As it turned out, the box contained a sampling of various gluten-free and allergen-free products from Enjoy Life Natural Brands (update: simply "Enjoy Life" now). In the box was a letter introducing themselves and their products, and encouraging me to try the foods and review them and tell my readers about them. My first thought was "do they even know who I am? ...they may get more then they bargain for!". I say this because anyone that knows me realizes I am a very harsh critic of gluten-free products.
A little background on my dislike of many gluten-free products: upon being forced to join the Celiac and gluten-free crowd a few years ago, my first thought was "what will I eat?" I tried various store-bought gluten-free products and found them to be typically sub-par, and then I tried baking recipes from multiple gluten-free recipe books and found those to be generally mediocre at best. This led me to my next major thought, being "who could stand to eat this stuff for the rest of their lives?"
This early experience with gluten-free foods and gluten-free recipes was the primary reason my wife and I invested a massive amount of time and resources into mastering gluten-free baking, and why I authored a satisfaction-guaranteed book on Gluten-Free Gourmet Desserts - desserts being one of my "must have" food-groups that I absolutely needed to be as good as they were in my pre-gluten-free days if I was to remain on this gluten-free diet. And, I wanted to help others bypass the hit-and-miss (mostly miss) foods experience they would otherwise likely encounter when first being diagnosed with wheat or gluten-intolerance.
So, there you have it. My psyche has been tainted with the memories of many bad gluten-free products in the past, and very few commercial, store-bought products ever make it onto my short-list of regularly consumed items.
I am pleased to announce I now have at least two new items to add to my list of good, satisfying, and recommendable gluten-free products! I say "at least" because I have yet to try all of the items that were sent to me. But, of the two I did try thus far, both were a hit.
The first product I really like was the Enjoy Life Cinnamon Crunch Granola. That link will show you the ingredients and nutritional information, which is pretty decent too (low sodium, high-fiber, and rather good protein, fat, and sugar levels - especially for granola). The ingredients are simply: brown rice flakes, rice bran, evaporated can juice, brown rice syrup, raisins, water, tapioca flour, coconut, cinnamon, gum arabic, vanilla, molasses, golden flaxseed, and rosemary extract.
Enjoy Life positions this product (as they do many of their products) as "allergen free", since they avoid all common allergens (meaning: no wheat, gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, corn, potato, sulfites, sesame, or casein). Whew! What a list! Thankfully, I'm only worried about the gluten-free status, but it's nice to know that people with many other dietary restrictions can also safely enjoy this cereal.
What really got my attention with the Cinnamon Crunch Granola is my history with the product. I actually tried this product a couple years or so ago, and did not like it at all then. In fact, I have never bought it since, and even passed on a free-sample handout at a store a while back since I had bad memories of it. So, when I saw the box of cereal among the samples, I was thinking "oh my, do they really want me to review that?"
I then noticed this purple-starburst pattern on the box that said "NEW crispier crunchier taste!" Aha! Now I couldn't resist trying it. Curiosity made me wonder if it was just marketing-hype or for real. I'm so used to "new and improved" labels on products where there is no noticeable difference, I couldn't help but be skeptical. And, since they claim to have addressed one of my big issues with the product in the past - it was lacking both taste and texture - I had to give it a try.
I am very glad I did try the granola! It is remarkably improved on many levels! Enjoy Life has gotten the Cinnamon Crunch Granola right! First off, it delivers on that "crispier and crunchier" claim in a serious way. In fact, it is so wonderfully crunchy, that I feel compelled to warn all you gluten-free readers to be careful especially if you eat it dry - it is not your typical textureless gluten-free cereal, and, you best prepare your teeth for some really hearty chomping. I don't think it'll break your teeth, but it'll surely give your jaw a workout. And, this is a good thing. I'm so sick of having to eat cereals that are lacking a serious crunch; this was a most welcome change.
Next, I figured I would force the product to fall short instantly just by wetting it down with milk. Crunchy when dry is one thing, but to remain crunchy when wet is quite another. Again, I am delighted to report that this Cinnamon Crunch Granola holds up in milk even better than "normal" (oats, wheat, gluten-containing, etc) granola - in fact, I timed its durability. :) The larger chunks were still very hearty and crunchy even after 15 minutes in milk! That is exceptional, and how they accomplished this with gluten-free, all-natural ingredients is remarkable to me. The cereal has a great rich cinnamon flavor too, just as one would expect from a product called Cinnamon Crunch Granola.
The only thing that isn't 100% accurate with the product is the picture on the front of the box -- the actual cereal is considerably darker in color than what is shown on the box (if you can tell in my above picture of the box, and the bowl of cereal). Someone probably thought it looked better for marketing purposes to show what appears to be a more commonly perceived image of what granola should look like, rather than the darker chunks you will see once you open the box. I understand, having photographed food quite a bit, how difficult it can be to make each bit of food look its best, but one thing I will not do is show a picture that is different from what my recipes create - it's a personal peeve of mine. Lucky for Enjoy Life, their granola is quite tasty, since if it was not, I would really rip them over this photographic faux pas.
The bottom line: Enjoy Life has definitely improved this product over the past few years. I can quite honestly say that instead of avoiding this cereal, I am going to go out of my way to purchase their Enjoy Life Cinnamon Crunch Granola from now on. I have wanted a good breakfast granola for a long time, and now I have found one. And, I already made sure I could eat multiple bowls of the stuff at once without reaching "burn out" - 3 servings worth was no problem at all, and I could have eaten more. :)
The other product I tried thus far was called "Not Nuts!" - a nut free trail mix - which was actually quite good too. It is also allergen-free according to the label, and the ingredients are simply: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, dried apples, dairy-free chocolate chips, cranberries, and rosemary extract (citric acid is lists too, and I'm not sure how they address the corn issues I've heard about most citric-acid sources). I must admit that, even though the bag claims "6 servings" (at 140 calories per serving), I ate 2/3 of the bag in one sitting last evening and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, 4 servings... hmmm... 560 calories. Oh well. It's "good" calories - fruit, nuts, etc. And, sulfite-free (I avoid sulfites like the plague). Now I need to get back to snow shoveling to burn off those calories,... so I can eat more. heh.
I took a bit longer blogging about these product reviews than I had intended, so I'll get to the other Enjoy Life product review(s) in the future. The real test for Enjoy Life, whether they can handle the results of my review or not, will be when I evaluate their desserts - they sent some cookies for evaluation. Needless to say, desserts are my specialty, and since I guarantee that my own gluten-free desserts are as good as the real thing, I have a very high bar for such products to meet in order to be considered good. But, if the results are not favorable, Enjoy Life can always contract my wife and I to fix any issues :)