How to cook for a coeliac when you are not one!

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson gives you some tips - and some recipes.

Feeding your friends should always be a pleasure. However, it can feel quite intimidating cooking for people with either coeliac disease or gluten intolerance when you don’t have it yourself; no-one wants to invite their mates over for what should be a lovely time, and then send them home feeling unwell. So, here’s a 'starter pack’ for cooking for your gluten-free friends:

- The basics
- What happens if I serve something containing gluten?
- Do I need to buy any special food?
- What do I need to know while I’m shopping?
- Where can I find some coeliac-friendly recipes?
- What do I need to do when I start cooking?
- What do I need to know when serving up the food?
- What about drinks?
- More about coeliac disease and about gluten intolerance

The basics

If people with coeliac disease or with gluten intolerance eat gluten, it makes them ill. Depending on how serious their CD or intolerance is, it can just make them feel unwell for a few hours or put them in bed and make them seriously ill for two weeks or longer.

And if they are seriously sensitive, the tiniest crumb containing gluten, all but invisible to the naked eye, will be enough to cause symptoms.

So, if feeding coeliacs and gluten intolerants you need to be super careful to ensure that everything that you serve them is totally free of gluten. Do not, for example, use a butter knife that you have already used to butter normal bread, to butter gluten free bread, as it may be contaminated with gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It is found in most breads, pastas, cakes, biscuits and pastries but, because wheat is so widely used in food manufacture, it crops up in many other other products too. So, you need to read the ingredients list on every food you are going to use to make sure that it does not contain gluten. You must also remember when cooking that you cannot thicken a sauce, for example, with a spoonful of wheat flour.

Labelling of gluten

By law all packaged foods now have to declare the presence of gluten - it will be marked up as ‘wheat/barley/rye cereal containing gluten' and it will be in bold so is relatively easy to see.

Remember that if a product is flagged up as wheat-free, it may still contain barley or rye so you still need to read the ingredients list to check that it does not contain gluten.

Some products may not have any gluten in the ingredients but may still be marked as ‘may contain traces of gluten’. This means that gluten may be used in the factory, although not in this product, and that the manufacturer cannot guarantee that there may not be some very low level of gluten contamination. You should not buy products that carry this warning.

Do I need to buy any special food?

Not necessarily. Many foods are naturally gluten free—fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and dairy are all naturally gluten-free. If you are happy to cook you can make lots of delicious dishes without using any wheat, barley or rye or wheat-based products—you can get lots of tips and ideas from the recipe links below.

Remember that lots of naturally gluten-free food is just that, naturally gluten free, and you certainly do not need to be coeliac to eat it. Even if not everyone you are feeding is coeliac or gluten intolerant, it may be easier to serve everyone a gluten-free meal. The chances are that your non-coeliac friends will not even notice. Offer potatoes instead of bread, for example, or meringues instead of sponge cake!! This will make your life a lot easier as you will only be dealing with gluten-free food when you are preparing the meal, thus hugely reducing the risk of contamination.

If you prefer not to cook—or want to buy some elements of your meal ready-made—then every major supermarket has a gluten-free range (usually in a dedicated section), as have most health food stores and independent delis. And many will also sell foods that are already ‘naturally gluten free’—in other words they never had any gluten in them in the first place. However, you will need to read the ingredients lists on any products that you buy very carefully.

(You might also like to note that Tesco has been crowned the FreeFrom Food Award’s 'FreeFrom Retailer of the Year' for the last two years and some excellent freefrom products from breaded scampi to celebration cakes.)

Here’s a selection of naturally gluten-free foods:
- Fruit
- Vegetables (including potatoes)
- Meat
- Poultry
- Fish and shellfish
- Eggs
- Dairy
- Legumes (including beans, chickpeas, peas and lentils)
- Nuts
- Rice
- Corn
- Oats (but oats can easily be contaminated, so only buy oats that are specifically labelled as gluten-free)

But remember that these foods are only guaranteed to be gluten-free before they’re processed. A whole, raw apple is gluten-free but a jar of applesauce may not be. Even a bag of frozen berries may be contaminated with gluten. Always check the label to see if extra ingredients have been added, and to ensure that it is still gluten-free.

Be aware that you may need to replace some foods that you already have; for example, if your butter has toast crumbs in it, then it has been contaminated with gluten and should not be used when cooking for your friend.

Where can I find some gluten-free recipes?

Right here in our extensive library of gluten-free delights. The recipes are also dairy-free, and many cater for other allergies including egg and nut.

You might also like to jump straight to our collection of meat recipes, puddings and our baking section.

Some of the ingredients may sound unfamiliar, particularly if you’re baking (e.g. xanthan gum, gram flour, soya yoghurt) but all major supermarkets tend to stock them these days, and they are all very easy to work with.

To start you off, here’s an easy, gluten-free dinner party menu:

BBQCeleriac and Butternut Squash soup

Roast Chicken with Aubergine and Tomato

Chocolate soufflés

And for more delicious recipes see our exciting new gluten-free cookery book, FreeFrom all'Italiana - Primi - with Italian food guru, Anna del Conte – more details and two sample recipes here.

What do I need to do before I start cooking?

You need to clean your kitchen and your dining area thoroughly with hot soapy water, taking special care to clean out corners where gluten-laden crumbs could hide.
Wash all the tools that you will be using to cook the gluten-free food and keep them separate—do not put them back in a drawer where gluten-ey crumbs may lurk! Similarly, wash all the pans and the surfaces or chopping boards that you will use to prepare the gluten-free food that you will use and keep them separate.

When you have prepared the gluten-free food, cover it tightly with clingfilm and store on the top shelf of the fridge or well away from any gluten-containing food.

Serving gluten-free food

Keep your gluten-free food separate from your non-gluten-free food. If you are only serving gluten-free food, this is obviously much easier.

Make sure that you have washed all the serving tools before hand and only use the gluten-free servers for the gluten-free food.

Check the condiments (some salts contain wheat to help them run smoothly, some mustards contain wheat) and make sure that you wipe them in case some gluten-ey crumbs are stuck to the outside. If they have already been used, start new ones as it is all too easy for a gluten-ey knife dipped into the mustard pot to contaminate it.

What about drinks?

Wines and spirits should be gluten-free. However, it is possible for wines to be contaminated with gluten if they have, for example been aged in a barrel which has been caulked with a wheat paste.

As regards whisky, although it is distilled from barley, all the proteins should have disappeared in the distillation process. However, super-sensitive coeliacs do still appear to react to barley based spirits. So, to be safe, offer non-barley based spirit such as vodka or gin.

You can now buy a number gluten-free beers, both barley based (they test as safe for coeliacs) and based on gluten free grains such as sorghum. Again, check all labels to ensure that what you’re buying is gluten-free. For excellent gluten-free beers see the FreeFrom Food Awards as we reward the best every year.

More about coeliac disease and gluten intolerance

Gluten intolerance and coeliac disease are not the same thing, although they are closely related.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the person’s immune system reacts against the protein fraction gliadin which is found in the gluten in wheat barley and rye. The villi or fronds which line their small intestines, and which would normally absorb nutrition from their food, atrophy. This can cause severe gastrointestinal pain and discomfort and prevents them absorbing nutrition from their food. They may also suffer many other symptoms such a headaches, joint pains and depression and anxiety. There is no treatment for coeliac disease except avoidance of gluten.

For more on coeliac disease see the many articles in this section of the FoodsMatter site. And for the management of coeliac disease, see here.

In gluten intolerance the person is not affected by gliadin specifically, but they do react to gluten. However, the symptoms can be many and varied and can be relatively mild or really quite severe. While gluten intolerance used to be thought to be quite rare, it now realised to be increasingly common. For more on gluten intolerance, see this section of the Foods Matter site.

January 2017

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If you found this article interesting, you will find many more general articles and research reports on coeliac disease here, and lots of information on the management of coeliac disease here.
You can also find articles and research reports on gluten intolerance here and articles on a wide range of other digestive conditions here.

For hundreds of gluten free foods see our freefrom food section here, and for nearly 800 gluten-free recipes see here.

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