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Rita Greer's Helpful Kitchen Handbook
By Rita Greer
Souvenir PressCopyright © 2013 Rita Greer
All rights reserved.
Gluten-Free – What Does it Mean?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a transparent, rubbery, sticky protein found in wheat, rye and barley. A different kind is found in oats, called avenin – more about that later. Gluten is what enables us to bake shaped bread, make cakes that will hold up fruit, crisp biscuits, pastry, thickened soups and sauces and baking that doesn't just fall into a heap of crumbs. Gluten holds things together and smooths things out. It has been in man's diet for thousands of years. The best gluten is in wheat and most of us eat it several times a day without even noticing it. We are nourished by it, but, for some it is banned from the diet and for them a gluten-free diet is essential.
What does 'a gluten free diet' mean?
Quite simply, it means a different lifestyle of eating food without any gluten containing grains. There are no pills to help so it has to be a particular diet without wheat, rye, barley (and possibly oats) as all these contain gluten. If people who shouldn't be eating gluten continue to eat it on a regular basis they can become very ill and stay ill, or worse.
Up to the middle of the 20th century, nothing was understood about gluten making chidren and adults unwell and could even cause them to die prematurely because they kept on eating gluten, unaware it was the cause of their deteriorating health. Babies who had been healthy on a diet of milk did not thrive when weaned and given solid food which contained gluten. It was all very tragic, inexplicable and mysterious. You can see, for some people a gluten-free diet is not just a silly fad. These people need it for their very survival.
When it was first discovered, after the second world war, that some people who had been denied wheat did much better without it and then became worse again when it came back into their diet. White coated men in laboratories answer to the problem was to take the gluten out of wheat and just use the starch for 'bread'. This particular bread was mainly distributed through pharmacies and prescribed by a medical practitioners in UK. It was kept out of sight of the general public and it wasn't allowed to be advertised or displayed. It wasn't until years later that women in aprons in domestic kitchens got to work on the practical side of the problem that things began to change. Blends with a mixture of naturally gluten-free starches and a binder were designed to mimic wheat. There was a great effort to make the lot of the gluten-free dieter better and cookery books began to appear. By the 21st century this kind of exclusion diet necessary for coeliacs (pronounced seelee-acks) was being used by others suffering a variety of complaints – MS, IBS, arthritis, dermatitis, ME, allergies, bloating, some kinds of arthritis etc.Because the special gluten-free food is eaten at home the medical profession has no real control over it, so it is not like taking prescribed pills. More people adopt a gluten-free diet by their own choice than people medically diagnosed and advised to do it. Providing a sensible, balanced gluten-free diet is enjoyed, such a diet is no threat to anyone's health. Millions of people, all over the globe are on such a diet quite by accident because they live in countries where wheat is not the main source of food.
Who would have thought there was any harm in eating bread for some people? Unfortunately, there is and it is not just bread but everything made with wheat flour –- rolls, scones, pastry, cakes, biscuits, pasta etc. – the obvious food made with wheat flour. And it isn't just wheat, it is barley and rye too and maybe oats. The main problem with wheat flour (which contains gluten) is, because it has such useful and amazing properties, it finds its way into a lot of manufactured foods for various reasons such as thickening sauces and coating food before frying, making mixtures smooth and combining with other weaker flours. Ordinary wheat flour is made stronger to give better baking results by adding extra gluten. There seems to be no escape.
(A word here about rice as it is described as 'glutinous'. Note the spelling 'in' instead of 'en'. Glutinous merely means sticky. It doesn't mean there is gluten in rice.)
Gluten pops up where least expected and you can't see it or taste it. Its presence is not obvious and it doesn't have to be used in large quantities to cause trouble to a gluten-free dieter. The food industry loves it. It needs keeping an eye on, especially when manufacturers suddenly change their formulas. Think of it as an invisible enemy.
There is also the problem of contamination. Sometimes foods which are actually gluten-free are processed and packed in factories where gluten- containing foods are also processed and packed, allowing gluten to get into them.
Naturally gluten-free food
Fortunately, there are many kinds of food which are naturally gluten-free. It is no coincidence that most of them are unprocessed. In a healthy diet they will make up over three quarters of what you eat. Here they are.
All fresh and frozen plain fruit
All fresh and frozen plain vegetables
All fresh and frozen plain meat, poultry
All fresh and frozen plain fish and shellfish
All fresh eggs
All plain cheeses
All fresh milk, butter and cream
Most margarines; sunflower, maize, extra virgin olive, soya, safflower oils
(Avoid margarines and salad dressings with wheatgerm oil.)
The problem foods are that other one quarter – bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta, crispbreads, scones, cookies, pastries, crumpets, buns, pancakes, pastry, crumble toppings, breakfast cereals, confectionery, cake decorations, chutney, table sauces, some canned vegetables, bedtime drinks, soups – the list goes on ... Food in packets, in cans, on the shelves, in the freezers. These are the foods that need to be replaced with gluten-free versions and these are the foods that demand a different lifestyle. You can see by the basic list they are mostly foods with a high level of carbohydrate. A new gluten-free diet will mean gluten-free carbohydrates. Don't panic! Rice, potatoes, sweet-corn and bananas are all high in carbohydrates and are widely available. In their natural form they are all gluten-free. There are others in the form of flours – rice flour, cornflour, potato flour and gram (chickpea) flour. All these are naturally gluten-free too. There are others which are not so easy to come by. However, none of them can be said to be completely gluten-free if they have been contaminated by wheat/rye/barley and possibly oats during processing/storage or packaging.
Although the situation has improved regarding labeling of ingredients, manufacturers on the whole are not geared to the gluten-free dieter –- there are not enough of them to worry about. Any of the following listed on a product might mean gluten as they don't make it clear. If in doubt avoid.
flour, thickener, rusk
special edible starch, modified starch, food starch
corn, starch, *cornflour/cornstarch, cereal
binding, binder, cereal protein, edible starch,
vegetable protein, MSG, wheat glucose-sucrose.
MSG is a flavour enhancer which can be made from several things, including wheat.
*'Corn' in some countries means any kind of grain, not just maize. When buying cornflour always check that it is maize and not some other grain.
Here is a list of ingredients that are made from wheat/rye/ barley or oats. (This book is not just for coeliacs but for people who need to avoid all contact with wheat, rye and barley and oats. The jury is still out on oats for some people. See chapter 14 for more information on oats.)
Ingredients/foods made from grains that contain gluten
wheat bran, wheat flour, wheat berries, wheatmeal, wheat protein, wheat starch wholewheat, cracked wheat, kibbled wheat, durum wheat, wheat fructose-sucrose, wheatgerm, wheatgerm oil
semolina couscous pourgouri burghul, bulghar, bulgar wheat granary flour rye meal, rye flour, rye flakes barley meal, barley flour, pearl barley, barley flakes, pot barley, barley malt malt vinegar, malt
Oats(contain avenin, a kind of protein similar, but not the same as gluten).
oats, porridge oats, rolled oats, jumbo oats, oat flakes, oatbran, oatgerm, oatmeal, pinhead oatmeal, medium and fine oatmeal, oatmilk
Gluten might be in the following. Annoyingly, it might not. You need to check labels before you buy and use. Always check to avoid a mistake.
baby foods, baked beans, baking powder, batter and pancake mixes, biscuits and biscuit mixes, blancmange, breakfast cereals, burgers cakes, cake mixes, chocolate, chocolates, chutney, cocoa, drinking chocolate, coffee (cheap brands), communion wafers, corned beef, cornflour (cornstarch),cream (non-dairy), crispbreads, crisps (flavoured) crumble topping mix, curry powder, custard (ready-made), custard powder mayonnaise, meat with stuffing/coatings, muesli, made mustard pancakes, pancake mixes, pastas, pastry, pastry mixes, pepper (white, catering) pickles, pie fillings, porridge, potato (instant), puddings salad dressings, sandwich spreads, sauces, sausages, snack nibbles, soups (mixes/tins/packets) soy sauce, spaghetti, spreads, desserts/instant puddings, fish in crumbs/ batter/coatings, gravy powder/mixes, ice cream, macaroni, malt, sprouted grains, stock cubes/powder/ pastes, pâtés, stuffing, mixes for stuffing, suet, sweets, flavoured yoghurts
Because gluten can appear in all these you need to read the labels and to find gluten-free versions if there are any, otherwise make them yourself at home. Sometimes there are not any labels to read and this requires knowledge and caution.
Freshly ground black pepper is safest. (A catering establishment trick is to stretch white pepper with wheat flour.) You can buy small, pocket-sized grinders for black pepper to carry around with you from good kitchen shops.)
Some coeliacs and allergics also have a problem with lactose which is found in milk. There are several kinds of lactose-free milks and products on the market. You will find these at the supermarket or health store.
Reading the ingredients boxes on products
Some packets and tins are so small the print needs to be read with a magnifying glass. Buy a pocket size one from an opticians. (This isn't a joke, I mean it.) There are all kinds of rules and regulations about labeling and gluten-free comes under this legislation. If a food has more than 20 parts per million of gluten it cannot be labeled as 'gluten free'. Between 21 parts and 100 parts per million, foods have to be labelled 'very low gluten'. Something called the Codex Alimentarius allows wheat starch for a gluten-free diet for coeliacs. This would not be good for a wheat allergic and it is hardly nourishing or easy to use. After processing out as much of the gluten as possible it is still not completely gluten free. In spite of this it is legal to label it 'gluten-free'.
For foods that might be contaminated with gluten there are strict codes. These are not deliberately contaminated in some hate campaign, it just happens during processing and packing when they are done on the same premises. Manufacturers cannot be expected to maintain special dedicated premises and machinery just for the gluten-free community, which forms only a small part of the total population. Manufacturers are in a difficult position, especially those who export to the UK. Some of them are frightened of being sued and prefer to just put 'not suitable for a gluten-free diet'. or 'may contain ...' This is an easy option for them. Increased regulation seems to be leading to manufacturers being put off being helpful and they mainly have to be trusted to tell the truth on their packaging, as there is no army of inspectors going around testing their products. Gluten-free dieters will only ever be a small percentage of the population and this has to be faced.
Most people have no understanding of the practical problems of a gluten-free diet. A good example of this is the problem of communion wafers. At one time there was no such thing as gluten-free communion wafers. Now there are, often a different shape such as square. When these are offered at communion they can often be mixed together on the communion plate.
In bakeries, food production units and mills where wheat is processed there is a great deal of flour with gluten. It hangs into the air in a sort of mist, it gets all over everything – staff overalls, under their fingernails and on their skin. To avoid contamination there would have to be a 'dedicated' unit away from the source of contamination with different staff and a completely different environment. The costs would be enormous. It is recognized as a problem to allergics as manufacturers are now inclined to put cautions on their products, warning allergics not to eat them rather than take the risk. Sesame seeds, nuts and wheat seem to be the main offenders which can be processed, packed and stored in an undedicated factory. Gluten-free dieters would be wise to heed this kind of warning.
At home, in the kitchen, the risk of contamination is high if food is not kept separate, with dedicated aprons, baking tins, a dedicated toaster reserved exclusively for gluten-free toast and baking and handling food with clean hands and fingernails. Wheat flour dust is a problem. If you start baking in a clean kitchen and you have both gluten-free and wheat baking to do, tackle the gluten-free first before wheat contamination can take place. As soon as food is cold it can be wrapped in food film. Dedicated containers for biscuits, cakes and bread are necessary and storage space in the kitchen for gluten-free food should be separate from the rest of the kitchen.
See chapter 14 for different approaches to coping with a gluten-free diet as there are more ways than one of dealing with it. Choose one to suit your way of life.
Take some comfort from the list of naturally gluten-free foods. If you feel you ought to lean in that direction you could be on the verge of going over to a much healthier diet either for yourself or the person for whom you are providing food.
A healthy gluten-free diet could be the best news you could ever have as it will stop you eating thousands of junkfoods!CHAPTER 2
Shopping, Kitchen Cupboard and Equipment
With a gluten-free diet in the house, shopping will not be the same. If you are trying to buy a somewhat obscure product, telephone or E-mail supermarkets or health food stores. Go on the internet to find alternative suppliers if you can. You may have to buy in more than you need right away so as not to run out if a regular supply is not possible.
If a product says 'store in a cool dry place' it doesn't mean the fridge.
Some items you will be able to buy on your usual shopping expedition– fresh or frozen meat and fish, vegetables and fruit. If you are shopping in a large supermarket there will probably be a 'free from' section with quite a number of items marked 'gluten-free'. (Some will definitely not be gluten-free.) Study the prices. They will be higher in price than ordinary food so choose carefully and avoid buying too much. Supermarkets are more interested in you buying finished products, not the raw materials for baking your own gluten-free items at home. They know homemade is cheaper.
If you think for a moment there could be confusion in your own kitchen about what is gluten-free and what isn't, it is a good idea to mark products and ingredients with a sticker, especially when the new regime begins. An office shop will have tiny stickers, otherwise use stick-on address labels and write on them by hand, including the date. For the freezer you will need a special pen that can cope with writing being frozen and one which will write on plastic bags.
Here is a list of the new ingredients you may need. ('Large' packs for gluten-free cooking are quite small in comparison with wheat flour.)
Starches to replace wheat
Potato flour – sometimes called 'farina' – supermarket 'free from' section or health store – buy 2 large packs.
Gram flour – this is made from chickpeas – supermarket 'free from' section or health store – buy a large pack.
Cornflour (pure maize) (large carton)– supermarket baking section or health store – buy 2 large packs.
Rice flour – health store or supermarket 'free-from' section – buy 2 large packs
Ground rice – a coarse kind of rice flour. Make sure you buy one from a dedicated mill/factory. One pack will last you ages.
Excerpted from Simply Gluten-Free by Rita Greer. Copyright © 2013 Rita Greer. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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