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Incog-wheato: unmasking the hidden gluten in everyday ingredients

Incog-wheato: unmasking the hidden gluten in everyday ingredients

by Howard Middleton 23 May 2016

Seasoned gluten-free baker Howard Middleton takes a look at the foods which many of us assume to be gluten-free – but in some cases aren't. From condiments to cake decorations, staying savvy can stop you inadvertently derailing a free-from diet.

Howard Middleton is an amateur baker from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off.

If you’ve gone gluten-free (or are cooking for others who have) you need to keep your wits about you, as the pesky protein can pop up in some unexpected places. National charity Coeliac UK has produced a nifty smartphone app that can scan barcodes for allergens but the low-tech option is a good magnifying glass. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.

Vinegar

Whether you’re whipping up a dressing or dousing your chips, it’s the variety of vinegar that’s vital. Avoid malt vinegar (which is barley-based) and look for wine, sherry, cider, balsamic or rice.

Pickles and chutneys

Here you’re not only on the look out for the type of vinegar; there’s also the danger of wheat-based thickeners. Picky home picklers can pack their jars to personal taste but you may need to double-check others’ artisan efforts. That ‘Best in Show’ could be a no-no. Commercial chutneys are generally well labelled but there does seem to be a shortage of suitable pickled onions. You’ll have to settle for silverskins in spirit vinegar or try going upmarket for Borettane onions in balsamic.

Labelling

Sauces

When you’re tucking into a fry up, tomato ketchups are generally OK and some are specifically labelled as gluten-free, but beware the barley in brown sauces. Try health food shops for a truly gluten-free version like Granovita. Chinese and Japanese sauces can be awash with gluten – most soy sauces are unsuitable, but Clearspring’s Tamari is one of the few made with rice. I’ve yet to source (sorry) a teriyaki, but Sweet Mandarin has a range of dipping sauces that are all gluten-free. Fresh wasabi root is fine but double-check your paste.

Sushi

It’s rice – so where’s the gluten in that? Well, if your shop-bought sushi selection includes faux fish like so-called ‘crab sticks’, it will almost certainly have some in there. Even vegetarian sushi isn’t immune, as gluten has somehow found its way into most of the ready-made ranges. Take control and roll your own.

Dragees
Dragées: gaudy, glitzy and harbourers of gluten

Chocolate

Check for warnings about cross-contamination in the plain bars and remember that wafers, biscuits and other crunchy additions are commonly made from wheat.

Cake decorations

Sugared almonds, silver balls and other fancy dragées may look lovely but don’t be seduced by a bit of razzle dazzle – they nearly always contain wheat and the choice of gluten-free glitz desperately needs some zhooshing up.

Baking powder

Always use a brand that’s labelled gluten-free. Most baking powders are nowadays, but there are still one or two that contain wheat flour.

Stock cubes

Many leading brands contain wheat and gluten but the stock of alternatives is growing, with Kallø, Knorr and Marigold all having launched cubes fit for a regatta of gluten-free gravy boats.

 

Soups

Yes, I know you always make your own soup from scratch, but on the off chance you’re ever faced with a carton or tin, do read the small print. I tend to thicken homemade soups, stews and gravies with cornflour or gram flour (and pea flour is perfect in fish dishes) plus you’ll need rice- or maize-based pasta for minestrone. Don’t tell me you make your own pasta too – you’re amazing!

Alcohol

 
 

Fruit and vegetable-based booze – like wine, brandy and vodka – should contain no gluten, but it looks like the jury is still out on some grain-based drinks like whisky. Beer is traditionally brewed from malted barley, but there is a growing selection of gluten-free beers.

Crisps and snacks

The humble potato is a gluten-free hero but it’s sometimes sullied by flavourings like malt vinegar and soy sauce. Similarly corn chips are often inexplicably sprinkled with wheat flour though popcorn’s impeccable pedigree is usually maintained.

Ice cream

You can chill out with most varieties of vanilla and some lusciously indulgent flavours like caramel fudge in clotted cream or gin and tonic, but you’ll sadly have to avoid ones with chunks of cookie dough or cheesecake. The good news is that there are gluten-free cones and wafers.

Marzipan

If you’re concerned by the presence of ‘wheat glucose syrup’ in your supermarket almond paste, chances are you shouldn’t be. It’s not highlighted as a potential allergen and the Coeliac UK app gives it the all clear.

Naturally gluten-free ingredients

Buckwheat, oats and ground rice are all naturally free from gluten but just when you think you’ve got a safe list of ingredients, manufacturers slap on warnings about the dangers of cross-contamination from production processes. Savvy producers use dedicated factories. Big bags of Doves Farm buckwheat flour, for example, warn about the presence of gluten but the company has recently launched a gluten-free version, albeit in tiny tubs.

 
Most hotel breakfasts offer gluten-free bread which is often safely (but depressingly) sealed in its own plastic bag, but remember the toaster and bread board will be crawling with communal crumbs.

Howard Middleton

Wheat-free products

A number of ingredients are classed as wheat-free but are not gluten-free, such as barley and rye. ‘Ancient’ forms of wheat, like spelt and einkorn, are sometimes considered suitable for those intolerant to modern wheat, but you need to be clear that these are not gluten-free, so they won’t be right for everyone.

Cafés and hotels

Your local coffee shop may be proud of its gluten-free goodies but their credentials are ruined if they’re displayed nudging up to wheaten neighbours. Point out any offending close encounters; especially if you’re worried your muffin may have had a liaison dangereuse without proper protection. Most hotel breakfasts offer gluten-free bread, which is often safely (but depressingly) sealed in its own plastic bag but remember the toaster and bread board will be crawling with communal crumbs.

Your kitchen

Having safely navigated a potential minefield on your shopping list, just make sure you don’t drop your guard at home. I recently did a demo of some gluten-free biscuits where the organisers had provided wheat flour for rolling out the dough. You’d never do that, would you?

 
 

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