Update: For 2012 gluten-free Passover foods, see my recent blog post. The 2010 post is below.
On Passover, we recall how the Israelites were slaves in ancient Egypt. To remember the unleavened bread they ate when they left Egypt, we don’t eat certain grains during the eight days of Passover. That means wheat, rye, barley and oats are prohibited (other than the grain used to make matzah).
As a result, many kosher for Passover foods are also gluten-free. Check to make sure the labels say “kosher for Passover” and that the ingredients do not contain any form of matzah (which can be labeled as matzah, matzah meal, cake meal or farfel — all of which contain wheat). Many Passover foods are now marked “gluten free.” Some are marked with the Yiddish word “non-gebrokts,” which means that the food does not contain matzah and is therefore gluten-free.
While Passover is a good time to stock up on some sweets and traditional Jewish foods, don’t go overboard. Because many grains are prohibited on Passover, prepared foods are often lacking in nutrition and taste. Skip the Passover cake mixes, cereals and pasta, as they are usually disappointing. In my family, the worst insult is to say that something “tastes like Passover,” meaning it is as dry as the Sinai desert.
I find it’s useful to have a gluten-free Passover shopping list, so I thought I would share mine. Please note that I am not compensated for these recommendations in any way. Also, this is not an exhaustive survey of all gluten-free Passover products. And even though I recommend specific products, always read labels to make sure foods are gluten-free.
Here’s what I bought in my first Passover shopping trip:
Both make fantastic gluten-free matzah balls throughout the year. Even though Paskesz’s gluten-free “Matzo Ball Mix” sounds like it would be better, it isn’t; the tapioca starch makes the matzah balls gummy, so stick with the Pesach Crumbs or Knaidel Mix.
Update: I’ve decided that Lieber’s Knaidel Mix makes the best gluten-free matzo balls, light and airy.
— Kugel noodles. It is hard to find gluten-free kugel noodles during the year, so I buy a few bags during Passover. I bought Manischewitz “Passover Gold Yolk-Free Medium Egg Noodles” and Paskesz “Premium Egg Noodles,” which I have not tried before. Update: Skip the Passover egg noodles; they are mushy and gummy.
— Streit’s “Chow Mein Noodles.” I haven’t tried these before, but I can’t wait to serve them with Chinese food.
— Gefilte fish. Most brands contain matzah meal, but Kedem “Gourmet Gefilte Fish” does not and is therefore gluten-free.
— Lieber’s “Mini Mandlin.” Mandlen are essentially soup croutons that my kids love sprinkling in their chicken soup.
— Manischewitz potato starch. Unlike floppy bags, these canisters of potato starch are easy to store for baking year-round.
— Bakery cookies. Shabtai Gourmet, Oberlander’s and Schick’s all offer boxes of gluten-free bakery-style cookies. A big plus for my daughter is that they look “fancy” (her favorite word). Keep a spare box of rainbow cookies, black-and-white cookies or lace cookies in your freezer. Remember to read the labels to make sure they’re gluten-free.
— Macaroons. Most of these moist coconut cookies are gluten-free, but some contain matzah meal, so make sure to read the label.
— Osem pound cake. These pound cakes, marble cakes and chocolate cakes are small and easy to keep in the freezer.
— Boxes of chocolate candy. Most Passover candies are gluten-free, but check the ingredients to make sure that no matzah meal is included. I can’t resist buying caramel cashew clusters.
— Gedilla ice cream cones. I haven’t tried these yet, but I couldn’t pass up gluten-free ice cream cones.
— Gluten-free matzah. The kosher grocery store did not have gluten-free matzah in stock when I went. Gluten-free matzah is crazy expensive and tastes like cardboard, but I feel it’s important for my daughter to have her own matzah. Two options are Gluten-Free Oat Matzos and Lakewood Matzoh.
Important update 3/16/10: The 16-ounce Gluten-Free Oat Matzos are NOT labeled gluten-free this year and are instead simply called “Kestenbaum’s Oat Matzos.” Apparently, they tested at 80 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. For reference, the U.S. has not passed a labeling law for gluten, but a threshold of 20 ppm has been proposed.
Update 2012: I love the new Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares. They taste like a thin, crisp lavash cracker, so good that I bought extra boxes to enjoy year-round. A note printed on the box this year says that the matzo is “not for sacramental purposes,” because it does not contain oats. (Technically, hamotzi needs to be said over matzo that has wheat, spelt, rye, barley or oats.) My family uses this as matzo for the seder, though. The online prices seem high; look locally instead. I bought the Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares for $6.99/box at a local Jewel supermarket that has a large kosher section. The Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares are much tastier, and much cheaper, than the gluten-free oat matzos.
— Chicken nuggets. It is hard to find kosher gluten-free chicken nuggets during the year, but there are a few options on Passover. My kids like Spring Valley “Breaded Chicken Pattie Nuggets,” which are breaded with potato starch. Meal Mart has chicken and turkey nuggets that are gluten-free, but my kids don’t like the turkey taste. This year, I bought Meal Mart “Fun Shapes Breaded Chicken Breast Nuggets.” The package was not labeled gluten-free or non-gebrokts, so I called the company to confirm the gluten-free status. Make sure you buy a Passover package, as the year-round nuggets are not gluten-free.
— Dr Praeger’s “Potato Crusted Fish Sticks” and “Potato Crusted Fishies.” An easy dinner for when there’s a babysitter!
— Blintzes. During the year, blintzes are made with wheat. On Passover, some brands are made with matzah meal and some are gluten-free. Some gluten-free options are Frankel’s and Spring Valley blintzes.
— Frankel’s “Matzo-Free Balls.” These premade frozen gluten-free matzah balls are convenient to take to my mother-in-law’s house and drop in her chicken soup.
— Country Pie & Pastry hot dog buns and hamburger buns. It’s hard to find pareve (non-dairy) gluten-free hot dog buns during the year. Not only do these fit the bill, but they are surprisingly airy.
— Frankel’s potato knishes. I just like saying the word “knishes.” Repeat it with me: “knishes.”