Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to NOT Poison Your Gluten-Free Friends

Contributer Liz Bean is a whiz in the kitchen - and an expert on avoiding gluten. Do your Celiac friends a huge favor and read on to learn how you, too, can defeat this sneaky allergen:
First things first, getting “glutened” is no fun anytime, but especially at a party.  A Celiac's options are often A) bring your own food with you or B) starve. Some well-meaning party hosts will make gluten-free options available - which is great! - but all it takes is a contaminated utensil or a party guest dipping a slice of bread, and now that dish is off-limits, too.
So where does gluten come from?
In a nutshell, Celiacs (your Gluten-Free Friends) cannot have anything containing:  wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats.  A note about oats – while oats themselves do not contain gluten, they are often processed on the same lines, or cultivated on the same machines as wheat, rye, and barley, so the cross-contamination threat is very high.  Many Celiacs are told to not eat oats until they are told by their doctors that they can re-introduce steel-cut gluten-free oats back into their diet, so it’s best to stay away from them as a precaution.
If you are planning to cook for your gluten-free friends, you should find out how sensitive they are.   Cross-contamination is a show stopper!  It can come from baking pans, utensils, food storage containers, cutting boards, strainers, etc.  I happen to be a very sensitive Celiac, so I cordon off my own cutting boards, spatulas, whisks, utensils and try to make sure that nobody uses those in general.  If you have gluten-free friends over often, think about getting a vinyl cutting board that you save for those occasions when you are cooking for them.  Invest in parchment paper or a silicone baking mat that you use only for gluten-free baking to avoid cross-contamination, and make sure your surfaces are spotless before you start cooking. 
To avoid cross-contamination with other foods you might be making, make the gluten-free items first! And if you're making gluten-free dips, either make sure there are no glutenous items within reach - OR give your Celiac friends a little bowl of their own before you send the rest of the dip out into the world. 
Gluten! What an unpleasant surprise.
You would be amazed at all the places that gluten is hiding. Here are the last places you would think to look:

Salad Croutons – may seem obvious to some, but I can’t tell you how many times restaurants have put croutons on my salad and are confused when I can't eat it…well croutons are made from bread, and bread is made from wheat flour, thus…gluten.
Nuts! – A lot of nuts have been processed with wheat, check your labels.
Bulk Bins – Even if what you’re buying is gluten free, you have no idea what was in there before, and if it was cleaned properly, or at all.  Stay away from using products from bulk bins when cooking for your gluten free friends!
Processed Meat – lunch meat!  Gluten…used as a filler!  Why?  Don’t know, but it happens.
Sushi – sometimes sushi fish or fillings are marinated, or the rice is doused with a type of vinegar that has wheat in it, you must check your vinegar if you make your own sushi…or just don’t use it!
Chicken broth – some are gluten-free and are noted on the container, if it doesn’t say “Gluten Free” don’t use it.
Reduced-Fat Products – Often they make up for the lack in fat by using thickening agents and flavor replacers like gluten. 
Soy Sauce – soy sauce and tamari have wheat.  Look for Gluten-Free Soy Sauce by Kikkoman or San-J. 
Gravy, Sauces, Marinades and Salad Dressings – many sauces used in cooking have gluten as a thickening agent!
Cooking/Baking Spray – more often than not have wheat in them to prevent sticking. 
Pudding or Pie Fillings – uses gluten as a thickener sometimes. 
Beer – Yep, made from barley or mixes of barley, hops, etc.
Tea – SOME tea (mostly herbal tea) has wheat, so just check your labels before offering it to your guests!

Take a hike, Gluten!
There are SO many products on the market now to use as alternatives to gluten-containing items. 
Grains and Flours that Celiacs CAN have:
Quinoa (Go with the Harvest Brand, as Eden has had some cross contamination issues),
Polenta (YUM!)
Buckwheat (despite its name, Buckwheat is NOT related to wheat and contains no gluten)
Potatoes, and sweet potatoes
Good news!
While some products have hidden gluten, many brands do not. Here's a list of Celiac-approved options:
Chicken Broth – Safe brands include: Progresso, Swanson, Pacific Foods, Imagine Foods, Kitchen Basics, and some Trader Joe’s broths - just make sure you check the label!
Gluten-Free Soy Sauce – you can find these in most grocery stores now; Kikkoman or San-J both have gluten/wheat-free Soy Sauce and Tamari, check the label to make sure.
Gluten-Free Pasta, Bread, Baking Mixes for Cookies, Cake, Pizza Crust and more are available in many grocery stores, Whole Foods Market, and health food stores.
Gluten-Free Flours – King Arthur makes great gluten-free all-purpose flour now, and it’s available in most grocery stores.  There is also Bob’s Red Mill flour mixes and baking mixes. 
Gluten-Free Crackers – Mary’s Gone Crackers are great and come in a variety of flavors - they’re tasty, and healthy!  Glutino also makes some decent crackers that everyone would enjoy.
Salad Dressings – Annie’s makes a lot of naturally gluten-free salad dressings.
Pudding/Pie Filling – Jell-O Brand is generally gluten-free, check the ingredient list.
Gluten-Free Beer – There are a few on the market:  Redbridge, Green’s, Bard’s Tale, New Grist.
Your gluten-free friends will be thrilled that you went to the trouble to make something for them, and if you have any doubts about a products you are buying, just ask them; they’ll probably know.  Be sure to alert other guests of which items are gluten-free, and make sure utensils aren’t used for other things and then put back into the gluten-free dish.  I would be prepared and save labels of items you use, just in case your friends have questions about what you used, how it was prepared, etc.  Good luck!


  1. this is a really helpful guide! thanks Liz B

  2. Really,isn't evolution supposed to weed out these folks?

  3. Yes, Jason, it was also supposed to weed out asthmatics, the near-sighted, people with high cholesterol and everyone with a ruptured appendix.

    Evolution has been on vacation for over a hundred years - let's keep it that way.