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Smoke Signals: Can barbecue sauce be healthful?

I’ve seen the future of barbecue sauce, and it is on the health-food aisle.

Last week, the Smoke Signals column and blog post provided recipes for traditional and unconventional barbecue sauces. After they appeared, we received questions about sugar-free sauces for diabetics and gluten-free sauces for people with celiac disease.

We thought we would follow-up with some answers.

Along with the tremendous growth in basic barbecue sauce variety -- such as umpteen different combinations of hot pepper, liquor, wood smoke and fruit flavorings -- sauce manufacturers have seized on health concerns as an expanding market niche.
Check out the labels of some locally produced sauces. Pork Barrel BBQ’s labels proclaim “All Natural, Gluten-Free, Vegan, No Preservatives, No MSG.” (What, nothing about clean solar energy powering the manufacturers turbines?) Rocklands Barbeque Sauce announces that it is gluten free, nut free, dairy free. The Beltway BBQ Sauce label advertises the fact that it has no high fructose corn syrup.

That’s just the locals. In July, the ubiquitous national brand Stubb’s, from Austin, announced that its entire line of sauces had earned the seal of approval from the Washington state based non-profit outfit, the Gluten Free Certification Organization. Stubb’s claims to be the first sauce company to receive the GFCO seal for its entire product line. But lots of brands claim to be gluten-free, including Fiorella’s Jack Sauce, Bull's-Eye Original BBQ Sauce, and Bone Suckin’ Sauce.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that people with celiac disease and other gluten-sensitive disorders need to read labels carefully. A story in the Wall Street Journal last week noted that consumers can mistake gluten-free for healthful. "Many packaged gluten-free products are even higher in carbs, sugar, fat and calories than their regular counterparts, and they tend to be lower in fiber, vitamins and iron," Shelley Case, a registered dietician on the medical advisory board of the Celiac Disease Foundation, told the Journal.

In addition, gluten is commonly thought to be a product of wheat, and it is. But it is also a protein found in barley and rye, which means that gluten-sensitive people can’t simply assume that a product is gluten-free if a manufacturer says its product is wheat-free, as some barbecue sauces say.

Gluten is typically found in ketchup, which is often a base for barbecue sauce. If you are making a sauce, substitute the same amount of tomato sauce for the ketchup, taste after adding the remainder of the recipe’s ingredients, then tinker with the seasonings. It can also be found in vinegar. Substitute lemon juice.

If you have celiac disease, you don’t need to be told to read the label of everything you use. But so many things can go into a barbecue sauce, double-check every ingredient before adding it to make sure it is gluten-free.

Likewise, diabetics have a challenge finding bottled barbecue sauce or recipes, as most sauces use sugar. One replacement for sugar is agave. All About Agave shows how to substitute agave for other sweeteners.

Commercially, the Chef Hymie Grande line of sauces uses agave and has received the American Diabetes Association approval.

If you want to make your own barbecue sauce, the association's Web site is a good source. Its magazine, Diabetes Forecast, has a couple of barbecue sauce recipes, including one that uses a little brown sugar and one that uses Splenda.

-- Jim Shahin
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By Jim Shahin  |  August 31, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags: Jim Shahin, barbecue  
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You are in error about gluten "typically" being found in ketchup. I have yet to find a ketchup containing gluten. Also, with the exception of malt vinegar and apple-cider flavored vinegar, all vinegars are gluten free. The gluten-free diet is difficult enough for people with celiac disease without having this incorrect "information" disseminated.

Posted by: kathy38 | August 31, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Hi Kathy - having a relative with celiac's and being one who does a lot of the cooking, I can say that we view all ketchup products that contain vinegar with suspicion since many major commercial brands cannot claim the source of their vinegar. Heinz is an exception while Hunt's cannot make this claim. Between these two you have 95% of the ketchup market so half of the ketchup out there - even for commercial use - likely contains gluten.

You have many that will say butter is gluten free but not all butters are. Products containing otherwise known gluten free items but then butter automatically raise a red flag.

I agree the gluten-free diet is difficult and adjusting my cooking for a family member has brought on some challenges but opportunities as well.

Posted by: washdcnative | September 2, 2010 2:49 AM | Report abuse

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