Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Gluten Substitution

Disclaimer : These are just some of the ideas I have picked up over the years. I'm a parent, dragged kicking and screaming plunged into freefrom cooking and gradually finding my own way. I'm not a nutritionist, not a health professional, just a parent but one hoping to help others on my freefrom journey. 

Many Recipe Resource readers are "MEWS" free, which for those who don't know means "Milk, Egg, Wheat and Soy free". Increasingly however, children (more so than adults) with allergic gut disease are reacting at cell level to gluten - yet are NOT coeliac. I wrote here about the differences between Coeliac Disease and a Gut Allergy to Gluten. They are NOT the same thing. A person may indeed have gut allergies (non IgE responses rather than systemic whole body IgE reactions) AND Coeliac Disease but that is not because they have the same cause. What IS interesting however is that EGID is increasingly likely to have an autoimmune component.

For the purpose of this post, I'm focussing on ways of creating culinary perfection (or close to it!) WITHOUT gluten. Going gluten free is far more involved than removing wheat -but isn't as scary as it sounds.

SO how do you rework your diet to exclude Gluten? 

Here follows the Ultimate Cheat Sheet on going Gluten Free.

1. To exclude Gluten you need to know what it IS.
Wikipaedia states:-"Gluten (from Latin gluten, "glue") is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture."
And herein lies the problem.  Many grains contain gluten, and more are contaminated with it due to milling and production processes.

Image courtesy of Amy Myers Md

Gluten is potentially everywhere! You need to check, check, check and check again. Assume nothing.

2. Alternative names for Gluten.

Anything with "wheat" in the ingredients, however low on the list isn't remotely gluten free. Likewise beware of flour, malt (from barley unless otherwise specified), bulgur, semolina, spelt, frumento, durum (also spelled duram), kamut, graham, einkorn, farina, couscous, seitan, matzoh, matzah, matzo, and cake flour. Often marketed as a “wheat alternative,” none of these is even remotely gluten-free. More detail on an excellent site "Gluten Free for Dummies" here

There is excellent, fully comprehensive information on Coeliac UK on shopping gluten free, which symbols mean wheat/gluten free etc and how to avoid gluten.

Interesting fact:-
Wheat starch is actually wheat that’s had the gluten washed out. In some countries, a special type of wheat starch called Codex Alimentarius wheat starch is permitted on the gluten-free diet.
cracker stack image courtesy of thanunkorn at

3. Shopping Gluten free

There are now many brands which cater for those eating gluten free and it is becoming increasingly easy to source gluten free products and product replacements. Companies like Udi's, DS Gluten Free, Newburn Bakehouse, Juvela, Genius and supermarket brands all stock an ever increasing range. However, if you are already on a restricted diet this may not be of much help. Our GP practice will prescribe gluten free products as my twins have a diagnosis based on biopsy. However 90% of products available for prescription have soya in which we have to avoid! Multiple food exclusions usually means you are baking yourself...

4. Baking gluten free

Many recipes allow for straight substitutions. For example I bake regular sponge cakes with Dove's Farm flour, and although it contains some Xanthan Gum I usually add another teaspoon. Xanthan Gum is a sticky binding agent and replaces the sticky binding role gluten plays in regular wheat flour.

If, however your child is allergic or intolerant to the ingredients in the blended flours you can create your own from tolerated alternatives. Use the following chart to replace wheat/rice with your choice of flour(s).

4. Binding Agents

If your cannot use Xanthan Gum there are some alternative options to replace the elasticity and air trapping gluten brings. The air trapping is especially important because without being able to hold the CO2 made by yeast or baking soda, baked goods can’t rise. Elasticity makes dough more malleable, holding it together so that it doesn’t turn into a crumbly mess after baking!

You have to following to choose from:-
  • Eggs (rarely an option for allergic children so I won't pursue this although do see my Tiana coconut flour recipes if you tolerate eggs.)

  • Gums -Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide from fermentation of sugars and used in many food products. It also works as an emulsifier. Guar Gum is similar, coming from the Guar Bean. Both work well in baking. If combined together they thicken and have an effect greater than twice the original effect!

  • Gelatin such as Agar. This is a vegetarian/vegan option made from seaweed. Not great for baking and definitely better for more brittle products.

  • Flax Seed Meal/Chia -When hydrated the oils in the flax create a nice viscous solution more similar in baking properties to a gum. The starch granules become hydrated in a viscous solution and the expansion of air cells facilitates gelatinization of the starch which is the binding effect.

5.  Thinking outside the box

Sometimes, you need to stop thinking of replacement and start thinking alternatives. Do you need a bread alternative or a pasta substitute? Going gluten free can in fact be quite liberating, although tricky for a child with the aded bonus of suspicion around food and reliance on familiarity.

We are so conditioned in the West to reaching for wheat based carbohydrate than it can take a while to educate the mind AND the palate, but there are many exciting alternatives out there.

Avoiding wheat - meal alternatives

Think rice cakes, corn cakes, rice balls and rice noodles for lunches.

Cornbread as a savoury loaf with chilli or sweetened to make a cake.

Savoury Pancakes with Buckwheat and filled with veg and pulse based mixtures.

Potato cakes, with lentil burgers and tomato sauce.

Lasagna using vegetables sliced to make the layers.

Think basic, natural and fresh, then build up from there. There are increasing numbers of Paleo dietary foods and these are grain free and naturally gluten free and generally healthy. We have become so reliant on wheat and other grains that our overly processed diet is dependent on them. Going gluten free can be tough at first, but you can get used to it. Ensure your child gets sufficient protein to fill them up though - fruit and veg are great but are not very satisfying.


  1. really useful, my step mum can't eat gluten and I struggle to feed her sometimes

  2. This is extremely useful post. Thank you.
    So far I didn't have to cook gluten-free but you never know.

  3. I count myself as very lucky as none of us has discovered any food intolerances - not yet anyway.

  4. Really useful post, I am glad to see more and more food becoming available which is gluten free x

  5. I really didn't realise how much gluten is present in things that I thought would be okay for a gluten free diet!

  6. I am so lucky we don't need a gluten free diet

  7. What an amazing resource. Thank you for putting it together

  8. Great post and very useful

  9. useful my mother in law has to be gluten free

  10. I tried making gluten free gingerbread men but they were awful. Thanks for the tips I may try again!

  11. Great resource Kate, I'll be sharing this with people I know who are gluten free

  12. Wow, this is a world I know nothing about! I have a few gluten free flours in the cupboard in the hope I would attempt some gluten free baking but I never had the guts! I may be a step closer now!! Thanks for linking up to #thelist! Hxxx


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