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What is gluten?


watch for hidden gluten

Gluten is one of the proteins found in certain grains. When consumed, this protein triggers an autoimmune response (akin to an allergic reaction) in those individuals who are gluten-intolerant. The gluten protein is present in wheat, barley, and rye, and it contaminates other foods grown near these grains.

Since these are common grains in a Western European diet, it’s difficult to avoid them without learning a new skill: carefully reading the labels on food products. The ingredients of most processed foods you’re likely to find at the market contain hidden gluten, all of which should be avoided while on a gluten-free diet. It’s very important to learn what to look for to avoid gluten in your diet.

Wheat contains gluten

The proteins in wheat are called gliadin and gluten. Wheat can be found in “graham flour”, “farina”, “matzo”, “seitan” (“wheat meat”), wheat berries, wheat germ, wheat grass, wheat gluten, wheat nut, wheat protein, wheat starch, glucose syrup, "modified food starch". Wheat is one of the major allergens and will usually warrant a special label. Watch for it. Types of wheat include bulgur, durum, einkorn, emmer, kamut, semolina, spelt, tricale.

Barley contains gluten

The protein in barley is called hordein. Barley is present in many foods under the labels of “malt”, "maltose", “flavorings”, and “colorings”. This one is tricky since barley is not a major allergen and won’t have a special label. Many non-dairy milk substitutes will have undisclosed barley enzymes. Read carefully.

Rye contains gluten

The protein in rye is called secalin. Rye is commonly fermented for many types of alcohol. Rye is not a major allergen so you’ll need to read carefully to find it. Rye breads normally contain a large amount of wheat, by the way.

Oats may or may not contain gluten

The protein in oats is called avenin. Oats are found in oat bran, oat fiber, and oat gum.

Officially oats are gluten-free. However, 10% of all people who are gluten intolerant react to them because the proteins are very similar. Most avoid eating them because most oats (gluten-free or not) are heavily cross-contaminated with wheat. There are special gluten-free oats available if you would like to test your reaction to them.

Gluten free substitutions

Any recipe can be converted to be gluten-free if you take the time to convert it properly. Begin with the question: is your original recipe measured in cups or by weight? If measured in cups, convert your cups of wheat-based flour to cups of gluten free flours. If by weight, convert your weight of gluten flour to the same total weight in gluten free flours.

You may need to make slight adjustments to the cooking times depending on the flour(s) chosen.

For one cup of wheat-based flour, substitute these flours:

For one tablespoon of wheat-based flour, substitute these starches:

For one cup of cake flour, substitute these starches:

Note: There will be some slight texture differences depending on the starch chosen.

For gluten-free cooking, you can also simply take whatever weight of gluten-containing flour and use the same weight of gluten free flour. Just remember to tare your kitchen scale to account for the weight of the bowl! Please note that certain flours such as coconut might require adjustments to the liquid content of your recipe.

Weight of one cup of flour:

Note: Coconut flour should be substituted by weight to wheat flour in 1:3 ratio and will require 2 eggs + 1/3 cup liquid to be added to the recipe for every 40 grams of coconut flour.

Don’t we need to substitute with a blend of gluten free flours?

Not really. I find that a blend of gluten free flours tends to overcomplicate recipes. There is no reason you need to combine eight different flours to get something to use in baking. It is simply a matter of choosing an appropriate gluten free flour for your particular recipe. Use common sense. Don’t use bean flours for cakes. Don’t use gummy starches like tapioca for chiffon and angel food cake. Don’t use potato flour for any recipe that doesn’t list it as an ingredient in the first place unless you want the recipe to taste like potatoes. Don’t expect a lot of nutrition from recipes made solely of sweet rice flour or corn starch.

Are you making a leavened or yeasted bread? For recipes such as bread dough that would require gluten action, it is generally better to include a mix of gluten free flours in your recipe to more closely mimic gluten flours (generally part flour and part starch). This is also the only time that I would recommend the use of gums such as guar gum or xanthan gum. If the gluten in wheat-based flours is required for the recipe, you will need that extra binder. If you can't use a gum, add an extra egg for the binder.

However, if your recipe notes “do not overmix”, gluten is undesirable. Substitute flours as you see fit in this case.

Flour substitution guide

If you are trying to match a particular flour texture, these are what I find as good substitutes:

Note that this is just a guide. Your mileage may vary.