Have you heard? The Dough Boy’s gone gluten-free. Well, at least in part.
Pillsbury, a brand name used by General Mills Company and the J.M. Smucker Company, recently introduced several gluten-free options in unbaked dough – chocolate chip cookie dough, pie and pastry dough and thin crust pizza dough – all found in plastic tubs (just under 1 pound each) in the cold section in some supermarkets.
Some of you are thrilled; others are concerned.
While many of you may be ecstatic about the new gluten-free products (and that’s a-OK if you are!), others express concern about the possibility of gluten cross-contamination, other allergens that may be in these products and the ingredients used in general – from highly refined foods to GMOs.
That’s certainly understandable. You want cookie dough, but you sure don’t want a heaping helping of hidden gluten (or other allergen) in your sweet treat! Not to mention, enough already with the refined foods and GMOs our food industry serves us with a sneaky smile.
And please don’t leave a comment about how no one should eat store-bought cookie dough because it is unhealthy.
Here, in the Gluten Free Gigi Family, we do not judge. It’s not my job to tell you what to eat. It’s not your job to tell anyone else what to eat, either. We are all individuals at different points on the path to optimal health. Some folks want to eat cookies made from dough that comes out of a tub with the Dough Boy’s picture on the front. Some want a raw green smoothie. Some are between those two extremes. So what? I’m here to serve ALL of you. The FACT is many of you want to know about the Ingredients Inside. I’ve done the research, I’ve spoken to the company and now, I’m sharing my fact-based “Smart Nutrition Backed by Science” with you to make it easier for you to decide whether this product is for you or not.
Do not harm the messenger. ;)
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…
Let’s take a look at the ingredients inside Pillsbury Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
These are the ingredients listed on the label:
Brown Sugar, Rice Flour, Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin*, natural flavor), Water, Palm Oil, Canola Oil, Sugar, Corn Starch, Modified Potato Starch, Eggs, Modified Tapioca Starch, Salt, Baking Soda, Xanthan Gum, Natural Flavor. Contains: Eggs, Soy; May contain Milk Ingredients. Product of Canada.
Now, let’s look a little closer at a few ingredients I’ve received questions about:
I think we are familiar enough with brown sugar, rice flour (if you’re concerned about arsenic in your rice, read this article), water, sugar, salt and baking soda, so I won’t cover those.
Chocolate liquor (in the chocolate chips) – This is not “liquor”, as in alcohol; it is the paste that results when cocoa beans are roasted and ground.
Cocoa butter – Regardless of “butter” in the name, there is no dairy here. This is the fatty portion of cocoa beans.
Soy lecithin – This is used as an emulsifier (it holds things like chocolate together, basically). Learn more in my article about soy lecithin for those of us who have soy allergy.
Palm oil – This vegetable oil, derived from the fruit of vegetable palms, is widely used as an alternative to butter in processed baked goods and pastry dough because it is very versatile, stable at high heat, tasteless, trans-fat free and inexpensive. This is not coconut oil, so don’t confuse the two, as they are quite different. Although some claims (unfounded in the research community) exist about palm oil as a “health” supplement (sadly and incorrectly reported by the likes of Dr. Oz – will he never stop?), the palm oil used in foods like this cookie dough is highly refined. It is NOT a health food.
Canola oil – It’s not derived from a “canola”, folks. It comes from rapeseed. Canola is a made up word that stands for “Canadian Oil Low Acid”. I think we can all understand why calling the product “rape oil” would have been a marketing disaster. While canola oil is low in saturated fat (that’s the touted “health” claim), it is one of the top 3 genetically modified (GMO) foods. It’s not a surprise a Pillsbury product contains GMOs. General Mills, one of the Pillsbury “parents”, uses many GMOs in their products. Sorry, General Mills, but the facts are the facts.
Corn starch – We’ll start with GMOs again. While we cannot state definitively that the corn starch in this product is a GMO, there is a good chance it is. After all, General Mills invested over $1 million to stop GMO ingredient labeling on food products. (This applies to the sugar, too, as much of the sugar used in products in the US market comes from sugar beets, which may be genetically engineered.)
Modified Potato Starch and Modified Tapioca Starch – Modified food starches are likely harmless; however, are extremely refined, so if that bothers you (and if it does, you’re probably not shopping for cookie dough in a tub, gluten-free or not), you may want to avoid foods with these ingredients when possible. The process of modifying these starches involves chemicals and enzymes. It is nearly impossible to know what those are and where they are derived.
Xanthan Gum – You probably already know gums in gluten-free baked goods are intended to mimic the sticky and elastic properties normally contributed by gluten in baked items.You can learn more about gums in gluten-free baking in this article.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m not a fan of using gums in most baked goods. I find it largely unnecessary. When I do use it (the occasional bread recipe), I use far less than other recipe developers claim we must use. My reason for shunning gums is they can cause gastrointestinal upset for many individuals ( I cover this in the article linked above). I refuse to feed you something I know may upset your tummy. (I don’t care how unpopular I become from going against the “popular” gluten-free blogger folk. I’m here to serve YOU, not them.)
There’s more about xanthan gum that bothers me, too. It can be derived from corn, wheat or soy. Some say the source of xanthan gum doesn’t matter; others disagree. I say, it depends on how sensitive the individual eating the gum is. (You know, we really are all so different, we cannot have a “one size fits all” plan when it comes to our special diet. Have I said that too much?)
I once queried the creator of a very popular gluten-free flour blend regarding the source of xanthan gum in her blends. She avoided the question multiple times. That led me to believe either (a) she doesn’t know or (2) she does know and the gums in her flour blend are wheat-derived. (I’m going to be nice and follow the Rules and not reveal the name of the blend. Sorry, but I can’t sabotage someone’s business.)
Natural flavor – Now, this gets tricky. We all know by now “natural” can mean anything when it comes to what the FDA will allow in our food. However, when I queried General Mills about this product, I was told, “We do not include gluten containing ingredients in the ′Natural Flavors′ or ′Spices′ on the product ingredient list. If there are gluten ingredients in our products, those ingredients are always clearly listed.” Well, that sounds like they have it covered.
Speaking of my correspondence with General Mills about the cookie dough, here are a few other points the company representative shared,
- “Only products that can be verified to be gluten free will be declared as gluten free on the label.”
- “It is important to check the product label each time you purchase a product because it has the most accurate information about the product in the package. Because we constantly strive to improve our products′ quality and nutritional value, the most up-to-date product information is on the package the product is purchased in. For that reason, we do not distribute product information lists as they could quickly become outdated. It is important to check the package label before purchasing for the gluten-free statement on the front/side/back of the package to verify that the package you choose is gluten free.” (I felt this was over-stated, but hey, liability is important to the BIG box companies.)
The General Mills’ Representative added this about products NOT labeled gluten-free:
“For products not labeled gluten free, we will always declare gluten containing ingredients if they are added to the product. If the ingredient declaration lists wheat, oats, barley, rye, or derivatives of these grains, then the product contains gluten. Examples of derivative ingredients include: malt, barley malt, organic malt, semolina, Durham, triticale, and spelt. We do not include gluten containing ingredients in the ′Natural Flavors′ or ′Spices′ on the product ingredient list. If there are gluten ingredients in our products, those ingredients are always clearly listed.”
And she also said…
“If there are no gluten- containing ingredients listed in the product ingredient label, but the product does not make a gluten free claim, it is because we cannot fully assure that this product is gluten free. While we have not added gluten-containing ingredients, factors such as sourcing, conditions of manufacture, etc. do not allow us to provide the full level of assurance that a gluten free claim requires.”
Bottom line on the gluten-free cookie dough: It’s gluten-free, but filled with highly refined ingredients and GMOs.
Now…because a few points covered above may raise additional questions, I thought you’d like to know…
Regarding the comment about sugar potentially being a GMO food in some products like the cookie dough we’re discussing here, many of you will ask “What about organic sugar?” Organic foods are required by US federal law to be free from genetically engineered ingredients, so if you buy organic sugar (or anything else) for your home baking, you should be getting non-GMO goods.
Corn starch – Non-GMO corn starch is available for our home gluten-free baking. Check labels or with the company before buying if this is a concern.
Regarding modified food starches – I purchase unmodified base starches (like potato and tapioca starches) for all my home baking and recipe testing. It’s a personal preference. You can order these online if you’re interested.
The bottom line: without labeling laws in place, we really can’t be sure what we’re eating. Of course, with a healthy dose of my “Smart Nutrition Backed by Science”, we know a little more than when we first picked up that tub of cookie dough. ;)
I hope this helps you make the best decision about this (and other) products on your gluten-free, allergen-free diet.
To make the search for the right products for your special diet easier, don’t forget to use the Gluten Free Resource Directory to search for gluten-free products and be sure to check out the NEW ALLERGEN SEARCH available there! I love it and I know you will, too! You can create a custom search for your specific allergens! It’s incredibly useful.
Don’t miss another delish dish! Sign up for my free eNewsletter, the Daily Gluten Free Fix, and have each new recipe and article delivered to your inbox.
While you’re here, browse the Recipe Index for recipes free from gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts. And be sure to explore my vast collection of “Smart Nutrition Backed by Science” articles in the Knowledge section and check out eBooks in the Shop.
If you’re NEW TO GLUTEN FREE LIVING, click on over to the Essentials.