you can enjoy. I take the opportunity to purchase ready-made salads at the deli counters as well.

Now I say typically and this is very important. One main thing people have on Passover is matzah - this is made of wheat. Also made of wheat is matzah meal (ground matzah), matzah farfel (matzah in small pieces) and cake meal (finely ground matzah). You MUST avoid all foods with those ingredients. You want to keep your eyes open for this Hebrew phrase- "non-gebroktz". This means that no wheat was used and means that any item with that on it is safe for us.

Non-gebroktz is a way the very observant know if a food is safe for them to consume. Matzah is unleavened bread, hence the wheat, and for many, there is a concern that even a drop of matzah could become leavened if mixed with a liquid so they only eat non-gebroktz products for the first seven of this eight-day holiday.

Many companies cater to the needs of those who follow a non-gebroktz diet for Passover and there are cookies, cakes and other great foods available only during this time of year. We don't have to worry about cross-contamination because the companies that make these products have to thoroughly clean everything and/or use completely other equipment for the production of Passover items.

There are a few companies I look forward to getting items from: Lieber's has a large line of products that are safe and even marked "gluten free" (their Kneidel mix is outstanding - think matzah balls, yet better); Paskez - they make a product called Pesach Crumbs (Pesach is Passover in Hebrew) and this takes the place of matzah meal in cooking/baking (I also use potato pancake mix as a substitute for matzah meal); Schick's Bakery in NY makes some mouth-watering desserts - I have no stock, I'm just drooling thinking of their Bon-Bons! Wilton's - they make delicious blintzes - you just have to make sure you buy the box(es) that say non-gebroktz because they make blintzes year-round that are not gluten-free. There are ice cream cones and even ice cream sandwiches that are gluten free. They are delicious and sell out very quickly.

Each year, there are more and more products created to make Passover easier and in turn, it can help all of us who follow a gluten-free diet. So keep your eyes open, you may find a new treat and some ready-made items to enjoy right away or freeze for later. Some of the prices can be really high, but when the holiday ends, they drop the price on whatever's left over because other than us, no one else will want them!

For those with corn allergies, you'll find soda, marshmallows (if you eat these), etc - some say they use "Kosher gelatin" which in my mind is an oxymoron since pigs aren't even Kosher, but it's supposedly from fish bones, gum and other foods.

Again, this is a great time to shop for gluten-free items you just can't get the rest of the year. There are some online Kosher stores, but you'll want to make sure items are non-gebroktz before you order - I haven't done this because I'm lucky enough to have a number of great Kosher stores in the Chicago area.

For those observing the holiday who'd like matzah on their seder tables, you can find oat shmura matzah that is made by a Rabbi from the UK who has a daughter who is a Celiac. I have had it (the last time I bought it it was $18 for a box), I miss oat products, so enjoyed the taste, but just couldn't justify the cost so I haven't bought it again.

Have fun finding new items!


Note from Isaiah: The gluten-free oat matzo that Lisa is talking about is Rabbi E. Kestenbaum's Shemura Oat Matzos, which are made from completely gluten-free oats. Start looking for them now, as they may not be easy to find and may require ordering depending on where you live. Here is a list of their distributors. The photo above shows part of the production process of these matzot.


Anonymous said...

Gluten-free matzah! THANK YOU!!!! and Chag Sameach in advance!


Jean Layton-GF Dr. Mom said...

Thank you for all this wonderful information! At our ROCK-Raising our Celiac Kids meeting yesterday, I was talking about your blog in reference to the weekly recipe review. I explained that I use it as a reference to whole food that is tasty.
I mentioned the fact that Passover is one time to be very aware of the foods, that us GF folk can purchase more fun and interesting items during this holiday. And just look, lots more information. got to find some of those matzos.

Anonymous said...

Hello! Very interesting! I'm just curious...what is the religious reasoning behind omitting these ingredients? My guess is it is about things being unleavened and so they went the extra mile and just avoid any flour that can be leavened? What about the group that doesn't even eat beans? Just wondering.

ByTheBay said...


"Chametz" (totally forbidden grains) is oats, barley, rye, spelt and wheat. The prohibition of beans, seeds, and other grains is a custom that Ashkenazi Jews (but not Sephardic Jews) have. In Judaism when something is a custom for a long time it becomes almost like it is a law - So Ashkenazi Jews rarely reject this custom even though it's not exactly encoded as law. There is actually a movement in Israel to reject this custom as an unnecessary stricture, but that movement hasn't reached the US yet. So most Ashkenazi Jews continue to avoid those products. The reasoning? Those are all products that are a) able to be ground into flours that could be mistaken for chametz flour and vice versa [why potato starch is okay then i just don't know!], b) could have some chametz mixed in with them without it being visible so you could inadvertently eat chametz, c) can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chometz.

We don't treat kitniyos with the same strictness as chametz. You don't have to remove it from your house, search for traces of it, etc. You just avoid eating it and buy products that don't have kitniyos derivatives in them.

Hope this helps!

The Litter Box said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for covering the holiday for Pesach so well!!! I had my first GF Pesach last year and felt, for some reason, even more constricted than the rest of the year. Perhaps it was the no soy thing. I already feel better this year knowing the products and other things available. I might actually enjoy the holiday this year! Todah rabah.

Shelley said...

thank you for all the useful information on Pesach foods. We have a fairly large Orthodox community here, so I should be able to find most of the type of products that you are talking about. The only thing that bothers me, is the price of GF Matzah.

Anonymous said...

I really cannot stand it..if you are going to talk about Passover being a GF Goldmine...PLEASE, don't show a stock photo of a "gluten" matzah. It insults MY (for one, I don't know about everyone else's) intelligence.

Use one of the ugly, horribly misshapen, almost burned to a crisp looking (that the other Yids have charged 30-40 dollars for) GF matzahs.

I mean c'mon let's show our diet for what it really is!

Such Hypocracy!

Bitter? You bet!

Anonymous said...

Hi. i'm from Peru.Please, I need how to prepare unleavened bread without gluten. thanks you.

Anonymous said...

Idiots, Passover is leaven-free not wheat-free. Matzo is a main symbol of the Passover meal. It is made from wheat flour and water, see wikipedia under Passover.

Sonia said...

Holy moley,Anonymous! You'd better go back to bed and get up on the other side! Why is it that people who rant always post anonymously? I appreciated this article. Thank you!