Gluten free? AVOID “herb rice” in restaurants!

Many people have gone gluten free by choice. Others MUST choose gluten free options for health reasons. I fit into the later category, although I haven’t been that way my entire life. In recent years I learned I developed a serious health issue that is triggered by eating anything with gluten in it. Hence, I’ve become gluten free. This is NOT a choice for me.

Eating a gluten free meal becomes very challenging when faced with eating out in restaurants. This is particularly so when faced with menu items that appear to be gluten free. One case in point is “herb rice.” I would expect “herb rice” to be rice mixed with specific herbs and flavorings to make a delicious gluten free dish. However, many restaurants serve an “herb rice blend” that is actually a mix of rice, flavorings and orzo, a tiny pasta made from wheat. THAT’S the problem.

Unfortunately, many restaurant workers, “servers” in particular, are uninformed as to what their “herb rice” actually contains. They’re under the impression that it’s just flavored rice. I have been faced with this TWICE now since I’ve been gluten free. Note that I have nothing against the rice blends they use…they’re actually delicious. HOWEVER, they’re not just rice…they’re NOT gluten free. And with the innocent ignorance of waiters/waitresses, wary customers may be served foods they shouldn’t eat. My personal experiences are cases in point.

First, years back when I newly discovered that I should avoid wheat, I was at a restaurant/bar-grill. I choose something with “herb rice” in it, innocently thinking it was just rice. I asked the waitress if it was just rice and gluten free. She insisted that it was just rice, so I ordered it. After eating about half of it, I realized it had orzo in it…wheat pasta. When I spoke with the waitress about it and said I couldn’t eat the dish, she still insisted that it didn’t contain wheat and was only rice. We had a bit of an argument and she finally brought me the box it came in. Of course, when reading the ingredients list, wheat pasta was listed as one of the components (I’m not ignorant when it comes to food and it didn’t take much to find a wheat product in the ingredients list). When I brought this to her attention and asked for something else to replace the rice, we settled on refried beans. She was obviously not happy with me. I was brought a blob of refried beans, straight out of the can and unheated. I told the manager about the episode when we paid for the meal and I got little response in return. Needless to say, we’ve never been back there again.

Secondly, just last night we were at a different restaurant and they presented us with their new spring/summer menu. A wonderful dish was listed and I opted for it. Again, it was served with “herb rice.” I asked the waitress about it and she was very polite in saying she thought it was just rice, but wasn’t certain. I opted for hash browns instead of the rice. (They were out of the rice blend anyway and I was already planning on ordering hash browns since I suspected the “rice” was not just rice.) Nevertheless, the waitress DID offer information for me…the brand name of the blend. I looked it up and here’s the ingredients list…

Parboiled long grain rice, orzo (macaroni product made from wheat flour), salt, autolyzed yeast extract*, onions*, garlic*, turmeric spice which imparts color.

*dried
CONTAINS WHEAT INGREDIENTS

I’m thankful that the waitress was kind enough to at least offer the information to me so I could check for myself. I also appreciated her humbleness in admitting she was not certain of the ingredients. Unfortunately, apparently restaurant owners and chefs don’t inform their workers about these critical aspects of their food. For most patrons, it’s not an issue at all. But for those who MUST avoid certain ingredients, it’s important for the wait staff to be knowledgeable of what’s being served. Sadly, that’s usually not the case, so it’s up to the patron to be informed and wary of what they order.

Unless you really know the restaurant and how they prepare foods, wait for the herb rice until you get home and make it yourself!! Don’t order it in a restaurant.

I hope this information helps someone out there to avoid ordering some food that can cause health issues. Again, if you can eat gluten, the herb rice blend is a delicious option. But if gluten presents a problem, don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not just flavored rice.

Best wishes to all and happy eating,
Judi

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