I have been sitting on this post for about a month now (researching one thing has led to another and yet another), so some of the information in this post is a bit outdated (the ingredients and labeling of the Blue Horizon GF Fish & Chip Bites have been changed since I first bought them). What started out as a simple post to help other gluten-free advocates “clear up the confusion” over the labeling of this product, has turned out to be a GREAT gluten-free learning experience for me, and I have been trying to navigate this lifestyle for 5 years now. Which only further proves to me that no one person knows everything, and living gluten-free safely and happily is a collective effort, at least until the FDA officially defines the term “gluten-free .” Hopefully you will find some useful information in this post too. So grab a cup of coffee and sit down, this is definitely one of my longer posts, LOL! If you are in a rush or already know about the labeling confusion regarding the Blue Horizon Seafood Bites, be sure to check out the last part of this post on Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar.
Several months ago while on a shopping trip to Whole Foods, I bought some Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites that were clearly marked gluten-free on the front of the package. I will be honest and admit that I purchased them based on that gluten-free label alone (it happens sometimes), and I didn’t read the ingredient label on the back before buying them. When I got home, I promptly tucked them into my deep freezer and forgot about them (I do that all the time too). Anyway, back in March, I was in need of a quick meal for the boys one afternoon, so I pulled out the Fish and Chip Bites, placed them on a cookie sheet and into the oven the went. I am really thankful for having started to photograph the ingredient labels to share on my blog, because it was then that I first read the ingredient label (I don’t recommend doing that!).
I’ll admit this too, I automatically thought the same thing that many other gluten-free people thought… uh-oh! But before I acted impulsively and made a blog post about it, I Googled the Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites and came across many forums already discussing the topic, like this one on Celiac.com (I encourage you to read this message board thread, because it gives you a great idea of how frustrated and confused other celiacs can become over what we thought was a black/white issue suddenly becoming very gray).
The confusion and alarm makes sense due to the fact that we are often taught to avoid Malt Vinegar on the gluten-free diet, because it is usually made from barley (although it can also be made from corn, but neither barley or corn are one of the top 8 allergens that the FDA requires to be listed on an ingredient label ), AND Malt Vinegar is not distilled (or so I thought, until I read this article (you really should read this link too, Jen Cafferty does a great job demystifying the malt vinegar confusion).
I am going to go even further into vinegars in a minute, but will tie up the Blue Horizon Fish and Chip Bites first. I contacted Blue Horizon and they were very gracious and explained the vinegar source and even included the lab test results showing that no gluten was detected in the products! That was really cool, if you ask me and I will buy their products again because of it.
Tiffany Janes , another great advocate for the celiac community, wrote an insightful article on the Blue Horizon Seafood Bites and you can read that here . I also encourage reading that article because Tiffany touched on some things that I think every gluten-free person needs to consider more often.
So on to the vinegar odyssey I have been on!
Did you know that there was a distilled malt vinegar? I sure didn’t! I actually got excited about it, thinking I needed to score some so I could have “real” fish and chips again (I have been using Red Wine Vinegar as my Malt Vinegar substitute since going gluten-free, it’s actually pretty good!).
So what is Distilled Malt Vinegar?
According to this website , distilled malt vinegar is:
So, I had to see what my GF pals on Twitter thought and if anyone knew where I could find distilled malt vinegar. One response I received was from a pal in Ireland, where it is quite common, he even sent me a photo of an Irish Distilled Malt Vinegar (seriously, how cool is that?). To make a long story short, after quite a bit of chatter on the gluten-free status of the different types of vinegar from various parts of the world, and a bit of confusion after I wasn’t overly clear on another question I had asked (something as simple as another person thinking I had made a statement of fact because they did not see the ? after something I wrote). It was an innocent oversight but it took off like wildfire! Remember playing the “telephone” game as a child?
I realized just how easy it is to add more confusion (even if it is unintentional) to the swirling whirlpool of misinformation flowing in the gluten-free community. I highly recommend reading a GREAT article titled “ The Gluten-Free Rumor Mill ” by Tiffany Jakubowski (make note of when Tiffany talks about similar products by the same company but in different countries) Whether you are new to the GF lifestyle or have been doing it for many years, it is useful “continuing education.”
Anyway, I now realize that much of the confusion caused by my Twitter bomb could have been avoided if I had paid closer attention to some information on the Heinz website (see below… I told you this was a vinegar odyssey, right?). And this just speaks to the greater problem that I think many of us face on a daily basis: how many products have we become so comfortable with that we just drop them in our shopping cart week after week without realizing that we haven’t “checked” on them for a few years? How many products have similar sounding names but different formulations that we don’t even think to check the label for that extra word or two that signals the difference?
From the Heinz Website :
Ah, yes. I had completely forgotten about the Heinz Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar! I cannot recall ever seeing it at the store, and I buy my vinegar in bulk at Costco anyway, so I do not even use Heinz to stay acquainted with the products.
So, I probed deeper into the Heinz Website, looking for more information on the Apple Cider FLAVORED vinegar. I visited their products page and found nothing about the flavored vinegar. I did a Google Image search looking for a picture of the label… nothing. I eventually ended up on their foodservice site, Club Heinz (scroll down to the Products section, then a little further down to the subcategory “Bulk Vinegar,” and that is where I saw it, still no picture though)!
I started to relax thinking this was just a commercial foodservice product (that lasted a millisecond before I thought.. oh no, how many restaurants/manufacturers use this product, unknowingly? So, I sent an email to Heinz and the following is what transpired:
Okay, did I read that first paragraph right? Did the Heinz representative say that BOTH the regular Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar and the Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar ARE gluten-free? Does the Heinz website not say the exact opposite? Hmmm.. so, I had to send an email back to them for clarification (I have been known to read things wrong before!):
Huh! I love how they did not address the issue that there is conflicting information on their website! It was probably an “auto-reply!”
So, one day while shopping at my local Smith’s, I saw the elusive Heinz Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar (so yes, it is in some grocery stores) and bought it, as well as a bottle of the regular apple cider vinegar so I could take photos of the labels for you!
If you are not looking closely at the label, would you think these products are the same, just in different sized containers?
A closer look:
And closer still:
Is it just me, or do these two labels look very similar? At least similar enough that you might not catch the distinction?
The two Ingredient Labels:
Talk about a paradox !
Now, knowing what I know about the distillation process (by Megan Tichy ) and the gluten-free status of caramel coloring , ( Nancy Lapid is another great source of information for the celiac community). I would personally lean towards the fact that the Apple Cider FLAVORED Vinegar is probably indeed “gluten-free,” but should I take the risk?
This little “adventure” has really got me thinking about the products I buy for me and my gluten-free family. Several months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mary Schluckebier, Executive Director of the Celiac Sprue Association. We were originally discussing McDonald’s french fries and whether or not they are in fact “gluten-free,” (I will leave that one alone ) and she said something that has really resonated with me over the past several months. In a nutshell, Mary planted the following seeds in my head:
Here are few things I have been pondering over the past several months as a result of those “seeds” (these are just my personal thoughts):
I cannot seem to find any concrete answers to those questions (and yes, I do realize that I may be the only “wackadoodle” that thinks of these things!). But I have celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis and my son has celiac disease too. I want us to LIVE a healthy, happy and long life if possible, and in order to do that, I need to know what I am eating (have you seen Food, Inc. yet? )
On that note, I want to recommend a video on the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website, that I really encourage folks to watch. I cry each time I hear the kiddos talk, I feel the pain of the parents and am inspired to do whatever I can to help spread awareness. While you’re there, if you can spare a buck or two, please consider donating to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.