Celiac patients are intolerant to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some celiac patients must also avoid oats. Avoiding these ingredients is not as simple as it sounds – in addition to the obvious bread, pasta, cookies and cakes, many sources of gluten “hide” in pre-packaged food. The gluten-free diet is also practiced by non-celiacs who wish to eat healthier, and some data suggest that children diagnosed in the autism spectrum should avoid gluten. Let’s take a look at the common sources of gluten in the kitchen and examine ways to “work around” or eliminate gluten altogether.
The most obvious direct sources of gluten are breads and pastas. You can make your own bread, but over the last several years, many companies, due to higher demand for quality, gluten-free products, are now producing delicious breads and pastas. Health food stores commonly have gluten-free breads and pastas, and some grocery stores have gluten-free sections.
However, if you are determined to make your own bread, noted gluten-free expert Bette Hagman suggests these two recipes:
2 parts white rice flour
2/3 part potato starch flour
1/3 part tapioca flour
2/3 part garfava bean flour
1/3 part sorghum flour
1 part cornstarch
1 part tapioca flour
When you are dealing with gluten-free flour, a combination of flours is best. Rice flour is a good base, but you can’t simply replace wheat flour with it. Potato flour and tapioca flour makes the dough lighter. Also remember that the ratios are important, because each component adds its own texture and quality.
Gluten adds a sticky, dough-y quality to breads, so adding gums to your gluten-free flour can help replicate that. Guar gum and xantham gum are readily available products that you can add. Only add about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour, though, and check the label of commercial gluten-free mixes to see if a gum is already added. Additionally, remember that breads need more “doughiness” than cakes or cookies, so adjust your amounts accordingly. You will need more gum in your breads than in your cakes and cookies.
If your recipe calls for water, add an egg instead. Eggs are protein, as is gluten, and eggs have a binding ability, as well.
For a thin coat for sautéing, a single gluten-free flour can work, but for bread crumbs, the combination flours work best. For thickening sauces and gravies, cornstarch works well, but you don’t need as much as you would if you were using wheat flour. Also, when working with cornstarch, mix it in cold water before adding so that it will dissolve completely. In recipes that call for browning the flour, it is best not to do this with cornstarch. If the dish needs color, add a small amount of kitchen bouquet or other browning sauce. Potato starch can also be used for thickening.
For recipes that call for chicken broth or beef broth, read the label carefully before using these products. Food labeling laws have changed and the source of ingredients should be specified, but this is not always the case. Additionally, food manufacturers commonly change their ingredients, and a product might be gluten-free one year but not the next. You can make your own chicken, beef or vegetable stock and freeze it to be sure to have gluten-free stock on hand.
Restaurants can be particularly problematic for the gluten-free diet. Rice noodles, potato dumplings and gnocchi are misleading terms, as they almost always have wheat flour added for structure.
When reading labels, the obvious ingredients to avoid for the gluten-free diet are flour (if the source is not specified, assume it is wheat), bulgar (a type of wheat), spelt (a species of wheat), durum (a species of wheat), food starch, matzo or matzah (made from wheat), semolina (made from durum wheat). Brewer’s yeast might have gluten – it depends on the source. Croutons are simply dried bread cubes, panko is simply Japanese bread crumbs, and cous-cous is made from semolina.
Other food items that you might not think to look for gluten include soy sauce,
salad dressings and other condiments. Cereals often contain barley malt, ice cream contains ingredients for thickening, and many fast-food restaurants use fries dusted with flour.
Read labels carefully. If the source is not specified, avoid the following:
Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Modified food starch (source is either corn or wheat)
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Whey protein concentrate
Whey sodium caseinate
Rice malt (can contain barley)