Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Product Review: Udi's Gluten-Free Tortillas

One of my favorite things is to peruse for new items while walking through great stores like Whole Foods. I love to try new things. I’ve found a whole treasure trove of fun adventures simply by walking slowly and looking around, instead of the more often used get-in-get-out, don’t-spend-$200 method.

Today, I took the slow route at Whole Foods. And it paid off. I found several new items, even if they were just new to me. One of them was something new by the infamous gluten-free Udi’s brand.

Udi’s sort of revolutionized the way gluten-free eaters eat. Before that, we had some decent products. Okay, most of them were cardboard and resembled Styrofoam. Alright, I’ll be fair. Not all of them. But when Udi’s brand hit the market with their blend of mostly tapioca starch products, gluten-free eaters could buy bread that would stay together in a sandwich and make great toast. They were even good just out of the bag.

My family is from Denver and I travel back there often. This is where I was introduced to Udi’s gluten-free bread. I happened to be in a Whole Foods (shocking!) in Boulder where my family was getting sandwiches to go. I dismissed it as an option (as most gluten-free eaters do, especially all those years ago when gluten-free eating was sparse unless we made things ourselves), but then I decided to ask the sandwich maker if they had gluten-free bread. They did! I was still skeptical, but I thought, oh, what the heck. I ordered my sandwich on the bread and hoped for the best. What I got was pretty unbelievable. I didn’t take any pictures, so you’ll have to take my word on this, but the bread slices were enormous! Bigger than even a traditional wheat loaf and soft, brown, and heavenly. The texture was astounding! I nearly passed out with glee and eagerly asked the sandwich maven where they got this bread. Did they sell it here? Where can I buy it? Can I have more please??

Well, that was my first introduction to Udi’s. When my family and I happened into an Udi’s cafĂ© in Olde Towne Arvada, we found this delightful bread and many other fun gluten-free foods there, as well. What I learned later was that the bread they made for the stores like Whole Foods for their sandwich department and for the Udi’s cafes were made in special-made pans so they would be bigger than traditional bread, even of the wheat variety. And they were fresh daily, not frozen. That changes the texture quite a bit. Even so, Udi’s bread gave us an option that we didn’t have before – yummy gluten-free bread.

My intro to Udi’s and Udi’s cafe was many years ago and Mr. Udi (technically, it’s his first name, but that’s what I called him when I met him in one of his cafes) has since sold the commercial manufacturing aspect of his business to a large conglomerate that I have been assured is gluten-free dedicated. He has kept his cafes up and running, but the menus have changed a bit and you can’t buy as many gluten-free goodies in-store as you once could. But the food is still good, if you happen to be in the Denver area.

To round this story out a bit, here’s the interesting part: when I met Mr. Udi all those years ago, he mentioned that he was working on trying to figure out how to make a good gluten-free tortilla, but hadn’t perfected it yet. He was determined though, he said. But not until the product was Udi-worthy. It had to be great. And it seems he made good on that promise.

Back to the present day, as my jaw dropped over the newly-found Udi’s gluten-free tortillas, I hesitantly picked up the packaging, pretty sure they would be like most of the other gf tortillas – pliable, but rice-based and hence, prone to break, fall apart and be a bit dry. I don’t eat a lot of corn, otherwise, most g-free eaters I know simply eat corn tortillas. Always a good option, but for those of us who don’t eat corn or don’t like corn tortillas, our options are minimal.

Now, I will say, there is a decent gf tortilla on the market made by Sonoma that combines several flours, including rice, tapioca, teff, buckwheat, etc. I have tried the two they made and they’re pretty good, but as most of you know, if we have one sensitivity, we have many. I don’t often eat the Sonoma ones because there are a few ingredients that do not jive with my body. Other than Sonoma’s tortillas, I really haven’t found one that I liked very much, warm or right out of the packaging. The products are just…okay.

Pan back to Whole Foods: I actually saw two new varieties – Udi’s and Engine 2’s Brown Rice Tortillas. I manhandled the Engine 2 tortillas in the packaging and they seemed to me not that different than the Sonoma tortillas, or more like the more common Food for Life brown rice tortillas or even the Trader Joe’s brown rice tortillas. So setting those aside, I manhandled the Udi’s packaging trying to get a better look at what was inside. What I saw was a white tortilla (very much unlike the brown of the brown rice tortillas) that looked very familiar and very much like a traditional wheat tortilla.

Hmmm…this could be interesting. I dropped the $5.49 bag of 6 in my basket and went off the pay the piper.  

Well, I am like a kid at Christmas when I buy new things. I can’t wait to try it! Or play with it! Yes, I do play with my food. It’s a tortilla! It’s meant to be flat or rolled or curled around something. It’s kind of like playing, right?

I ripped open the bag and felt the texture, pulled it apart and took a bite. Mmm! The flavor was what stood out to me the most. It tasted like a tortilla should not – not chalky or bland or flavorless, which many of the gluten-free flours can impart, shall we say, interesting flavors. Not here! And it didn’t have that all-too-familiar rice flour extra chewiness. This white flatbread was delicious and flavorful!

The texture of the cold tortilla (Whole Foods stores them in the cold case near the sandwich counter…I’m seeing a pattern here!) was a cross between a corn tortilla – sans the corn – and a soft wheat tortilla. It was pliable and tender and only began to crack under pressure which I attribute to the lack of a filling and it being cold. Even a wheat tortilla will do this – from what I remember. I was amazed! A good texture is a tough thing to accomplish in the gluten-free world, especially if said gluten-free item has been refrigerated.


I got home and having not had my fill yet, I made an egg scramble to toss inside a warmed tortilla to see how it stacked up to the wheaty variety. Amazed! The texture was soft, pliable, and held together like it should’ve been a wheat tortilla. Made me kinda want to look at the packaging again, just to make sure. Yep. Still gluten-free. And amazing.

My final test was the last bits of the scramble and the mostly-gone tortilla shell – I took the tortilla and wrapped it around several times with the little bit of eggy goodness inside, just as you would a breakfast burrito. Amazed! It held together, everything stayed in place without cracking, crumbling or falling into the pits of gluten-free crumbly-ness. Amazing! It may have taken Mr. Udi many years to perfect the gluten-free tortilla, but it is pretty darn-near perfect. Delicious and amazing.

Now that I have gotten my tortilla-amazement on, I can happily dream of other adventures.

Happy eating! 

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