How does gluten-free DiGiorno stand up to the original?

top down of digiorno frozen pizza
Photo: Dennis Lee

Gluten-free food gets knocked around a little too much. Whether or not you think it’s a fad, too bad: it’s here to stay.

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When I was making pizza at my former job, I’d hear about how bummed out some people were that they couldn’t come visit us to eat because they couldn’t eat gluten. Then I would be the bearer of good news: We had a gluten-free Detroit-style pizza and we could make it vegan if needed! There were a few times I brought out a gluten-free pizza, and someone nearly burst into tears because they hadn’t been able to eat pizza in so long. Our gluten-free pizzas were actually fantastic, with a texture just as fluffy as their wheat flour counterpart. They were (and still are) a joy to eat. Which is proof that even though gluten-free flours have a different texture and flavor than wheat, food made with them doesn’t have to be terrible. That being said... there’s a lot of not-so-delicious gluten-free stuff out there too.

So now down to it: DiGiorno has released a new frozen gluten-free pizza in its signature puffy rising crust style, joining a handful of other options on the shelf. (This is not DiGiorno’s first go-round with gluten-free: in 2017 the company released a gluten-free pizza with an ultra-thin crust, but it was ultimately discontinued.) Right now these new pizzas are exclusively available at limited Target locations, but additional national retailers will have them later this year. DiGiorno sent me a sample so I could give it a try.

The options are either cheese or pepperoni, and they both retail for $9.99 each, which is not cheap for a frozen pizza. DiGiorno’s already not the cheapest of the bunch (unless it’s on a steep sale). So how does DiGiorno’s gluten-free option stack up to the original? Is it worth the extra cash?

frozen digiorno held up
Photo: Dennis Lee

The regular version of DiGiorno pizza comes undercooked; it finishes and rises in the oven. The gluten-free variety appears to be similarly parbaked a bit. It comes out of the package with a little color, and it feels pretty solid even when slightly thawed. It bakes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 13-14 minutes, which is less than the regular, which bakes for 18-21 minutes (further affirming my parbaking theory). This is not a detraction, just something I noticed.

digiorno out of oven
Photo: Dennis Lee
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There wasn’t much of a rise to it after it came out of the oven either, but that’s not a big deal. It’s still the same thickness as a typical DiGiorno pizza.

Here’s the cross section (not a fantastic photo, I know). You can see it’s a little on the dense side, but I generally expect frozen pizza is going to be that way. It’s frozen pizza. It’s supposed to be a sturdy puck, otherwise it’ll just turn into a pile of mush as it’s baking.

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cross section of gluten free digiorno
Photo: Dennis Lee

I am very happy to report that this is a good gluten-free frozen pizza. Right out of the oven, the bottom of the crust has a satisfying, audible crunch that’s a nice contrast to its interior chewiness. After that, it’s your standard frozen pizza: thick sweet sauce, decent mozzarella, you know the drill. But I want to focus on the crust.

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One key thing I’ve noticed in gluten-free items is gumminess. In the worst cases, the gumminess accumulates in your teeth pretty quickly and piles on in a gunky layer as you’re chewing. While the gumminess is still present in the DiGiorno crust, it’s minimal. It’s still noticeable, but not distracting by any means. There are no off or sour flavors either.

My main issue with DiGiorno pizzas in general is that they are just too doughy and hard to finish, which feels like a waste of food. Chew, chew, chew. This is 100% a personal preference. Some people like thick crust, I like thin. I’ve never been a fan of the DiGiorno’s crust style, but that’s just me. If you like bready, go nuts.

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In terms of ingredients, though, what’s interesting to me is that the crust isn’t made from potato, rice, corn, sorghum, teff, tapioca-based, or any other alternative flour. It’s wheat starch, if you can believe it. There’s a note on the ingredients list that says, “The wheat has been processed to allow this food to meet the FDA requirements for gluten free foods.” I’m aware that there are processes available to remove gluten from wheat (like in Wondra flour), but this is a surprising decision. At the very least, I’d think this would cause anyone with Celiac disease or really severe gluten intolerance to hesitate and not want to risk trace amounts of gluten.

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I did my due diligence and asked a DiGiorno’s PR rep how the wheat-starch-based pizza could be considered gluten-free. I got this response: “We followed the FDA standards to ensure the product was gluten free. We use wheat starch that goes through a comprehensive rinsing process to remove the gluten proteins. This process maintains other wheat proteins to give us that unique bready texture.” So the pizza is gluten free by FDA standards, but this is certainly something to note.

So overall, if you’re someone who’s looking to minimize gluten in your life and are also sorely missing frozen pizza, I’d happily recommend the DiGiorno gluten-free pizzas for their overall flavor and faithfulness to the original. As the company mentioned, it’s gluten-free by FDA standards. But that’s not the same as wheat-free, if that’s something you need to take into consideration for your dietary issues.

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Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

DISCUSSION

kristinp
fancypantsftw

Celiac here. Gluten is just the protein part of wheat, barley, or rye. Well-processed wheat starch is gluten free and is used regularly in Europe where they have much, MUCH higher standards for gluten content in GF food. If you have a wheat allergy, you’re hosed, but depending on who did the wheat starch processing/how it was done, this could very well be 100% Celiac safe.

I know lots of people get twitchy about this, and it’s not uncommon to have both Celiac and a wheat allergy, but it really can be safe for we Celiac folk. Wheat starch is a primary ingredient in a lot of Schar products as well, and they are one of the most respected gluten free brands internationally.