Find out fascinating facts and interesting tidbits about cookies and the ingredients found in them in our series “Inside the Dough.” Learn about gluten-free desserts, including some of the reasons people eat gluten free and how Cheryl’s makes its gluten-free cookies and brownies.

As recently as 10 years ago, being gluten-free meant you were relegated to dense, heavy-as-bricks baked goods whenever you felt like a sweet treat. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.

Gluten-free food options have ballooned in size and scope, with offerings that are not just “good enough” but downright delicious. Developing and manufacturing these products didn’t just happen overnight; a lot of thought and hard work went into coming up with and making gluten-free desserts that are both satisfying and meet the necessary dietary requirements.

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Why people eat gluten-free diets

The condition most people associate with a gluten-free diet is celiac disease. Someone who has celiac has a serious autoimmune condition triggered by eating and/or ingesting gluten found primarily in wheat and other grains, such as barley, rye, and brewer’s yeast. For these folks, eating gluten — even the smallest trace amount — can hurt them physically, causing damage to the intestinal lining that can take months to heal.

gluten-free desserts: gluten-free cookies

“Some ingredients, like oats or vanilla, can even be made with or come into contact with gluten,” explains Brenda Mortensen, director of product development and food science at Cheryl’s Cookies. “So, in making our products, we have to ensure that all ingredients are certified gluten free.”

Cheryl’s started producing gluten-free baked goods in 2015. That same year, the company also introduced the GFCO (Gluten Free Certification Organization) certification. This ensures that all the gluten-free products made for the company are, in fact, gluten free.

Someone with a gluten aversion who opts to not eat gluten for reasons other than a dietary preference or lifestyle choice is different than someone with celiac disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis report experiencing symptoms such as joint swelling and abdominal bloating when they eat foods that contain gluten. Some studies have shown a possible connection between irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and a gluten sensitivity. For people with these conditions, reducing their gluten intake, or eliminating gluten from their diet altogether, may provide some relief.

Where Cheryl’s makes its gluten-free desserts

Just like Cheryl’s itself, the suppliers Cheryl’s uses to make its gluten-free cookies, brownies, and bars are GFCO certified. The cookies, for example, are produced in a dedicated facility in Oregon, where, according to Mortensen, there’s “no chance of cross contamination that you would find in a plant that produces with wheat.”

Something as innocuous as air vents can transmit gluten, Mortensen says, which is why Cheryl’s moved production of its gluten-free desserts to this dedicated facility. Ingredients and finished products, she adds, are also tested daily to ensure they meet the standards set by the GFCO certification.

gluten-free desserts: baking flours

When Cheryl’s first started developing gluten-free products, there “wasn’t a lot out there we could use to replace wheat flour,” Mortensen remembers. Since then, the options have proliferated, which means that gluten-free cookiescakespies, and brownies can now have a tasty texture and flavor.

“We use rice and tapioca flours in some recipes. And since we need to replace the gluten — a protein that, when mixed with water, creates an elastic bond that helps bread grow when it rises — we do that with a gum, like xanthan gum,” Mortensen explains.

From the start, the goal of developing a gluten-free cookie was to make something that people would taste and immediately love. “We initially had about 40 people that we sent product to for their feedback. We wanted them to be brutally honest,” Mortensen recalls. “When we came out onto the market with our gluten-free cookies, it felt like we had something really different and special.”

Among Cheryl’s gluten-free offerings are chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, snickerdoodles, frosted sugar cookies, and fudge brownies.

Photo of Brenda Mortensen

When we came out onto the market with our gluten-free cookies, it felt like we had something really different and special.

Brenda Mortensen

Director of product development and food science, Cheryl’s Cookies

Sweet memories

Mortensen says she runs into people all the time telling her how much they adore the gluten-free cookies from Cheryl’s. One story that stands out is of a little girl who sent a special note with a hand-drawn picture of a chocolate chip cookie. The note thanked Mortensen and her team for making her a treat that she could take to a birthday party and really enjoy so she wouldn’t feel left out of the festivities. “It’s the cutest little letter! I think that little girl was eight at the time,” Mortensen says. “I still look at that letter and think, ‘That’s special!'”

Mortensen firmly stands behind all the gluten-free desserts from Cheryl’s, saying, “They’re all good.” When pushed to pick a favorite, though, she selects the snickerdoodle. “It’s got everything you want in a cinnamon sugar treat, and it’s not dry like other gluten-free cookies,” Mortensen says. “It’s moist, cakey, and delicious.”


Colombian-born, Canadian-raised Mary Luz Mejia is a twice-nominated NATJA food, culture, and travel journalist, former TV producer, and content marketer by day. She's written for Travel & Leisure, The Globe & Mail and enRoute Magazine, and was the brunch columnist for The Toronto Star. Mejia is a level II International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting Certified Chocolate Taster and successfully completed the George Brown College Chocolate Theory course. You'll find her enjoying a single estate varietal dark chocolate bar in her home near Toronto and dreaming of the Mediterranean.

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