Gluten Free 101

Feb 21

The following is a lecture I prepared for our annual state innkeeper association meeting next week. I thought the overview was worth sharing. It’s geared toward innkeepers, but may be of use to others as well.

Gluten Free 101

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats (more on this). For those who have allergies, Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity it should be avoided. Oats are not technically a problem and gluten free oats are available, but often oats are processed in facilities with machines that also process wheat so you do have to be aware of what brand you are buying.

Why does it seem like there are so many more people going on gluten free diets? While it is true that more people are being diagnosed with wheat/gluten intolerances, there are also a lot of people who have the perception that if they go gluten free they will lose weight or that it is somehow healthy to do so. From the innkeeper’s perspective, it doesn’t matter why, we just need to know how to accommodate those guests requesting a gluten free menu.

Cross Contamination-The biggest issue with accommodating a gluten free request is cross contamination. You can prepare foods that are completely gluten free and still in fact make someone sick by not properly cleaning food prep surfaces/tools or by cooking gluten free foods in the same oil or toaster oven as non-gluten free foods. My rule of thumb is to prepare as much as I can gluten free automatically so that I don’t have this issue. If I am say baking bread or rolls, I make sure I completely clean and sanitize afterward before I prepare anything else that I will be serving to someone with a gluten allergy.

How do I know if something has gluten in it? The safest way to avoid gluten is to cook from scratch, using fresh meats, eggs, vegetables and fruits with few condiments or packaged foods. The fewer the ingredients in your food, the easier it is to control. Note: Most herbs and spices are gluten free and therefore do not pose a problem, but some spice blends may in fact have wheat or wheat based preservatives in them so make sure you read your labels. Labeling laws now require packaged foods to say they are gluten free, but I still check for ingredients like wheat, MSG, Maltodextrin and Modified Food Starch. All of these can be derived from wheat and therefore should be avoided.

Tips:

  • Keep a good quality all purpose gluten free flour on hand. There are a number of them that you can get at almost any grocery store. Make sure you get one that already has xantham gum added, which will add elasticity to your baked goods. You can convert virtually any recipe for a quickbread, cookie, cake, muffin, pancake, scone or other dessert into a gluten free version by simply substituting these gluten free flours. Yeast breads are more challenging and therefore I typically avoid trying to make them.
  • To add even better texture to baked goods, add ½ tblsp Apple Cider Vinegar per cup of flour to your recipes to help tenderize the finished product. This almost mimics what gluten does in the recipe.
  • Try incorporating acids into your recipes, like buttermilk or yogurt, which will aid in leavening and in making your finished products more tender.
  • Some recipes may require more liquid if they are particularly dry batters, i.e. scones and biscuits. You will have to tinker with this one. You can also add some unsweetened apple sauce and/or pumpkin puree to help give moisture and texture.
  • As far as condiments go, I opt to keep the gluten free versions of them on hand at all times, i.e. mustard, ketchup, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, etc. That way I don’t have to think about it.
  • If your recipe calls for bread crumbs, I often substitute with almond meal or pecan meal, which has a great texture and a fantastic nutty flavor. Although you can purchase commercially manufactured bread crumbs, but I find them a little chewy.
  • Pizza dough is also simple to make gluten free. Follow a standard recipe, substituting with the gluten free flour and use the apple cider vinegar trick. You’ll get a fantastic, crunchy, thin crust pizza out of it. Far better than any commercially bought gluten free pizza dough.
  • Remember to check your beverages. If you serve juice or flavored coffee with breakfast, be sure these are also gluten free.
  • Cheese is usually not a problem although I tend to avoid brie and blue cheese. I also avoid cheeses that are pre-grated and pre-crumbled because these are coated in an anti-caking agent.
  • For greasing your pans, I recommend softened butter or coconut oil as opposed to cooking spray.
  • Be sure to check labels for bacon/sausage as many of these contain fillers/preservatives that may be questionable.

So what do I make for breakfast? You can make almost anything you would usually make. Egg dishes are fantastic, fruit, yogurt, bacon/sausage (See tip above about breakfast meats), and of course any baked good can be made with the gluten free flour substitute. I often make the same breakfast for everyone, gluten free and non-gluten free just to make things easier on myself and nobody knows the difference.

Do: Avoid pre-packaged gluten free food items. Any baked item or gluten free snack is usually loaded with sugar, fat, salt and other preservatives to help with getting better texture. They are very unhealthy and the taste will never be as good as what you can make yourself. Plus they are extremely expensive comparatively.

Questions? Call me at 815-454-2419 or email me at monikaandjeff@chestnut-inn.com and I’d be happy to help you out or help you convert a recipe.

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