I will admit. I am just about the last person you would expect to go to Gluten Free Expo. I would be just as likely to go to the Lift Cannabis Expo or the Fertility & Adoption Expo going on at Canada Place at the same time. The venue already made me nervous because of how awful it was for FanExpo 2016 (we did not even bother going this year because it was being held there again).
How did I get the tickets? I am happy and pleasantly surprised to announce that I am once again considered a Yelp Elite. I sent in a request for tickets to the event and was shocked when they showed up in my mailbox!
I must admit I was already wearing my grumpy pants when I arrived. I am exhausted from apartment hunting, downsizing… so in some ways I was looking forward to ANYTHING food related. I got to the venue and followed the sign. Um… To the right and down the stairs? I ended up in the Food Court which had nothing to do with Gluten Free Expo. Good job Canada Place. You had already pissed me off and I had not even found it yet.
Finally!!! I found it and was determined to give my extra ticket away. As I approached the entrance there was an elderly woman that was being stopped from going inside. She just wanted to see what was happening and they told her she would have to buy a $15 ticket. I told her, no, you don’t have to because now you have one. Her face lit up and the security looked shocked. The woman told me she was a very, very lucky person. I told her to go in and have some fun.
Before going in the greeters gave me FOUR huge shopping bags to fill up with merchandise from the show. Normally I would not take them because of the waste but they are now being used to help bring donations of my stuff to the SPCA Thrift Store! The four bags should have tipped me off as to what was ahead but I went in to my first gluten free expo experience with virgin eyes.
The Taste Testing
Gotta give Gluten Free Expo kudos for making sure there were free samples of just about everything! I tried my first one, this salted caramel cashew cookie and OMG, my mouth completely dried up. I looked around to see if anyone was selling water. I would have paid $10 a bottle no problem but no, no water. Fools! The money you could have made and damn it, water is gluten-free.
I wish I could say that this gluten-free pasta did it for me but it had very little texture and just kind of disintegrated in my mouth. That said, better than chewy fibrous-y whole wheat pasta but I could tell it was gluten free.
More cookies… More of a dry mouth. I do not even like store bought cookies WITH gluten. I can say these were not worse than those but they also were not better. I started to panic a little. How could I go through the whole place and honestly do some serious taste testing without water?
Water?! My Foodie Kingdom For Water!
I thought I had found an oasis when I saw a sign for “stay hydrated” with free samples of their vitamin water. Close enough. I went to get a sample and saw that they had added CAFFEINE to it! WTF?! Caffeine dehydrates you, morons, AND gives me migraines.
I did start to see vendors who sold drinks but then I started asking myself, how does regular pomegranate juice contain gluten? Why the heck are they here? Also, pure pomegranate juice is very sour. I needed water!!!
By the time I found the vendor who blends coffee and tea I had just about had it. It was going to have caffeine so I could not drink it anyway and I was getting pissed with vendors who seemed to have nothing to do with being gluten free. I asked him how his product has anything to do with being gluten free and he admitted it, it had nothing to do with it because tea and coffee have no gluten. I thanked him for his honesty and moved on.
Products, Products and MORE Products
For the most part, every one of the vendors that actually HAD something to do with being gluten free were selling packaged products. Most mixes were for particular baked goods and would still be considered packaged food to me.
OK, I kind of lost it when I saw cheese at the expo but when I asked why her cheese should be at a gluten-free show she said most people who are gluten-intolerant are also lactose-intolerant and her cheese contained no lactose. OK, that kind of made sense and was impressive at the same time.
There was only one food truck and I was excited to see that it was cassava-based but you had to pay to eat their food. I like cassava but could not tell what it was the guy was making or what they were selling. I just saw more packaged food and moved on. My mouth still dry as the Sahara.
OMG, really? Bio-K? How is a probiotic important at a gluten-free show? I don’t get it. Yes, it has no gluten but bananas don’t either! I guess it was to raise awareness that their product is safe to take but this was getting ridiculous.
I dared to have another baked good despite my decreasing ability to break down food in my mouth I was so parched when I saw Quinoa Baquettte. I have been wondering if you could hide quinoa in food to help boost nutrition without sacrificing flavour. I was so happy the baguette was extremely moist. I asked if the moistness came from the quinoa but the woman said that they use quinoa flakes so it probably came from the eggs. Um… The intel for the bread says “Dairy free” and eggs were not listed. Credibility? Shot.
Now I did learn a lot. From Spolumbo’s I found out that most sausages are made with gluten as filler and damn, their mild chicken sausage was delicious!
At Bake My-Day they were smart to make sausage rolls with gluten-free dough which I honestly did not even notice, I just enjoyed the meat a lot. Very good sausage and the pastry did not stand out as gluten free at all.
So much packaged food that I mostly did not like, I needed a break. Where is the REAL food?!
Cooking Demonstration – Kind of???
I was relieved there was a cooking demonstration on. That is totally more my thing than picking up boxes and boxes of processed food. Sadly, this poor demonstrator had her work cut out for her. I realized she was in trouble when she said, “So you add the chicken to cook on the stove. You will have to use your imagination here because mine is not working…” OMG, kill me now.
I was so excited to see East Village Bakery. I wrote a featured post about them and their gluten-free Salty Dog Pie. The woman there even recognized me which was so nice. The only problem? They had no food! Lots of intel about their bakery but no nibbles left. Perhaps they ran out. She said Saturday had been a madhouse but today (Sunday) had been quiet. So where is the food???
For me, Solo was the absolutely highlight of the show. Of all the vendors I spoke to they were the most friendly, educated, knowledgeable and passionate about their product.
They make energy bars that make energy that actually lasts. Lots of protein and fibre to keep you going for a time while not allowing your blood sugar to drop like a stone like most energy bars. Absolutely no flour is used but there are protein powders; therefore, gluten free.
They had a ton of samples and I immediately was drawn to the mocha bar. You know I LOVE mocha!
What I noticed right away it is so soft! Despite having cocoa crisps in there, the texture is nice and smooth, perhaps from the prunes and dates or maybe from the palm kernel oil. The list of ingredients is quite long. Lots of chocolate and coffee flavour going on there.
They were kind enough to let me go home with a complimentary mocha bar which rocked because I could get THE protein bar expert’s opinion. Reg was a little wary. He normally would not have an energy bar that contained soy at all plus he has a sensitivity to almonds but… He enjoyed it. Not only that, I had to stop him from chomping down on the whole thing because I wanted to have another bite.
What put me over the moon about this product? It is caffeine free! I could have hugged her when she told me that. Nobody makes anything caffeine free. I was reminded that they did that so the bars were kid friendly but I did not hold that against them. Solo was the biggest highlight of the day for me.
I was not really sure I understand why a coconut oil company would be at a gluten-free show.
But when I saw their name Naked Coconuts, which cracked me up, I gave them some of my time and attention.
Their schtick is that gluten is added to sauce products all the time. Clearly though their main focus is coming up with soy-free soy-style sauces. They just happen to also be gluten free. OK, I’ll bite.
Actually, I swigged. I asked for a sample and they had little cups of their soy sauce substitute. Like, you were supposed to drink it?! So, I did. OMG!!!!!! SALTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And I was already so super thirsty.
I quickly looked for something else to try and they had soy and gluten-free teriyaki-style sauce with quinoa. Really? I should have known since rice is glutinous but still. I ate it and it was salty but it was delicious! Much better than chugging it and I almost liked the quinoa. Impressive!
I really liked the display for Giddy YoYo and was intrigued by her body butter (is that not a whole other kind of expo?).
I got to try a chocolate-covered golden berry which was delicious and unlike anything I had ever tried before. So many of her products were chocolate oriented so I asked her how her products were gluten free.
She was very clear. In her factory, everything she makes (which is a lot) is in a sacred gluten-free zone. Her food is safe and protected by her. Clearly, she is focused on those with Celiac disease who could truly be harmed by any gluten at all. I loved her passion and her protective attitudes towards not only her customers but her products.
Then I started to get annoyed again. Gluten-free juices? What?
Gluten-free dried fruit? Perhaps it is the controlled and protective environment attitude but I was losing patience.
There was a product for chocolate salami which sounded fascinating.
Until I discovered that it was just pretend sausage made with rolled up chocolate. Novelty item that did not even taste very good.
Potato chips? Really? Now I love a healthier version of potato chips but unless you are Celiac, potatoes do not contain gluten.
Once again it must be about quality control, factory standards… and not about the ingredients.
But tell me how are essential oils gluten free?
Pick up our gluten-free baskets here!
Wear gluten-free jewelry… Ridiculous! At this point I knew all this was just a cash grab. Yes, there were vendors who were impressive with good quality products but OMG, this just felt ridiculous.
The Moment I Gave Up
I will not out the people who let me down the most but I was excited to try a pumpkin pecan blondie from them. Made with chocolate flour, tapioca… True gluten-free baking was going on here.
A pumpkin blondie (white brownie) sounded fantastic, exciting and fun. It was DISGUSTING! Absolutely revolting. Not sweet, just pureed baked pumpkin. It almost made me sick.
They may have had the prettiest display but they had the WORST food and sadly, that is the last thing I got to try at Gluten Free Expo 2018.
Overall, most of the food is pre-packaged which is never as healthy as homemade. I realize making gluten-free homemade treats is not easy but it can not be worse for you than packaged food. Yes, when you are tired and need a little something-something I understand but wow, I felt like I learned nothing about making gluten-free food at home on my own. This was just a cash grab for companies with gluten-free products. My doctor always told me it is what is in packaged that kills you. I will not be dying for this food, no thank you.
I want to thank Yelp for giving me the opportunity to attend an event I normally would never go to. I fear they will never give me complimentary tickets again but someone has to share the other side of the story and that is my job. This fair is great for the Celiacs out there who live a frightening life with minimal options.
For me? I am so grateful that eating gluten is my super power.