How to Go Gluten-Free
New to gluten-free living? Here's our Gluten-Free Goddess quick-start guide on how to begin a gluten-free diet.
Foods to avoid on a gluten-free diet
Gluten. So what is it?
Gluten is the elastic protein found in wheat (this includes durum, einkorn, graham, semolina, bulgur wheat, spelt, farro, kamut, and triticale), rye, and barley. Commercially produced oats may also contain gluten due to cross contamination in processing (more on gluten-free oats below).
What to look for-
Recipes and products that use wheat flour (bleached or non-bleached white flour, whole wheat flour, cracked wheat, wheat bran, semolina, durum, spelt, farro, kamut, triticale) or barley flour are not gluten-free.
In vegan products, check for "vital wheat gluten" added as a source of protein. Modern iterations of traditional foods that used to be gluten-free have sometimes added wheat flour to please modern tastebuds. Injera bread (traditionally made from teff flour), Asian rice wraps, and tortillas are such examples. They may indeed still be gluten-free, but are not necessarily gluten-free, depending upon ingredients. Check labels, always.
Pasta used to be a big no-no (thanks to semolina wheat) but times have changed, and there are now truly delicious, alternative gluten-free pasta choices available. Just remember that traditional Italian pasta, vegetable flavored wheat pasta, spelt and whole wheat pasta, including cous cous, ramen noodles, and some soba noodles, are still not gluten-free. Read those labels!
Standard beer, ale, lager and malted beverages are not gluten-free. Foods cooked in beer- such as brats, meats and sausage- therefore are not gluten-free. Note: Gluten-free labeled beer itself may not always be 100% gluten-free. Call the company, research, and read labels carefully.
Malt. Read those labels! Malt vinegar, malt flavorings and barley malt are not gluten-free.
Recipes and products using breadcrumbs, breaded coatings, dredged flour coating, panko, pieces of bread, bagel chips or toast, flat bread, pita, panini, croutons, bagels, croissants, flour tortillas, pizza crust, wonton wrappers, graham crackers, some granola, many cereals, wheat germ, wheat grass, wheat berries, cookie crumbs and cookie dough, brownie chunks, pancake mix, pie crust pastry, crackers, pretzels, sandwich wraps and lavash are not gluten-free.
The vegan meat substitute seitan (made with vital wheat gluten) is not gluten-free; and some vegan tempeh is not gluten-free (you must check, especially for soy sauce flavoring which contains wheat). Flavored tofu may or may not be gluten-free due to soy sauce and seasoning. Always double-check!
Additives. Barley enzymes used in malt beverages, some chocolate chips, coffee and coffee flavors/blended mixes, flavored and herbal teas, dessert syrups, certain brown rice syrups are not gluten-free. Always check on "natural flavors" as well.
Unfortunately, spices have become a new concern, as many single ground spices and spice blends have tested high in hidden gluten. It is important to use due diligence on the spice issue; call the company and ask if the spice or spice blend you are using has been tested for gluten.
Gluten is sneaky.
Remember- hidden gluten can be found in soy sauce, BBQ and stir-fry sauces, marinades, gravy, gravy mixes and gravy packets, broth and bouillon, trendy cooking sauces, instant soups, salad dressings, cured meats, sausages, hot dogs, vegan hot dogs and "fake" meat, flavored seitan, sausages and burgers, self-basting poultry, flavored and herb cheeses... you get the idea.
Watch for spice blends including curry powder, dry mustard (may be combined with flour) and ground spices such as cinnamon or cardamon. Check labels on canned and prepared foods and soups, fruit pie fillings and desserts using flour as a thickener; tomato paste, flavored sweeteners, confectioner's powdered sugar and brown sugar, prepared beverages, flavored and instant coffees, herbal teas (watch for barley or "natural flavors"), roasted, flavored or spiced nuts, jerky, flavored yogurts, puddings and ice creams, chocolate and chocolate chips, cocoa powder and instant cocoa mixes, flavored vinegars (avoid malt vinegar, and fake "balsamic" flavored vinegar), cooking wines, flavored liqueur and liquor, wine coolers (malt). Always read labels. Call the manufacturer.
Eating out is very, very risky.
Be aware that delis, take out food carts and restaurants may add flour to thicken soups, stews, and sauces. Some chefs add pancake mix to make an egg omelette, or use breadcrumbs to add 'body' to tuna or chicken salad. Ask your server.
THIS: Reused boiled water. Excited because gluten-free pasta is on the menu? Guess what. Gluten-free pasta might be boiled in the same pots of water used for wheat pasta (and some kitchens blanch fresh veggies in their gluten-ed pasta water).
Fry oil is reused. Avoid French fries and other fried foods that are fried in the same oil with wheat breaded foods (fried onion rings, batter coated fish, veggies, tempura, meat and chicken); ask if the flyer oil is dedicated to gluten-free food only- if not- the oil is not gluten-free.
The good news is, more and more chefs are keeping a dedicated fryer for gluten-free customers.
So What Is Gluten-Free?
Alternative grains, flours, starches and thickeners that are generally acceptable and appear to be safe* for celiac disease and gluten intolerance include:
Non-GMO cornmeal, corn flour and cornstarch, grits, polenta Buckwheat, buckwheat cereal, kasha and buckwheat flour.
Plain Rice- white, brown, risotto, basmati, jasmine, sticky rice (sushi rice), rice flakes and rice hot cereal.
Rice flour- white rice, sweet (sticky) rice and brown rice flour.
Quinoa, quinoa cereal flakes, and quinoa flour.
Millet and millet flour.
Sorghum flour (also known as jowar).
Amaranth and amaranth flour, teff flour.
Certified gluten-free oats and oatmeal (milled from a dedicated GF source and labeled as such).
Coconut flour, nut meals and flours- almond, chestnut, pecan, cashew.
Chick pea flour, garbanzo flour, soy (soya) and bean flour.
Cassava flour/starch, tapioca starch/tapioca flour (aka manioc), potato starch/flour, sweet potato and yam flour, arrowroot starch
*These flours and starches are safe if milled and packaged in a dedicated GF facility/source. Check with companies to determine if they are using allergen safety protocols, and a gluten-free facility. Look for a 'Certified Gluten-Free' Label.
Pre-made ingredients that are often safe* include:
Non-GMO corn tortillas, chips, and taco shells (if fried in a dedicated GF fryer).
Pre-made organic polenta rolls with a gluten-free label.
100% Corn pasta and corn with rice pasta with a gluten-free label.
Quinoa and corn pasta with a gluten-free label.
Chickpea pasta, soy pasta with a gluten-free label.
Brown and white rice pasta, rice noodles, rice glass noodles with a gluten-free label.
100% buckwheat soba noodles (check label).
Rice paper, rice and tapioca rice paper wraps (check label).
100% nut butters- almond, peanut, cashew, pecan.
100% seed butters- sesame tahini, sunflower and hemp seed butter.
As always, call the manufacturer to determine cross contamination probability and risk. Some companies (including bakeries, local vendors and restaurants) are not 100% gluten-free, despite sporting a GF label or claim on a menu (frustrating, I know). Call and discuss best manufacturing practices and allergen safety protocols to evaluate your risk.
Converting Baking Recipes to Gluten-Free
When it comes to converting your favorite baking recipes to gluten-free, a simple one-to-one flour substitution will not yield the same results as your recipe based on wheat flour. Gluten is a giving, stretchy ingredient that supports rise, structure, texture and kneadablity. It takes more than a single gluten-free flour replacement to make a cake, bread, muffin or cookie recipe work. A combination of gluten-free flours and starches with some xanthan gum added to improve viscosity is necessary for optimum results. If avoiding xanthan gum, try using a teaspoon of plain gelatin (or using flax seed gel). We've had great luck using plain gelatin instead of xanthan gum in our recipes.
Just starting out? Try using an all purpose gluten-free baking mix to replace the flour in your recipe. It often works. If you are disappointed in the results, you might try the individual gluten-free flour combos we have come to love (see our recipes for our successes).
And one last note- Too many starches can yield a flavorless, gummy product with little nutritional value.
Disclaimer: The thoughts, information, and opinions expressed here on Gluten-Free Goddess Recipes are not intended to be a substitution for medical opinion. Seek dietary, nutritional, and medical advice from a board-certified physician or other healthcare professional. This information is offered as inspiration only, with a mutual acknowledgement (between you, Dear Reader, and me, recipe developer) that formulas, sources, and newer research continually change and may alter products, recipes, and risk.
My gluten-free pumpkin donut recipe.