Introduction: Gluten Free Living

About: EmmettO is a general mad scientist, blacksmith, metalcaster and former Unix admin. Now he fixes darn near anything that people throw at him and breaks things that need to be broken.

Eating gluten free is easier than ever! Large chain grocery stores are selling gluten free items and ingredient lists are more explicit than ever. However, gluten free living is still expensive and often times inconvenient. This instructible's purpose is to share some knowledge and tricks gleaned from three generations of living gluten free.

Principles to remember
If in doubt leave it out. - This one is hugely important. There are a lot of trial and error mistakes you can make. Unless you know what is in a food, don't eat it.

If gluten touched it, it's no longer safe - My child would come home throwing up (her reaction to gluten) at night because the lunch lady at school wouldn't change her gloves to make a salad.

Step 1: Safe Foods

A lot of times you start to explain to people that you can't have wheat products and they think you mean you can't eat whole wheat bread. After it dawns on them that you can't eat any normal bread products they then say "What can you eat?". So here's a safe list. Your list may be more restrictive due to other allergies or lifestyle choices.

Bear in mind that how these foods are cooked can make them unsafe. For instance fish is safe but breaded fish would not be. You also have to be very careful about food cooked in a fryer. If they are used to cook other non-GF foods, they should be left out.

I'm only including things that may be common in anyone's kitchen. This is partly to help with finding foods you and family might be familiar with.

Food groups that are safe

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts

Starches that are safe

  • Potato (baked mashed etc)
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Tapioca

Common cereals that are safe

  • Fruity and coca pebbles
  • Rice chex are now safe
  • Trix
  • (Update) Cheerios
  • Lucky Charms
  • Chex (many varieties)

Take out food that is safe (as of this writing)

  • (Update) Red Robin has gluten free buns or you can have your burger in a lettuce wrap.
  • (Update) Red Robin also has gluten free french fries (a lot of french fries are unsafe due to cross contamination in the frier)
  • Burger King Fries (they have their own dedicated fryer and don't coat with wheat starch)
  • Burger King Milk Shakes
  • Wendy's Burgers without the bun (Fresh patties means they're not dusted with wheat starch to separate them.)
  • Wendy's Baked Potato
  • Most take out salads (croutons are normally in their own pouch) but watch out for the dressing
  • Hot Dogs without the bun are usually safe


  • Red Bridge beer made with Amaranth and is labeled Gluten free
  • Wine (all except possibly spiced wines)
  • Potato Vodka
  • Many but not all hard ciders

When going to a restaurant ask if they have a gluten free menu. Many are starting to, some have menu items that are marked gluten free.

Update. We recently ran across Dinty Moore Beef Stew and found out it's gluten free!

Step 2: Unsafe Foods

Obviously wheat is one big no-no but there is gluten hiding out in a lot of ingredients that you might not think and there is a lot of confusion as to some ingredients.

Oatmeal - By itself, oatmeal doesn't have gluten but it is often processed with wheat and picks up gluten from the wheat. If you see Oats in the ingredients and it doesn't explicitly say Gluten Free, go without.

Malt - Anything that is malted has gluten. This one is a big deal when looking at chocolate milk or milkshakes.

Amaranth - We've been told both ways on this one. It contains gluten and that it doesn't. We've been going without unless the product says gluten free. This could be the same issue as oatmeal picking up the gluten from processing.

Modified Food Starch - This could be wheat starch. Now they usually label it more accurately as Modified Corn Starch which is safe. If it says Modified food starch and doesn't explicitly say gluten free, do without.

Scrape off that breading? - A lot of times people will say "Just scrape off the breading." That doesn't work. Ask them if you coated their food with feces would they be content to just scrape it off.

Be careful with Jelly and Peanut Butter - Mainly if non-GF people use it on their bread. They will spread the jelly or peanut butter on and then return the knife to the jar, contaminating it with gluten.

Beer - It's made from wheat.

Wine Coolers - these are actually a beer product.

Distilled Liquor - Many are made from wheat mash. The distilled product should be safe but sometimes a small amount of the mash is re-added to the liquor. If in doubt.

Step 3: Baking

Eating gluten free is expensive! You can limit that by baking for yourself. Cooking from scratch also makes things cheaper and will taste far better than store bought items but makes it more complicated. Here are a few concepts to get used to for baking

1. Keep a notebook

Or a binder for holding recipes you like and that you reference often. We have a pizza crust recipe that we make all the time and most of our non GF friends actually prefer it. That goes in the notebook. I'll be sharing some other items from our notebook later.

2. Use different GF flours for different purposes.

Rice flour is sweet for desserts but can be gritty
Tapioca has a good texture and neutral flavor
Corn flour is good for a heavier bread
Corn Starch is inexpensive, neutral and good texture.
Potato Starch is neutral and has good texture. It's price is in the medium range
Buckwheat (yes it's safe) is good for some whole wheat flavor
Millet flour, expensive but tastes most like whole wheat.
There are many more flours available such as chickpea and soy but my family doesn't use them because of other allergies.

3. Use blends of flours

We use corn starch for nearly 50% of most of our recipes to keep the cost down. Beyond that combining flours gives the strengths of different flours to your mix. A very basic economy mix for most recipes is 50% corn starch, 25% potato starch, 25% tapioca flour. A better quality mix is 1/3 corn starch, 1/3 potato and 1/3 tapioca. If you don't have one of the potato or tapioca starches, you can go with 1/2 corn starch and 1/2 of whatever one you have.

4. Don't look for an "all purpose" blend.

The blends above are general. We will add or subtract based on what we want the final outcome to be. Some blends are good for bread and others are better for cookies etc. Get used to experimenting. If you get a blend a little wrong, you'll still have something eatable, it just won't be the best recipe ever. Adjust it in your notes and try again next time.

Update - All purpose blends are getting better and better. It may still be good to learn how to mix your own for things like desserts and other specialty breads, but now they make pretty decent breads.

5. Start with cookbooks, move on to making your own recipes

We have a library of cookbooks. We learned from each one some basic concepts and started to experiment. Many times I make up recipes now based on what feels right then have to write them down later when they turn out especially well.

6. GF dough is heavy, sticky and settles unevenly.

GF dough will not look like normal bread dough. At best it will look like something in between pancake batter and a sticky hard blob. Working with it takes some adjustment. Adding liquids can make a mix go from solid dry lump to sloshy liquid in no time. Balancing the liquids is key to getting something that is workable as a dough, and even then it won't work like bread dough (gluten is what gives wheat dough it's flexibility and strength. There are some thickeners that go a long way to making GF dough workable, like guar gum and xanthum gum. If you let anything with corn starch sit after it has mixed, you'll have to stir it again because the corn starch will settle to the bottom in a hard lump.

When working with GF dough it helps to grease your hands with butter, shortening or bacon grease. The dough will stick to your hands more than it will stick to itself unless you have a good coating. Coating the dough with cornstarch is also helpful but can make the dough too dry.

Step 4: Tools

There are only a few basic tools you need but getting them right is important.

Important tools

Oven - many ovens have hot spots or don't get up to the temp that they say they are at. A quality oven can make a big difference between frustration and good food.

Mixer - GF flours are heavy. I mixed them by hand for years but I was also used to mixing grout by hand and they're not much different. A strong mixer is important. Kitchen Aid mixers will work fine but Cuisinart are built a bit sturdier and cheaper. There's a big "which is better" fight between the two brands. Do some reading and find out which one will suit your needs.

Useful tools

Cast Iron Pizza Pan - We make a lot of pizza. Being near Buffalo NY, it's a big part of the culture here and not being able to eat a much loved food is a big let down. Cast Iron gives a good even heat.

Bread maker - Being able to fill up a bread maker and let it go overnight is priceless. It produces better results than pan baking in my opinion because the timing is perfect. Many bread makers now have a Gluten Free setting that kneads the dough less, which is important for a GF dough to rise.

Waffle Iron - Pancakes and waffles are relatively easy to make. If you want a little variety in your breakfast, waffles are a good way of adding a starch.

Silicone baking pans/sheets - since GF dough is so sticky, it can be hard to get out of the pan. Silicone pans make removal much easier.

Step 5: Quick Fixes

A lot of times you don't want to wait for a cake or loaf of bread to bake. You're hungry and need something bready right away. Here are some suggestions.

5 Min Chocolate Cake GF Style
1 Packet of Hot Coca
4 TBSP GF Flour (2 corn starch 2 potato starch will do)
3 TBSP canola or vegetable oil
3 TBSP water
1 Egg
Mix in a large coffee mug. Place in microwave and cook on high for 3 min. Let cool and enjoy!

5 Min White Cake GF Style
6 TBSP Sugar
3 TBSP Dry Milk Powder
4 TBSP GF Flour (2 corn starch 2 potato starch will do)
3 TBSP canola or vegetable oil
3 TBSP water
1 Egg

Optional Add choco chips, cinnamon, cherries etc
Mix in a large coffee mug. Place in microwave and cook on high for 3 min. Let cool and enjoy!

5 Min Bread GF Style
3 TBSP Dry Milk Powder
1/3 Cup GF Flour
3 TBSP canola or vegetable oil
3 TBSP water
1 Egg
Mix in a small bowl. Spray a wide coffee mug with cooking spray or coat with butter. Transfer mix to the wide coffee mug. Place in microwave and cook on high for 3 min. Let cool, remove from the mug, cut in half for a sandwich and enjoy!

The bread ends up very heavy. If someone figures out a better mix, please let me know. Still it's better than nothing when you really need a samich.

Pancakes and waffles are easy and quick options too. Every GF cookbook I've seen have recipes for them and nearly all taste fine.

Step 6: My Breadmaker Recipe

This works really well in my breadmaker, I don't know how it will work in other brands of breadmakers.

Add liquids first so the powders don't stick to the bottom of the mixer

3 Eggs (we have chickens so eggs are plentiful)
1 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable (or canola) oil
1 tsp cider vinegar

Now the powders add yeast as the very last ingredient.
3/4 cup corn starch
3/4 cup potato starch
3/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup corn flour
1/4 cup millett flour
3 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
2 tblsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp bread machine yeast

1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins

If your mixer waits for a while before starting to mix like mine does, you may have to help it by breaking up the cake of flours with a rubber spatula.

Step 7: Recommended Resources

So now you're thinking "How do I find a good cookbook?". These are some that we use frequently.

Gluten Free Kitchen by Roben Ryberg
This is an excellent starter book. Almost all recipes use strictly corn starch and potato starch as flour which has a good texture and taught us that GF doesn't have to taste funny. We've given this book as a gift to many people. We use it so much the binding fell apart and we punched holes in the pages and put it in a small three ring binder.

The Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman.
This is a little older book, It's a little more complicated than the first book but there's still some good recipes.

More From The Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman
An update with more recipes.

Gluten Free Cooking by Ruby M. Brown