Review of the NEW Gluten Free Cheerios!
It’s good to be a blogger! This weekend, I was an Official Blogger at the GF&AF Expo, which was a blast. (Post coming soon….) Before the event, I was in touch with the folks at Cheerios, and at the Expo, they surprised me with a box of the new gluten free Cheerios! They weren’t giving them out to anyone, nor even giving little tasting samples. But my new buddy Evan secretly gave me the bag of goods from inside the ONE box of gluten free Cheerios that he had in his possession. And now, I’m happy to write what may be the first review of gluten free Cheerios, just for you guys!
As previously shared with you, I have really missed Cheerios during all of these years of gluten-freedom. My kids eat Cheerios all the time, and just the smell makes me long for them! It was one of my favorite cereals way back when, and I would love to have gluten free Cheerios as part of my morning breakfast options. They can also be used to make yummy cereal bars, as a substitute for Gluten Free Rice Krispies, which were sadly discontinued. (Boo to you, Kellogg’s!)
The Process of Making Gluten Free Cheerios
There’s a lot of controversy and question about the new process General Mills developed to remove gluten contaminants from their oat supply (and about their testing methods – see below). Understandably so, because it is a brand new process which consumers have not tested. I’m wary too.
Most of the gluten free products on the market are made from non-gluten ingredients, meaning there’s no gluten to start with in the product’s raw ingredients. Oats themselves do not contain wheat gluten. But gluten contaminates most oat supplies in the U.S. because the oats are grown in fields that also grow wheat, barley and/or rye. Those gluten-containing grains are inadvertently mixed in with the oats during harvesting, while processing on shared equipment, in storage containers, and in delivery trucks. So most oats are contaminated with gluten. The gluten free oats we see in stores nowadays are certified gluten free, and come from dedicated farms and companies which do not grow or handle any gluten-containing grains (like wheat, barley and rye). Therefore, there’s no opportunity for gluten to contaminate those oats.
Cheerios is changing things up because they say they are making a gluten free product from ingredients which contain gluten (namely, their oat supply). They claim to have come up with a revolutionary process which sorts out those gluten containing grains from the oats, so that there’s only a tiny amount of gluten left.
Now, I’m not one to blindly accept what a for-profit company says to the public. I’m a skeptic. But I just can’t believe that a large company like Big G Cereals would risk their reputation by sloppily claiming a product is gluten free when it isn’t. Lots of people could get hurt if they ingest the product and get glutened, so I think the company really believes that this product is reliably gluten free. However, there are a few points of potential disagreement, which I will mention below.
If you want to see what the manufacturer says about the whole thing, here’s a cute little explanation from the company about the process of making gluten free Cheerios. The demonstration in that link explains that they remove gluten contaminants from their oat supply. Then they test each batch of oats after the oats are sorted from the other grains to ensure that the content of those other grains (wheat, barley and rye) in the batch is less than 20 parts per million. (See next section for an explanation of what that amount means.) After the oats are made into oat flour, they test the oat flour again to ensure that it is statistically gluten free. And then, after they make the oat flour into Cheerios, they test the final product to make sure it is still gluten free. They also state that they use dedicated gluten-free trucks and facilities for making the product, all of which gives me some confidence in the product.
What Does 20 Parts Per Million Mean?
So what does 20 parts per million really mean? Twenty parts per million is the magic number that the gluten amount in the product needs to be below, in order for Cheerios to call it “gluten free.” The Food and Drug Administration has proposed that a food product must contain less than 20 parts per million gluten in order to label a product as gluten free. Twenty parts per million (ppm) is the same as 0.002% gluten. According to a video on the Cheerios site, each pound of oats from their supplier contains about 15,000 grains of oats, and approximately 200 other grains, like wheat, barley and rye (the gluten-containing grains). To get below 20 parts per million, they need to sort out and remove those other grains so that there is only one stray gluten-containing grain in each pound of oats.
That makes me nervous. A pound of oats is not that much (I use more than a pound to make just one batch of my homemade granola), and it would freak me out if I found even a single grain of wheat in a pound of oats. However, Cheerios is relying on the FDA’s proposition that anything less than 20 ppm is “gluten free.” (I’m not exactly a big fan of the FDA, but that’s a story for another day.) My point is, Cheerios isn’t arbitrarily making up a definition of gluten free in developing this product. They are going with the definition of “gluten free” currently used in the industry. So while one grain of something gluten-containing in a pound of oats seems like a lot to me, my concern is more with the definition of gluten free as 20 ppm gluten. Aside from that, my question is, if they can remove all but one gluten-containing grain (approximately) in a pound of oats, why not go further and remove every single one of them?
Other Concerns With Gluten Free Cheerios
There is a lot of concern regarding the way Cheerios is testing the gluten content of their product. I won’t get into the details here, but here’s a simplification of one issue. In testing the gluten content, Cheerios will take several boxes of finished product, crush their contents all together, and test the resulting mix to see if it is below 20 ppm gluten. The concern is that while the total amount of gluten from those cereal boxes mixed together is below 20 ppm, that doesn’t mean that the Cheerios in each one of those boxes contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. If ten boxes are mixed together and tested, there could be nine boxes with a gluten content of 10 ppm and one box with a gluten content of 30 ppm. Thirty ppm gluten means that the product, by the FDA’s definition, is not gluten free. However, the company and consumers would never know that because they don’t test individual boxes of product, and people can get sick from ingesting it.
I agree that we should be concerned about this issue. But from what I have read, they test for gluten content at multiple stages during the process. As mentioned above, the manufacturer says that they test the gluten content of the raw oats after they are sorted, test the oat flour, and then test the finished product. The fact that the gluten content is checked during different manufacturing stages makes me feel a little more confident that the finished product will be less than 20 ppm gluten.
But, according to this article on the website, Gluten Free Watchdog, there also is some concern with the actual process Cheerios is using to test for gluten content. You can read more details, but to simplify things (again), the concern is that the testing methods may not be so reliable. If the test results are unreliable, there very well could be more than 20 ppm gluten in the product. I don’t know enough about the gluten testing methods to weigh in on this, but it certainly is interesting.
There are several groups who intend on testing boxes of gluten free Cheerios which they buy in store to determine the gluten content. I can’t wait to find out their results!
My Review of Gluten Free Cheerios
Despite my concerns, I do have a box of the new gluten free Cheerios right here, and I really wanted to try them. Also, if I do get glutened, my reaction will not result in a hospital visit (unlike some other people), so I’m willing to take the risk.
“So,” you say, “enough of the build up! HOW DO THEY TASTE? DID YOU GET GLUTENED??” The answer is, “they taste great!” Just like I remember Cheerios tasting. We have a box of the gluten Cheerios that my boys eat, and these gluten free ones look exactly the same. My son says they taste the same too.
As for whether I got a gluten reaction, the answer is “I don’t think so, but I’m not entirely sure!” My reaction to gluten does not result in GI problems. It makes me sneeze, have an itchy throat and nose, gives me headaches, and some other random symptoms. When I have an accidental gluten ingestion, my first reaction is usually an itchy nose. When I first ate these gluten free Cheerios, I was nervous and thought that I felt a little tingle in my nose. That could totally have been imagined, due to my apprehension. I didn’t have any more serious reaction than that. Then a little later, I ate more. A while after that, I developed a slight headache. Did the gluten free Cheerios cause that headache? I have no idea. If I feel daring over the next week (which I likely will), I’ll keep trying these Cheerios to see if I get the same (slight) reaction. It may be completely unrelated, and I hope I can figure it out.
My recommendation at this point depends on how sensitive you are to gluten. If you’re not that sensitive to small amounts of gluten, I say go ahead and try this stuff. (But ask your doctor; Don’t rely on me – I’m not a medical professional!) It tastes just like the old formulation of Cheerios, which is a lot of fun. I really want to make cereal treats from this stuff! But if you’re very sensitive to small amounts of gluten, the cautious approach would be to wait and see. Let’s hear what these consumer watchdog groups find when they have the product independently tested for gluten. Let’s hear from other people as to whether they feel they had any gluten reaction. I’m hoping for positive outcomes!
When Can I Buy Gluten Free Cheerios?
Gluten free Cheerios started hitting the shelves this month (July 2015) and should be everywhere Cheerios are sold by September 2015. According to Evan the Cheerios rep, they are not making two versions of these five flavors that are going gluten free. (The five gluten free Cheerios flavors will be Original Cheerios, Honey Nut, Multi-Grain, Apple Cinnamon and Frosted.) That means that they will NOT not have both a gluten-filled and gluten-free version on the shelves at the same time. He said that the stores will sell their remaining stock of the non-gluten-free Cheerios, and will then restock with the new gluten free Cheerios. Once the non-gluten-free Cheerios stock runs out, all of the new product will be gluten free. The yellow box of Cheerios looks the same, other than the “Gluten Free” designation on the front of the box, on the right, toward the bottom. (There’s also a “Gluten Free” statement just below the ingredient list.) So if you can’t find gluten free Cheerios in stores near you now, keep checking over the next two months, and you should be able to find it.
Well, that was a lot of info, and I really want to know what everyone else thinks. If your experience is different than mine, or you have other concerns, please share by leaving a comment below and let the world know! I’m curious to see what the final verdict on this product will be. Speak your mind! 🙂
P.S. Need another option for breakfast? Try this gluten free Zucchini Bread Recipe (which I make into cute donuts) or these Quick Breakfast Balls AKA Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies!