Having to search for gluten-free recipes can make it seem as though the choices you have are limited. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Though living gluten-free does require some fundamental changes to the way you eat, there are several easy substitutions, and some simple things to watch for, that can open up a whole new world of possibilities.
One of the most insidious sources of hidden gluten is sauces and condiments. Many sauces that seem like they should be gluten free on the surface actually contain wheat-based products that are used as thickeners. The good news is that these recipes usually taste better once you remove the filler and go back to basics. Here are a few of the major sauce and condiment danger zones and some easy alternatives.
Soy sauce: Although soybeans are naturally gluten-free, soy sauce is typically brewed by adding wheat to help with the fermentation process. In fact, in Japan, soy sauce is categorized by how much gluten it contains, with some types containing as much as 50 percent wheat. Whereas in China, soy sauce contains significantly less wheat and some varieties are naturally gluten-free. The good news is any recipe that contains soy sauce can easily be modified by substituting for tamari or gluten-free soy sauce. Tamari is a Japanese blend that more closely resembles the original soy sauce recipe from China and contains no gluten. Tamari is darker and has a richer flavour, which means you may want to use a little bit less than the recipe calls for to balance out the taste. There are also gluten-free soy sauce varieties on the market that have a lighter taste similar to regular soy sauce yet are made without wheat.
Vinegar: There is a misconception about vinegar leading some to stay away. In fact, most varieties of vinegar are gluten free, made by fermenting anything from apples, wine, grapes, and yes, sometimes barley. The only type of vinegar that is a definite no-no is malt vinegar, which is made with barley. One of the most common vinegars, white vinegar, is the cause of a lot of confusion. White vinegar, also known as distilled vinegar, is an exception because it is not fermented. Most white vinegar is made from gluten grains, including wheat, however the distillation process removes almost all of the gluten from the finished process. Due to this process, white or distilled vinegar meets the FDA’s gluten-free guidelines with less than 20 parts per million. If you are celiac, even this low threshold might produce a reaction, however if you are simply gluten intolerant, this level of gluten is considered safe.
BBQ Sauce: BBQ sauce is a staple of most kitchens. It is obviously great on the barbecue, but it also makes an easy dipping sauce for everyday use. While there are many varieties of gluten-free BBQ sauce, it is always important to read the label for signs of gluten. The key ingredients to look for are malt vinegar, wheat flour and any references to caramel colouring or malt flavour. Many gluten-free varieties of BBQ sauce don’t indicate it on the label. Though this may change soon, if you are celiac, as opposed to merely gluten intolerant, you may want to avoid these unmarked varieties as they aren’t certified against cross-contamination.
Beer and liquor: Beer and liquor, besides being tasty, are often used in recipes to add flavour or complexity. When it comes to beer, because it is produced through fermentation and not distillation, the presence of gluten is a big problem. The good news is that a variety of gluten-free beers – produced using millet, rice and sorghum – are now on the market and can be used to replace regular beer in things like chili and some deep fried recipes. When it comes to liquor, there is a common misconception that wheat-based alcohol, such as whiskey, is strictly off-limits. In fact, because whiskey is distilled, nearly all of the cereal protein is removed. This means that all distilled alcohol meets the FDA’s 20 parts per million standard to be certified gluten free. Of course wine, made from grapes, is always gluten free.
Other Sauces: Pre-made, store-bought sauces are an easy way to make a quick meal and are often central ingredients in many recipes. While many sauces are naturally gluten free there are many that contain hidden sources of gluten. Here are some to watch for:
Teriyaki sauce: the base of this sauce is soy sauce. Either look for a gluten-free variety or make your own. Search for a homemade teriyaki sauce recipe and substitute tamari for soy sauce.
Hoisin sauce: again, the base of hoisin is soy sauce. Gluten-free varieties are available or you can make your own swapping tamari for soy sauce in the recipe.
Oyster sauce: the culprit here again is soy sauce. There are some gluten-free varieties available but they are hard to find. Boiling oysters is probably too far to go to consider a homemade variety you you’ll just have to skip this one.
Worcestershire sauce: most varieties of Worcestershire sauce are gluten free, however some are made with malt vinegar or soy sauce. Check the label.
Ketchup: most varieties of ketchup are gluten free, however some may contain distilled vinegar made from gluten. Depending on your level of sensitivity, this may cause an issue.