Essential Guide to Gluten Free
Your Essential Guide to Gluten Free – The dos and don’ts when living gluten-free
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the given name for a family of proteins which are found in grains – predominantly wheat, barley and rye. It often acts as a glue to hold food together and help it maintain its shape.
What’s it Commonly Found In?
Bread: Most everyday varieties of bread are made from wheat flour and therefore contain gluten. Even rye bread, which people often assume is healthier because of its dense texture and deep brown colour, is a no-go for those on a gluten-free diet, as rye is one of the ‘big 3’ gluten-guilty grains.
Cereal: Breakfast cereals, such as granolas, rice pops, frosted flakes and even porridge oats can contain gluten, or may have been produced in an establishment which deals with gluten products and therefore could be cross-contaminated.
Pasta: The basis of the large majority of pastas is flour and, hence, most pastas will be choc-a-bloc with gluten.
Cakes: Again, the gluten in cake is most commonly due to the flour used; however, some flavourings and even some varieties of chocolate, which you might use in baking, can contain elements or traces
Sauces: Flour is often used as a thickener in sauces, and even some brands of ketchup and mustard contain traces of gluten.
Couscous: Made from coarsely-ground wheat and flours, couscous is actually a miniature pasta and is not gluten-free.
Beer: Barley, water, hops and yeast, as we know are the key ingredients in beer. Therefore, the majority of beers contain gluten. Fortunately, however, most coeliacs can safely drink gin and other spirits, because the distillation process usually removes the gluten.
Seitan: Made from wheat gluten, seitan is most definitely not gluten-free, which is unfortunate for those following a vegan gluten-free diet, but there are many other meat alternatives to choose from.
Are you intolerant, allergic OR coeliac, and what’s the difference?
Many people can find they have developed an intolerance to gluten; this is known by Coeliac UK as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and can lead to stomach discomfort, as sufferers have trouble digesting wheat. This can result in bloating, wind, stomach pain, vomiting or toilet troubles.
If the symptoms pertain more to itching, sneezing and wheezing, the NHS suggests this may be a wheat allergy rather than intolerance. To confirm whether or not this is the case, those suffering from similar symptoms should seek the advice of their doctor and possibly undergo a diagnostic test.
A very serious form of gluten-induced illness is coeliac disease. According to Coeliac UK, when sufferers consume gluten, their immune system attacks its own tissues. Symptoms can range from bloating and diarrhoea to mouth ulcers, sudden or unexpected weight loss and even anaemia – hence why it is so important to seek medical advice, as even if you are only suffering from mild symptoms, these could be indicative of a more serious illness.
If coeliac sufferers continue eating gluten on a long term basis this could lead to serious damage to the lining of the gut, which will mean the body cannot effectively absorb nutrients from food.
Some handy alternatives
Quinoa: Naturally gluten-free, quinoa is packed full of fibre and also contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It’s easy to prepare and makes a great alternative to couscous or pasta.
Gluten-free flour: Brown rice, tapioca and almond flours can act as a wheat flour substitute for those on a gluten-free diet, while certified gluten-free plain and self-raising flours are made from a mix of these naturally non-gluten ingredients, and are great for baking breads and sweet treats.
What is xanthan gum?
Made through fermenting bacteria, Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide (a type of carbohydrate made up of sugar molecules) that is a total game-changer when it comes to gluten-free cooking. When making gluten-free dough, the xanthan gum will provide elasticity and stickiness, which is difficult to achieve without gluten. It can also be used as a thickener or stabiliser – to stop ingredients separating.
5 top tips for gluten-free baking
- Never forget your xanthan gum: A cake, dough or even a cookie made using gluten-free flour, could be a crumbly mess if made without xanthan gum. The gum is an essential part, as it will ensure the bake retains moisture, shape and a delicious texture.
- Perfect pastry means more water: It’s important to add enough water to gluten-free pastry to rehydrate the flour. As always, make sure the dairy-free butter is cold, too, and if it’s too crumbly to roll, try pressing it straight into your tin.
- Brave homemade bread: Making your first gluten-free loaf may be scary, as the mixture often appears wetter than traditional dough and sometimes doesn’t require as much kneading. Don’t shy away from it though – making your own bread can save you the hours of scanning the free-from bread section for vegan-friendly GF loafs.
- Keep it separate: As you might imagine, keeping gluten-free foods very separate from those containing gluten is key. If you’re cooking for a gluten-free loved one make sure to clean your hands, utensils and cooking areas before starting, as,
for a coeliac, cross-contamination could be dangerous.
- Mix it up: A single-grain flour, such as quinoa or buckwheat flour will not effectively replace the levels of starch and protein found in traditional flours. Therefore, it’s often better to mix different GF flours together or rely on specially-formulated gluten-free plain or self-raising flours.
Find lots of gluten free ingredient alternatives in our glossary.
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