For years, my husband and I went down the ethnic food aisle to get cheaper spices. For $2 a package you can get spices like cumin and oregano. Compared to the actual prices in the spice aisle, it is the logical choice. Well, we recently ran out of cumin, and instead of making the trip down to our discount spice and gluten free flour shop we went to get some at down the ethnic food aisle. My husband picked up those familiar red, green, and clear packages hanging there and was about to put them in the cart. We hadn’t made the trip to this spice section since my celiac diagnosis, so we hadn’t ever needed to check the purity of these spices. A quick peek at the back of the package, and everything was put back on the shelf and we were walking over to the spice section to seek gluten free cumin.
It seems like there shouldn’t be a reason for cumin to have gluten in it. Its cilantro seeds that have been toasted and ground. In a pure there should be no reason for wheat to be involved. Then again there’s no reason for a package of cashews or trail mix to have gluten, but sometimes they do. All of these labels have some of my least favorite words in the English language, “packaged in a facility that also processes wheat.” It’s part of the labeling standards that we discussed back here, and for the gluten sensitives, it’s not a deal breaker. For us Celiac’s is cross contamination hell. It means that nuts, grains, rice, or anything else that can be sold in bulk is just not 100% safe. You always have to check.
This also means that the bulk bins at your local supermarket are off limits. Even though we can find psyllium husk powder or xanthan gum in bulk, we still need to march ourselves over to the Bob’s Red Mill display to buy them. Why, because bulk bins are cross contamination hell. There’s the obvious part of it, everyone using the same scoops no matter what they’re getting. There’s nothing stopping someone from putting that scoop in to the wheat flour and then dipping the same scoop into the brown rice flour. There’s no reason to wash the scoop between each use. But there’s more to it than that.
Supermarkets aren’t required to clean bulk bins between uses. So bulk bins often don’t get cleaned between uses. This mean if they rearrange the bulk bin order, there’s never any need to actually clean the bin. So your rice flour could have been wheat flour at one point in time. There is no requirement for supermarkets to be careful with their bulk bins either. They can keep the rice flour or trail mix bins open while their filling up the wheat flour. Really it’s just not prudent. Don’t do it.
So, how does a Celitariat save money and stay safe from the glutens? You have to find pre-packaged bulk items. Near me, there is a wholesale market for bulk items. There’s no bins there, but they buy spices and flours to re-package into re-sealable plastic bags. The market also sells spices to other markets, so going there cuts out the middle man of the grocery store. This particular market is really safe, and I’ve never gotten sick from their flours before (even though they sell wheat flour and bulger in the same store.) We get super cheap gluten free flours, rice, beans, and even dried fruit, all things that are verboten in a normal supermarket. There’s no scoops, so there’s no cross contamination. Plus they have a really nice gluten free section with a variety of flours, pastas, crackers, and bars.
I know it’s going to sound sketchy and scary to walk into one of those wholesale markets, especially when it’s not a buyers club like Costco, but check it out. Sometimes places show up on Find Me Gluten Free as being gluten free markets. Read what other people say about them. You can also speak with the owners about their processes. It never hurts to ask questions. Because gluten free food requires extra care for preparation and processing it is always going to be more expensive, unless everyone goes on a gluten free diet, this is just a fact of life.
There are also some websites where you can buy bulk gluten free flours. I haven’t used any of these services, mostly because we have our market. I suspect that I might if we were further away. If you have any experience these websites or services, comment with which ones you like best.