Pão de queijo: Naturally Gluten Free Brazillian Cheese Bread

Pão de queijo is a Brazillian cheese bread which is naturally gluten free. On the TAM flight out to Argentina, the Brazilian air stewardess who delivered my gluten free meal told me she suffered with a gluten intolerance and helpfully told me I should look out for the naturally gluten free Pão de queijo.  She said it would be available all over Brazil.

Pão de queijo is made from tapioca flour, milk, cheese, eggs, butter or oil. The dough is then baked in the over in small balls. It’s eaten as an appetiser or as a snack.

The little balls look a bit like cheesey profiteroles!

It’s different to other breads in that it doesn’t require leavening. Instead, small pockets of air form in the little balls as they are baked in the oven.

So how does it taste? Well, the ones I tried were seriously cheesey. Think very strong Parmesan and you’re in the right region. I liked the texture and taste very much, especially with a glass of red wine.

Although the Pão de queijo was available all over Brazil, I was quite cautious in trying it. I didn’t want to take any chances and used my Coeliac Travel cards to check if it was gluten free. Unfortunately using the cards and asking if the bread contains ‘flour’ was always met with a confirmation it did. It was only at the end of the holiday while at Rio airport did I find someone who spoke excellent English and he confirmed that yes it contained flour, but it was the gluten free tapioca flour. The Portuguese for tapioca flour is “polvilho”. If I go back to Brazil, I would be more specific and ask if it only contained this type of flour.

Brazil: A Gluten Free Trip Report

Having viewed Iguazu falls from the Argentine side (less crowded and better walkways) we moved on to Brazil. The falls from the Brazilian side were hugely impressive – and if you go to Iguazu you have to do both – but for me the Brazilian side did have a touch of the Disney about it. A couple of photos, although it really is impossible to capture in a photo the true scale of Iguazu, the deafening sound of the water or the seriously high humidity. My advice? Take a towel and some dry clothes to change into after viewing from the Brazilian side!

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Brazil. Land of football, tiny bikinis and….more meat. I mean the animal kind. Oh yes, after Argentina this was another carnivore’s dream.

Luckily I was still in the mood for steak so that meant dining in the ubiquitous Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouses. These were a great option to dine gluten free. They offered salad bars with many different options such as salad ingredients (lettuce, tomatoes, corn, olives etc), rice salads, shellfish……You can help yourself to whatever you like. There were also some prepared dishes (seemed to be curries etc) but I didn’t want to take any chances and anyway, the meat was enough for me! The churrascarias we visited offered an all in price for the meat and salad bar.

The meat is served by passadores who come to your table with great skewers of meat which have been cooked on the barbecue and slice off chunks onto your plate. I was told the meat was prepared with a rub of salt. We lost count of the different types of meat but beef, pork, chicken, lamb were offered. Sausages also did the rounds but I avoided them just in case they contained gluten.


As well as the meat, a variety of chips, cassava and banana (!) accompanied the meal. I didn’t try the latter by the way.


Now Brazil presented me with something of a conundrum. Every item of food and drink was labelled to state whether it did / did not contain gluten. CONTÉM GLÚTEN or NÃO CONTÉM GLÚTEN was written in nice big, clear writing on absolutely everything in Brazil. Such as on this bottle of mineral water….


You would think this comprehensive labeling would ensure the population would have some understanding of coeliac disease, right?  Wrong. Almost no one knew what gluten was and why it was labelled on their food and drink! Even with my Coeliac Travel cards, I felt the wait staff didn’t understand at all what I was asking. On most occasions the cards were taken into the chef to see if he knew what it all meant. In one restaurant in Buzios, the waitress spoke perfect English but admitted she had no clue whatsoever what gluten was and when I showed her the note on the water bottle she said she’d never thought about what it meant. It was quite astonishing. Why bother going to such lengths of labeling food and drink if no one knows what it means?

Perhaps I had a series of bad experiences but I would recommend that if you travel to Brazil you take the Coeliac Travel cards and are cautious in what you eat. I wasn’t confident that any menu items would be accurately adjusted to be gluten free as they could be at home. I wasn’t ill while I was away but I stuck to naturally occurring gluten free food items such as grilled meat, fish and salads.

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