Gluten-Free Cuisine

by Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Gluten is a protein found in many grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, and triticale. It is present in many common foods, including breads, cereals, pastas, baked goods, convenience items, condiments, and beverages. When some people eat foods that contain gluten, their immune system damages their small intestine. Individuals who are ‘sensitive’ to gluten may be diagnosed with ‘celiac disease,’ which is also called gluten sensitivity, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, celiac sprue, celiac sprue disease, or non-tropical sprue. The terms ‘celiac disease’ and ‘gluten intolerant’ will be used in this article.

When someone who has celiac disease consumes any gluten, his or her immune system tries to ‘protect’ the body as it might if the person had consumed poison. This immune system response damages the small intestines and causes malabsorption of vital nutrients, such as iron, calcium, and folic acid, and of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K. This reaction can also lead to other medical problems, including continual gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea; lymphoma of the small intestine; unexplained weight loss; osteoporosis due to calcium malabsorption; constant fatigue or feelings of weakness; depression that does not respond to medications; unexplained anemia; fertility problems; and possibly birth defects. In addition to those symptoms, small children who are unaware that they have celiac disease may develop distended abdomens, unexplained discoloration of teeth, failure to thrive, and possibly related poor behavioral changes.

Having Celiac Disease Is NOT the Same as Having Wheat Allergies

Food allergies are different physiological processes than celiac disease. If someone has a wheat allergy, that person must avoid foods that contain wheat. Someone with a wheat allergy could eat a wheat-free or gluten-free product. However, if someone is sensitive to gluten, that person must avoid all grains that contain gluten, not just wheat. Someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance could not necessarily eat a wheat-free product because other grains that are used to make these products contain gluten.

How Do People With Celiac Disease Manage Their Condition?

There are more people who have celiac disease than you might think. Recent studies show that as many as one in 144 Americans has this condition. Just search the Internet or cruise the cookbook selections at a bookstore. There are many organizations and support groups for people who are gluten intolerant.

People with celiac disease keep their condition under control by following a strict gluten-free diet. When celiac patients avoid gluten completely, they give their small intestine a chance to heal and more properly absorb nutrients. A gluten-free regime must be followed at all times.

Avoiding gluten is not as easy as it sounds. Many companies process wheat in the same factories as they do gluten-free products. Labels need to be read carefully. Even certain brands of rice may say, “Processed in a plant with wheat-containing products.”

If people with celiac disease are preparing foods from scratch using unprocessed ingredients, then they will be able to prepare items that are gluten- or wheat-free. Arrowroot, cornmeal, soy, rice, tapioca, and potato products should be fine for most gluten-intolerant people. Processed items, such as spice blends, mashed potato mixes, and soup bases, will require celiac patients to read the labels very carefully or even contact manufacturers about their products.

Foods That Likely Contain Gluten

  • All foods that include wheat in the name, including wheat starch, wheat germ, wheat bran, whole wheat, and cracked wheat
  • Cooked or dried cereals made from wheat, rye, oats, and/or barley
  • Bread or bread products (crumbs, croutons, breadsticks) made from wheat, rye, oats, and/or barley
  • Cooked or dry pasta made with wheat, rye, oats, and/or barley, including macaroni and couscous
  • Any matzo product
  • Cookies and crackers made with wheat, rye, oats, and/or barley
  • Other grains, including spelt, kamut, triticale, semolina (durum wheat), farina, and bulgur
  • Tempeh, which may be combined with wheat
  • Vegan fake meats, which may have wheat or flour added
  • Convenience items, such as soups or soup mixes, cake mixes, pudding mixes, snack foods, and frozen entrées that may have wheat, rye, oats, barley, and/or other grains as ingredients
  • Bouillon, commercial vinegars, salad dressings, some soy sauces, and condiments, such as ketchup and vegan mayonnaise
  • Blended soy beverages, which may have added wheat products
  • Commercial chocolate beverage mixes and other drink mixes
  • Malt powder
  • Beer and ale, cereal beverages (such as Postum, rice milk, and oat milk), and root beer

Reading Labels for Gluten Content

When shopping for gluten-free items, you must become an avid label reader, and you will come across many ingredients while on your gluten-free hunt. Here is a short guide to some popular products and ingredients:

  • Amaranth - A healthy gluten-free plant similar to grains.
  • Buckwheat - Despite the name, buckwheat is gluten-free. Buckwheat is nutritious and adds variety to the gluten-free diet. It is no more likely to be contaminated with gluten than any other grain. However, buckwheat is sometimes mixed with wheat flour, so don’t assume that all buckwheat products are gluten-free. Always read the label.
  • Caramel Color - According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), caramel color can be made from barley malt. U.S. companies tend to use corn because it makes a better product. Check that the caramel color is both gluten-free and vegan.
  • Citric Acid - This ingredient is gluten-free.
  • Dextrin - Dextrin can be made from corn, rice, potatoes, arrowroot, tapioca, or wheat. Major dextrin-producing companies in the United States say that they use corn, but imported dextrin could be made from wheat.
  • Flavors - Flavors are tricky. It is often difficult to find out what is in a flavoring. According to the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association, gluten-containing grains are rarely used in flavoring, except in meat products and products that contain meat.
  • Malt - Although there is a slight chance that malt is made from corn, it is almost always derived from barley and, therefore, contains gluten. Malt extract, malt syrup, and malt flour are made from barley. Malt vinegar is often made from barley, and it is not distilled, meaning that it could contain gluten.
  • Maltodextrin - When a product in the U.S. includes the word “maltodextrin” on its label, this ingredient may be made from corn, potato, or rice, but it must not be made from wheat. Confusion comes from the name. Malt is usually made from barley and dextrin can be made from wheat, but maltodextrin is gluten-free. Recently, there has been some evidence that wheat might be used to produce maltodextrin. If this is the case, the label will specifically say “wheat maltodextrin” or “maltodextrin (wheat).”
  • Mono- and diglycerides - Mono- and diglycerides are fats and therefore gluten-free. There has been concern that food manufacturers might use a gluten-containing carrier to make these fats perform effectively in the manufacturing process. Research indicates that this rarely happens, and when it does, the gluten-containing carrier should be listed.
  • Oats - When wheat was identified as a cause of celiac disease, rye, barley, and oats were also included on the list of toxic grains, but in recent years, several well-respected research studies strongly suggest that oats do not belong on the list. Unfortunately, growing conditions and the grain’s appearance make it very likely that oats are contaminated with wheat. Therefore, U.S. celiac experts have not yet approved oats for the gluten-free diet.
  • Quinoa - An ancient grain-like plant from South America that is gluten-free. Quinoa is nutritious and adds variety to the gluten-free diet. It is no more likely to be contaminated with gluten than any other gluten-free plant.
  • Soy Sauce - Some (but not all) contain wheat. Read the label.
  • Spelt - Spelt is a form of wheat. In the past, some spelt producers have labeled their product as “gluten-free,” which is incorrect. Although those who are allergic to wheat may be able to tolerate spelt, it is still a form of wheat and, therefore, not gluten-free.
  • Spices and Seasonings - Pure spices are gluten-free. Bottled spices often contain an ingredient to keep the spice free-flowing. Usually, the ingredient is silicon dioxide, which is gluten-free. If a spice container does not have a list of ingredients on the label, the only thing it contains is the spice indicated. Sometimes, the contents of a seasoning are included on the label in parentheses. The FDA has not defined what constitutes seasonings, so they could contain any ingredient.
  • Starch - On a food label, starch always indicates cornstarch. That’s the only certainty. Although usually made from corn, modified food starch can be made from wheat. In pharmaceuticals, both starch and modified food starch can be made from wheat.
  • Vanilla - Vanilla and vanilla extract are gluten-free.
  • Wheat Starch - Wheat starch is wheat with the gluten washed out. A special grade of wheat starch is permitted on the gluten-free diet in some European countries. However, it is not permitted in the U.S. because the washing process is rarely complete, and wheat starch usually contains residual gluten.
  • Yeast - All brand-name packaged yeasts sold in the U.S. are gluten-free. Autolyzed (broken down by self-produced enzymes) yeast in a food product is generally considered gluten-free. When brewer’s yeast is a byproduct of beer, it is not considered gluten-free. Brewer’s yeast nutritional supplements, however, can be made from either brewer’s yeast or sugar. If the supplements are made from sugar, then they are gluten-free.

Note: The Wild Oats website has a very informative guide for gluten-free shopping. Also, most Trader Joe’s stores stock guides for gluten-free menus.

Foods That Are Likely Gluten-Free

The following foods are usually considered to be safe, as long as you know their origin. This means you processed them yourself, such as squeezing fresh orange juice, or you have read the label thoroughly.

  • Arrowroot
  • Baking soda
  • Fresh fruit and fruit juices
  • Fresh and frozen vegetables and vegetable juices
  • Beans and legumes
  • Amaranth
  • Some tofu and soymilk (Read the label, especially if flavored.)
  • Some rice and almond milks (Read the label.)
  • Nuts and seeds and flours made from them, such as almond flour
  • Corn products, such as cornstarch, corn flour, cornmeal, corn grits, corn bran, and hominy
  • Rice, including white, brown, basmati, jasmine, and Arborio varieties, and rice products, such as rice bran, polished rice, enriched rice, and rice flour. Wild rice is gluten-free, but it is difficult to find a commercial variety that does not contain some form of gluten in the ingredients list.
  • Millet, quinoa, flax, sorghum, and soy items and flours made from these ingredients
  • Buckwheat and kasha (Read the label to ensure that these products do not contain wheat.)
  • Carob
  • Tapioca
  • Tea and coffee

Cooking Gluten-Free

For gluten-free baking, you can use flour made from acceptable ground grains, such as corn or rice. You may be able to find flour made from potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, almonds, and lentils. Xanthan and guar gums are specialty ingredients used as thickeners. They can be used for gluten-free baking.

Many recipes can be made gluten-free. These are some helpful guidelines:

  • Focus only on the items in the recipe that need to be adapted. In other words, if you have a vegetable, bean, and pasta soup recipe, you only need to focus on an acceptable exchange for the pasta, not the non-wheat products.
  • Choose a recipe with very little flour; sometimes, the flour can be omitted. For example, a vegetable stew may call for a small amount of flour to thicken. Prepared mashed potatoes may do the trick.
  • Avoid recipes that rely on convenience foods.
  • Compare proportions. Given the same amount of liquid, it takes less cornstarch to thicken than wheat flour. Corn, nut, and lentil flours should take about the same proportion of wheat flour to liquid.
  • For breading vegetables or tofu, try cornmeal, potato flakes, crushed potato chips, gluten-free bread crumbs, or almost any mixture of rice, bean, or sorghum gluten-free flours.
  • For gravies and sauces, try rice flour or cornstarch. Read the product instructions for proportions of liquid or thickener and the cooking instructions. Remember that starches break down and thin under high heat or during long cooking or holding times.
  • To thicken sauces, try potato flakes or potato or rice flour.
  • For puddings and pie fillings, try cornstarch, potato starch, tapioca, or arrowroot.

Or simply try some of these gluten-free recipes.

Gluten-Free Menu Ideas

Breakfast

  • Rice cereal with soymilk and sliced seasonal fruit
  • Muffins made with soy flour, spread with gluten-free peanut butter and fruit preserves (Check the labels on the peanut butter and the preserves for gluten.)

Dinner

  • A green salad with raspberry vinaigrette (Check the label to make sure that the vinegar in vinaigrette is gluten-free.)
  • Tofu stir-fried with seasonal veggies (Check the label on the soy sauce before you use it in your stir-fry.)
  • Potatoes steamed with fresh herbs

Snacks

  • Rice cakes with salsa and guacamole
  • Seasoned gluten-free popcorn with vegetable sticks
  • Fresh fruit slices
  • Sorbet

See also: Gluten free diet and protein sources.

Recipe Index


Potato Biscuits

(Makes ten 2-inch biscuits)

  • 1 cup gluten-free flour, such as lentil flour or almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • ½ cup lowfat soymilk
  • Additional gluten-free flour to cover rolling surface
  • Vegetable oil spray

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Use a fork to blend margarine into dry ingredients. Add potatoes and blend. Add soymilk and mix until you have a soft dough.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a half-inch thickness. Spray a baking sheet with vegetable oil. Cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until biscuits are golden.


Note: To make sweet potato biscuits, add 3/4 cup mashed, cooked sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, 2/3 cup soymilk, and 3 Tablespoons vegan margarine. Bake at 450 degrees.

Total calories per serving: 90 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 436 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Strawberry Sauce

(Makes approximately 1-1/4 cups or ten 2-Tablespoon servings)

This sauce is smooth and thick, without flour or wheat products.

  • One 10-ounce package sweetened frozen strawberries, thawed and drained
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Thaw and drain the strawberries, reserving approximately a 1/2 cup of the liquid for later use.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, lemon juice, and strawberry liquid. Stir in the strawberries. Microwave on HIGH for 2-5 minutes, stirring at least twice during cooking, until the sauce is thickened and clear. Remove sauce from microwave, stir, and serve warm or cool.

Total calories per serving: 12 Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 3 grams Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 1 milligram Fiber: <1 gram

Gluten-Free Snack Mix

(Makes approximately 16 servings)

You can use this snack mix as a tasty cold cereal, or serve it as a topping for fruit or soy yogurt.

  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 cups gluten-free cold cereal
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup chopped pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, and/or walnuts
  • ⅓ cup hulled pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

In a small pan, heat syrup and margarine; stir and cook until margarine is melted.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized baking dish, combine cereal, coconut, nuts, and seeds and pack down to form a consistent layer. Pour margarine evenly over cereal mixture.

Allow snack mix to bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Store the finished snack mix at room temperature in an airtight container.

Total calories per serving: 103 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 2 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Gluten-Free Pecan Rice Dressing

(Makes approximately twenty 4-ounce servings)

  • 1 cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup minced parsley
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1-½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 8 cups cooked white or brown rice
  • 2 cups chopped pecans

In a large pot, melt margarine. Add onions, celery, and parsley and sauté over low heat until tender. Add seasonings and cooked rice and stir. Add pecans and heat, covered, approximately 10 minutes until warm.

Total calories per serving: 257 Fat: 18 grams
Carbohydrates: 21 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 183 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Gluten-Free Ginger and Date Bread

(Serves approximately 12-14)

This recipe can be used as a cake or a bread when you’re looking to serve a treat that is denser than traditional fruit breads. It freezes well.

  • 1 cup potato flour
  • ¼ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, softened
  • ½ cup brown sugar or dry vegan sweetener
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons silken tofu
  • ½ cup vegan sour cream or plain soy yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup dates, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses

Put all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and blend to combine.

Invert a saucer in the middle of the microwave or insert a microwave rack. Pour the batter into one 8" x 12" microwaveable baking dish or shallow casserole or two 8" x 4" microwaveable loaf pans. Microwave a 8" x 12" dish on HIGH for 5-8 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Microwave each of the 8" x 4" loaf pans separately on HIGH for 8-10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Total calories per serving: 154 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 28 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 115 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Sweet Potato Flan

(Serves 8)

  • 2 cups peeled, raw sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces (Start with 1-1/2 pounds of unpeeled sweet potatoes.)
  • 1 cup lowfat soymilk
  • 2 cups plain silken tofu
  • ½ cup beaten silken tofu
  • ½ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Vegetable oil spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the sweet potatoes until they are soft enough to mash with a fork, approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on thickness of the potatoes. Remove from oven and mash with a fork or with a food processor.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the soymilk and plain silken tofu together until just simmering. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, the beaten silken tofu, sugar, vanilla, and zest to combine. Slowly add the soymilk mixture, stirring constantly until combined.

Spray a 10" baking pan with vegetable oil and fill the pan with the sweet potatoes mixture. Fill a larger pan with two inches of water to oversteam the flan. Place the 10" pan into the larger pan.

Place the larger pan into the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven, remove the 10" pan from larger pan, and allow the flan to cool before serving.

Total calories per serving: 140 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 25 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 21 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Coconut Date Cookies

(Makes approximately 24 cookies)

  • ½ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 3 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 Tablespoons silken tofu
  • ½ pound dates, minced
  • 1-½ cups chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup grated coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly combine the sugar, margarine, and tofu. Add dates, walnuts, and coconut and mix well. Drop mixture by the teaspoonful, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until the cookies are golden brown. Do not overbake.

Total calories per cookie: 123 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 3 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

New England Cornmeal Pudding
(Indian Pudding)

(Makes twelve 4-ounce servings)

This is a flavorful, dense dessert, and you can freeze the leftovers for later use.

  • 6 cups plain or vanilla soymilk
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons egg replacer mixed with 7 Tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a double boiler, heat the soymilk until just below boiling. Reduce heat and slowly add cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly to smooth and prevent burning, until thickened, approximately 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Remove from heat. Distribute evenly into three ungreased 8" x 8" cake pans and bake for 2-1/2 hours or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Total calories per serving: 137 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 21 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Gluten-Free Brownies

(Makes twelve 2-inch brownies)

  • 1 cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • ½ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup silken tofu
  • ½ cup rice flour
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate syrup
  • ½ cup potato starch

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Thoroughly combine sugar and margarine. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow brownies to cool prior to cutting.

Total calories per brownie: 216 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 34 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 63 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram


See also:

Chocolate Coconut Cake (Gluten-free)
updated: October 13, 2016

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE, is VRG’s Food Service Advisor. She is the author of Vegan Menu for People with Diabetes and numerous cookbooks.