WholeVine GF Cookies & Girl Scout Snack Bites

About a week ago, I read an article that the Girls Scouts Heart of Michigan council (Kalamazoo) was offering gluten-free Girl Scout cookie bites. Always the skeptic, which anyone who eats gluten free really needs to be, I decided to look into it. I don’t live in Michigan, or anywhere close, but if one troop could do it, I knew that it was only a matter of time before it spread to other states. Wouldn’t you love to be able to stop at a table of Girl Scouts at your local grocery store or mall and be able to say, “Yes, I’ll buy a box of . . .!”? I was a Girl Scout in the early ‘80s, so the cookies I truly miss are from that time. They tasted better than the ones that were for sale when I went gluten free in 2008, but I miss GS cookies all the same.

I have to tell you that because the article had been shared by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, I was extra skeptical. I never felt that they truly made-up for their Domino’s Pizza debacle. All the same, I felt it was worth looking into these cookie bites. If not for myself, well, then for others.

From the article I learned the name of the company producing these cookie bites (Wholevine Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Snack Bites), so their website was my first stop. I read everything I could find, but I still had some questions. In particular, what else was in these cookies, which were primarily made from grape by-products (interesting!).

“WholeVine owners Barbara Banke and Peggy Furth developed a way to convert by-products from wine grapes into oils, gluten-free flour, food coloring, nutritional additives and gluten-free cookies. That way, grape skins, seeds, leaves, stems and shoots are recycled instead of discarded.”

(Source: http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2012/09/girl_scouts_heart_of_michigan.html)

 

This was my initial e-mail to the company:

Hello,

Can you tell me what you use, besides grape parts, to make your cookies with?  Many of us who are gluten intolerant are intolerant of or allergic to other ingredients as well. I couldn’t find a new ingredient list anywhere on your website. The only one I found is dated 2010.

Also, are you baking your all gluten free cookies in a dedicated gluten free facility? If not, why? And what are you doing to ensure there is absolutely no cross contamination? Are you planning on getting certified by GFCO?

Thank you very much,
Amanda G.

 

This is the response I received:

First, we developed the snack bites for the Girl Scouts.

They were formulated for this project by Craig Ponsford,  a Master Baker.  http://www.ponsfordsplace.com/Ponsfords_Place/About_Us.html

Because they were developing for Girl Scouts we do not put the information on our website, though from your request we might consider it.

The bakery we use is a mixed use bakery (meaning they use wheat, milk and other similar common ingredients in other baked products they make)   but their standards of operation are exceptional. Their cleaning protocols are second to none and they are in the process of becoming GF certified. The reason we use them is that they have the manufacturing sophistication to make high quality products (what we would call “Artisan Quality”) and yet do it in large enough volume to support a program like the Girl Scout Snack Bites.

There are very few facilities that can do this.  We know because we spent 6 months looking for the right facility across the US and even into Canada.  There are many good facilities but none could make our product without wanting to change it.

We tend to like traditional ingredients like butter because we think they make our products taste good.  I know than some people have other allergies and it is why we try to be as forth coming as possible on our ingredients statement as possible. (See below)

We do extensive testing using an outside lab for this program.  Random samples are taken of the production run at the beginning, middle and end and then sent out for testing. The results for the GS Bites were ND (Not detectable.)

Even though this product is a snack treat we took special interest in developing it so it would have more complex nutritional value than just the starch, fats and sugars that are in many Gluten Free products. So Applesauce, Brown Rice, Garbanzo and Pea flours were used in addition to the Grape seed and Skin Flours. (Which have very good and complex nutrition.  High in protein, dietary fiber, the good metals in the right balance etc.

Even though it doesn’t say so on the label these bites were made with Chardonnay Flours: skin and seed.

INGREDIENTS: Dark Chocolate (Cane Syrup, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Butter (Sweet Cream), Brown Sugar, Sugar, Eggs, Applesauce (Apples, Water), Brown Rice Flour, Potato Flour, Yellow Pea Powder, Garbanzo Bean Flour, Modified Tapioca Starch, Grape Skin Flour, Grape Seed Flour, Pure Vanilla Extract, Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate), Sea Salt, Xanthan Gum. CONTAINS SOY, MILK, AND EGGS.
MANUFACTURED IN A FACILITY THAT USES PEANUTS, TREE NUTS, WHEAT, MILK, SOY AND EGGS.

Regards,

Paul Novak
General Manager
Sonomaceuticals / WholeVine products.

707 525 6524
421 Aviation Blvd
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

I thanked Paul for his very helpful and extensive reply, and asked how long he expected their certification to take. He clarified for me that the WholeVine bakery (from which they sell their own cookies) IS certified. They are asking the bakery which is producing the GS cookies to become certified.

He also told me that WholeVine has “a “clean” back label, meaning no artificial preservatives.  It is a benefit of the grape flours. They tend to suppress microbiological growth naturally.”  I really loved hearing that!  In addition, Paul wrote, “We will be launching our flours in 1/2 lb bags for retail sales this month. If used correctly, our flours can be a real boon to a gluten free kitchen adding significant flavor and texture besides a lot of very good nutrition.”

 

I think this is great news for the gluten free community. If you do any baking at home, you’ll have discovered that white and brown rice flours are the most commonly used. I love rice, but I’d prefer to use flours with more fiber and protein and less fast-acting carbs. Rice will give you a quick boost of energy, and it does have redeeming values, but it is one of the foods that diabetics are urged to avoid because of its effect on blood sugar. I may not be diabetic, but I still don’t need to do that to my body.

As some of you may have heard, researchers in Brazil have been working on turning green bananas into pasta. It would be even healthier than wheat pasta. Except for gluten free blogs, I never see anyone recommending rice or corn pasta over wheat pasta, which makes me think that if I didn’t have to be gluten free, the wheat option would be healthier, and that makes me even more excited about green banana pasta. But nothing in the article led me to believe that this would be available in stores any time soon.

But WholeVine’s flours are coming soon! Learn more here and here! I don’t know about you, but I really, really want to try some of their flours! Very exciting!

When I first went gluten free, it was all about just being gluten free. I’ve learned a lot in the last several years. After I got the gluten free thing down pat, I decided it was time to make my entire diet plan healthier. (Yes, it’s still possible to eat horribly on a medically restrictive diet! I see people do it all the time.)

Right now Teresa and I are somewhere in between eating alright and very healthy eating. Will I ever give up baked goods completely? Probably not! But if I can start my treats off from better sources while still keeping the tastes I miss? Then I’ll be doing that!

Kudos to WholeVine for providing us with a new, unique option for healthier flours.

 

I won’t be sampling the Girl Scout cookies, but I am waiting on some WholeVine cookie samples, which I will review as soon as possible after they arrive. If I learn anything else about the GS cookies (certification or otherwise), I will let you know!