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Review of Ener-g Foods Gluten-Free Bread Sampler

Posted By yum On February 6, 2009 @ 3:27 pm In Bread, Ener-g Foods, Gluten Free Product Review | 32 Comments


Who says restrictive diets have to be boring?
They do… and it starts with the mindset that the gluten-free diet is about restriction.

The experiment: After a friend recently mentioned that she liked one of Ener-g foods breads [2] (and I responded negatively), I decided it was not fair of me to criticize a product I had not systematically evaluated recently and set out to design an extremely subjective experiment in order to remedy this situation.

How I selected these products: I ordered the gluten-free bread sampler from the company when making my last gluten-free flour order with Ener-g foods. I do occasionally order flour from them because they offer Bette Hagman’s gluten-free classic flour blend in bulk. *Note that those that are sensitive to coarse grinds of rice flour may prefer to order from other companies like Authentic Foods with a superfine grind. The bread sampler is quite nice in that you get a wide variety of breads to try in individually wrapped packages of two, and it doesn’t break the bank, especially when you consider the threat of wasted money if you order entire loaves that you are unable to finish. If you have tried Ener-g foods breads in the past and think you may like them, I would encourage you to try the sampler in order to establish a favorite.

How I evaluated the Products: I photographed the package, the untoasted bread (when I remembered) and the bread toasted often with butter. I tried every slice with butter and then tried the second slice occasionally with a more flavorful topping when I was inspired to do so. Evaluations are generally made based on how the bread tasted toasted, with butter. I tried them over a period of several weeks, and only tried one type in a given day.

The Winners: Of all the breads I tasted, I liked the Tapioca Loaf and (surprisingly) Corn Loaf best.

The Losers:
I objected to the overpowering taste of preservatives in many of the loafs, as well as their unpalatable texture and flavor. Surprisingly, many of the rice breads fared poorly, and I did not enjoy the raisin bread.

This review is entirely subjective, and you may disagree with my rating system or opinion of various products. I welcome your reviews of individual products and would love to hear about your favorite (or least favorite) Ener-g products.

*At the end of the review I have a philosophical rant/evaluation of Ener-g Foods and the future of gluten-free products.
[3] [4]
Product: White Rice Bread *improved*
Initial impression: Looks dense and very stiff. Well preserved.
Toasted: To me smells like the fruit concentrate they use for sweetening, not good. DH says it smells like bread. Crunchy exterior but DH comments “as you chew it it forms into a dough ball in your mouth.” He keeps chewing and chewing the one bite. Acidic, faintly sweet aftertaste that I find disagreeable. DH says “It tastes gluten-free.” I ask him if the bread we make tastes better, and he says “YES.”
Would I order? Absolutely not. I’d rather go without bread than eat that stuff. I think I liked it better before they “improved” it. I used to eat it in high school and it was more neutral in flavor. Now it tastes too healthy, and not in a good, interesting way but in a medical, gluten-free sort of way. Hate the fruit sweetener and would never consider eating the old sponge-textured stuff without toasting.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Relatively crunchy when toasted.
Bad points: Texture, taste, smell.
Rating: 3/10
Would I buy it again? Absolutely, positively not. No comparison for homemade or even Whole Foods’ GF bakehouse bread.

[5] [6] [1]

Product: Light White Rice Loaf *improved*
Initial impression: Looks firm and sturdy. Well preserved. Has typical acidic smell of EF products.
Toasted: Toasted quickly, almost burning on the same setting that other breads hadn’t toasted completely at. Very crunchy and powdery in the mouth. Crust is a bit weirdly dry and papery. Tolerable flavor, slightly gritty texture, leaves gummy film on the teeth. One piece is not satisfying, probably because it is light. Faintly sweet, fruity aftertaste.
Would I order? No. Something about the dry, crumbly texture in the mouth just isn’t something I would crave. Flavor isn’t too bad though. Would be ok if I was dieting, I suppose.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Flavor is ok
Bad points I just don’t like something about the dry, powdery texture. I also don’t feel like I ate much of anything after eating two pieces with butter.
Rating: 6/10
Would I buy it again? Probably not. I just don’t think it’s worth the effort to buy and toast- would rather make my own and be satisfied with what I’m eating.

[7] [8]

Product: Brown Rice Loaf
Initial impression: Slice looks rather paltry. Brown color, looks healthy. Smells very chemical out of package, not appetizing aroma.
Toasted: Doesn’t get very crunchy. Has a rather neutral texture but is neither springy and spongy nor quite crunchy. I don’t think I like it. I want to like the flavor of the brown rice bread as it smells rather healthy and almost pleasant once toasted. However, something is seriously missing from the flavor. I actually added salt, but that’s not it. Weird flatness in taste- gets sweet as you chew it, in an odd way. Too… vinegary. Needs some other flavor to balance that.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Brown rice base.
Bad points: Texture, taste, smell.
Rating: 3/10
Would I buy it again? Absolutely, positively not. No comparison for homemade or even Whole Foods’ GF bakehouse bread.

[9] [10]

Product: Seattle Brown Bread *improved*
Initial impression: An imperfect loaf, with an air bubble in the slice. Seems fragile as I take it out of the package, prone to crumbling.
Toasted: Doesn’t toast to crispiness at first. I probably should have put it in again, but chose to eat it with just one toasting. Very strong chemical flavor. Feels slightly dense and gummy in the mouth with an intense brown rice flavor.
Would I order? Absolutely not. The smell is just too much, and while I could like parts of the brown rice flavor, the preservative vinegar-like taste is just too much for me. I also don’t like the texture.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Brown rice base.
Bad points: Texture, taste, smell.
Rating: 3/10
Would I buy it again? Absolutely, positively not. No comparison for homemade or even Whole Foods’ GF bakehouse bread.

[11] [12] [13]

Product: Light Brown Rice Loaf
Initial impression: Large air bubble in one piece of the bread. Light brown color, not especially appetizing in appearance.
Toasted: Gets crunchy on toasting. Initial nice flavor and texture that then leaves you with a rather bitter, sour taste in the mouth that lingers. Light, crunchy texture is initially pleasing but I don’t know if I can deal with the aftertaste. Left with dry crumbs and slight gummy residue in mouth. Tried first piece with butter, second with almond butter. Texture was less pleasing with a nut-butter topping and it seemed way too dry and crumbly. Flavors also clashed somewhat, which is odd.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Brown rice base. Crunch, initial texture.
Bad points: Aftertaste, smell.
Rating: 5/10
Would I buy it again? Afraid not. No comparison for homemade or even Whole Foods’ GF bakehouse bread.

[14] [15] [16]

Product: Tapioca Loaf *improved*
Initial impression: Thin slices that look fairly light but stable and with sandwich potential.
Toasted: Smells faintly acidic untoasted. Once toasted, smell is improved and milder, almost like “real” GF bread. Texture is firm without being gummy or too hard.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Neutral Flavor that takes an appropriate back seat to topping. Actually tastes decent just with butter.
Bad points: Hint of vinegar flavor even toasted. Almost too neutral in sandwiches as you can’t really taste anything but the filling.
Rating: 8/10
Would I buy it again? I might buy it if I stopped baking completely or was extremely busy. Tolerable as a toast with butter for mornings on the go. Prefer other options for sandwiches.

[17] [18] [19]

Product: Light Tapioca Loaf *improved*
Initial impression: Slice looks rather small and condensed. Smells very chemical out of package, not appetizing aroma.
Toasted: Very strangely crunchy when toasted. Burns easily. Somewhat neutral flavor. Leaves a bit of gumminess in mouth and a not terribly appealing vinegar aftertaste. Might be ok but REALLY Crunchy with sandwich filling.
Good points: Enriched with their thiamin-folic acid blend. If you like crunchy or want bread to fill the role of a cracker, this may be the bread for you. Did I mention it was crunchy?
Bad Points: Somehow one slice just isn’t very satisfying. I don’t feel like I’m really eating BREAD because of the texture, but I seriously doubt I could choke it down microwaved. Don’t like the aftertaste.
Rating: 6/10, deduction mostly for texture
Would I buy it again? No, it just doesn’t fit the bill as a bread for me. Toasted and served with toppings or with dip, maybe it would seem more appropriate. But, I can do better.

[20] [21] [22]

Product: Corn Loaf *improved*
Initial impression: Looks light, full of holes, but also delicate. Smells very chemical out of package, not appetizing aroma.
Toasted: Extremely crunchy and light. Less gummy when chewed than white rice bread. Doesn’t taste like corn, or much of anything. Is tolerable slathered in butter. I can’t see it being a good sandwich bread though as it seems a bit too crunchy. Desirable for toast but not for sandwiches.
Good points:only 40 cal/slice. Low protein, and dairy free if that is relevant to you. One of the more pleasant toasts I’ve had by E-Foods so far.
Bad points: Not especially inspiring, either. Perhaps due to low calorie, one slice feels like you haven’t eaten much. Smells awful before toasting, ok after. Those without protein medical issues (and vegetarians like me) actually WANT protein in their bread.
Rating: 7/10
Would I buy it again? No. But it’s one of the few I might have again if it were extremely convenient or free.

[23] [24]

Product: Yeast Free Sweet Loaf
Initial impression: Looks light, sweet, and eggy.
Toasted: Like toasted cake, with crunchy edges and a sugary mouth feel. Orange flavor is strong and not unpleasant. Small piece of crust fell off when removing from toaster- probably why they have a toaster warning to “use caution” when removing from toaster. Extremely sweet, relatively light.
Microwaved: Like a dry, warm slice of less than fluffy cake. Less pleasant mouth feel than toasted, but edible.
Good points: Pleasant orange flavor, sugary sweet with none of that wretched fruit sweetener they like so much. dairy free and yeast free for those with dairy and yeast intolerance.
Bad points: A little too sweet to really taste like bread- very cake-like. Surprising amounts of calcium, vitamin C and riboflavin, probably due to the orange juice ingredient
Rating: 6/10
Would I buy it again? Probably not as it is a bit sweet for me and doesn’t taste very bread like.

[25] [26] [27]

Product: Raisin Loaf
Initial impression: Brown color with raisins, looks firm with some small air holes.
Toasted: Initial crunch with mildly pleasing brown rice flavor. However, there is also a faintly plastic, faintly sweet underlying flavor that becomes more noticeable as you chew. Raisins are very, very soft and watery. Wondering why it doesn’t have any cinnamon or spice to cut the bland sweetness of the product.
Microwaved: The slightly acidic smell of preservatives was worse this way. Texture was like a microwaved brown sponge. Inedible.
Good points: Has added folate etc. like regular bread. Relatively crunchy when toasted. Has raisins (I guess this is a good point). Not the heaviest bread I’ve ever had.
Bad points: Underlying sweet flavor (perhaps the fruit sweetener) and chemical underlying notes. Revolting when microwaved.
Rating: 3/10
Would I buy it again? Absolutely not. I’d make my own or go without.

My Story and Final Reflections on Ener-g Foods
I can’t remember a time when I was not familiar with Ener-g Foods, a gluten-free company based out of my hometown of Seattle, Washington. For those of you diagnosed in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, you probably shared my experience, as Ener-g was one of the few reliable and competent gluten-free manufacturers at that time. You could find their products in health food stores (in limited variety) but we tended to place orders directly with them on the phone. I grew up on their white rice flour “mix” as well as their white rice flour and brown rice flour. We also must have tried every cookie and bread they introduced, as well as their pizza crust and hamburger and hot dog buns. Growing up in a single-parent household, my Mom didn’t have a lot of time to bake, so these prepared products were a lifesaver. I’m sorry to say that most of them were not however very appetizing. I found a bread or two variety that I could tolerate, and we used them (always, always toasted) for toast and lunch sandwiches. I believe at that time their white rice bread was one of my favorites. The pizza crusts were always oddities, with a crisp texture resembling plaster more than bread, and an impressively inflated price. I assume it was difficult for them to justify the expense of the product line, as demand was limited at first and they did not have wide distribution, and this resulted in the price. I wouldn’t say I liked the flavor or texture, but I liked the novelty of having pizza, so we occasionally splurged. The cookies they make are oddities and are extremely hard and well preserved, but I must have tried every one they had. We even tried some of their specialty items, some more short lived than others. The pound cake (astonishingly still in production) and cinnamon rolls (repulsive sponge-like things, also discontinued years ago) were a bust. The gluten-free donut holes were tolerable microwaved.

Things changed some time in college when I discovered the joys of Bette Hagman’s cookbooks and began trying to make my own bread. Once I did, I realized just how terrible the preservatives and strange flours Ener-g uses in their breads make the bread taste, and I was no longer satisfied with these well preserved but not delicious products. I had no idea before I made my own bread that it could actually be palatable without toasting, as the Ener-g stuff is completely vile and inedible without the crunch a toaster imparts. Quite frankly, I decided that I’d rather go without bread or have it as a rare, freshly made treat than eat that stuff. I used up the last of my Ener-g bread stock in GF stuffings (where you can’t taste it really anyway), and moved on. I still ordered from Ener-g foods occasionally. I’d long given up on their awful cookies and overpriced pizza crust, even before college, but they WERE a safe and reputable place to order gluten-free flours and their Egg Replacer, a popular item with many vegans and gluten-free bakers. I would occasionally try one of their breads in my order, and it generally always reaffirmed my distaste for their processed products. I did entertain brief flirtations with their gourmet crackers (surprisingly tasty, although I ate too many of them and have lost my taste for them), and their gluten-free pretzels. Both were tolerable snacks, if full of a few too many preservatives for my preference.

Given my dislike of Ener-g foods products, I suppose it is a little strange I would write about them in my blog. However, recently an online friend commented that they liked their tapioca loaf, and I thought, you know, maybe I’m being too hard on them. I should give them one more try and perhaps officially review some of their breads, just in case they are hiding some quality gluten-free goods among the unpalatable ones. Despite my strongly critical tone, over the years I’ve had many opportunities to talk to the people that work at the company, and I have genuine fondness for the company and its workers. It’s always been a family business, and I always felt they had excellent customer service and were genuinely nice to their customers. I appreciate these things very much; and I appreciate that they’ve never been plagued with cross contamination issues like some other companies in their early years (for example Bob’s Red Mill, that now uses separate mills for their gluten-free products but which had problems before they made the switch). Safe, truly gluten-free food is something very important. However, over the years I have felt strongly that rather than innovating and using the new gluten-free flours and technologies, Ener-g has stayed rooted in the past and produces food as a medical service that is safe but not exciting, and there seems to be little interest or attention paid to product flavor or texture. As the gluten-free market has expanded and new companies like Whole Foods emerge with lines like their gluten-free bakehouse with products that actually taste good and much more closely resemble “normal” gluten food, I don’t see how Ener-g foods can compete. What I find worst of all is that many newly diagnosed folks get turned off of gluten-free food and lose hope of finding palatable bread when they are only exposed to Ener-g foods’ and other equally uninspired gluten-free companies’ products.

Having lived with Celiac Sprue for 29 years, I have seen many changes in the gluten-free food industry over the years. I am thrilled by the plethora of gluten-free cookbooks rife with truly innovative, delicious, and even occasionally healthy recipes. I love all the companies that work hard on creating food that really approximates the flavor and texture quality one might expect of gluten-foods. And partly because the gluten-free food industry has changed so much, and we have so many options now, I don’t see how Ener-g foods can continue to offer foods that pay so little attention to the pleasure principle of flavor and texture. Yes, it may be safe. Yes, it may last 6 months to a year in its aseptic packaging with its anti-mold packet. Hospitals and cruise ships may use it to feed their patients and customers- but we can and should expect MORE from our gluten-free foods.

After giving these breads one more try, I can safely say that I do not, overall, enjoy them, and won’t be ordering them again. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try them- just do not evaluate the possibilities of a gluten-free life and diet based on the flavors of their products. These are some gluten-free options offered by one gluten-free company, but many other products exist that I can more enthusiastically endorse.

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