Gluten Substitutes

Gluten Substitutes – No Allergen Food

When wheat containing flour gets wet proteins in it combine to form gluten.  In addition to providing allergens and other issues this gluten changes the structure of the food.  It makes it sticky, helps hold it together, changes the way moisture is retained and many other properties of the food.  These properties can be essential in providing the texture and taste we expect in that food.

When we make recipes that do not contain gluten sometimes substitutes are needed.  The three most common substitutes are listed below with some information about them.

First, I recommend watching a very well done video by America’s Test Kitchen.  This video is about gluten.  The intent of this video is to highlight the differences between different types of wheat flour.  Wheat flour is generally available in three different forms in the supermarket:  bread flour, “all purpose flour, and cake flour. The main differences are the amount of protein and thus the amount of gluten formed.  The flours I work with have no wheat and therefore do not form any gluten.

Americas Test Kitchen Gluten Demo

In order to have some recipes work at all we need a substitute for the gluten.

Each of the items listed below are more expensive per pound than flour when purchased, however please realize that unlike flour, you will only be using about a teaspoon per serving at most.  A 16 ounce bag of Xanthan gum could easily last more than a year and only costs about 15 dollars.

All of these substitutes like to absorb water so they need to be kept is an air tight container.  Because these items hold water, they can all have a laxative effect, but generally only when taken in larger quantities. They do not impart any flavor to the food in the quantities used in recipes.  In all of them there have been rare cases of allergic reactions.

Xanthan gum:    The most commonly used substitute for Gluten.  Generally obtained from corn, soy or wheat fermented by a specific bacteria.  The Wikipedia article starts out very technical but if you skip down a couple of sections you will find it easier to read:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthan_gum.  It is used in a wide variety of foods including many foods that are not gluten free.   Unless you have lived your entire life eating food off a local farm, you have eaten food with this in it. It is available in health food stores and some larger supermarket chains.  Sold at room temperature, I recommend that you keep it in the fridge in a sealed container.  For a number of reasons, including the possibility of some allergic reactions and complaints about how it works in some foods, this is being used less over time.

The best prices I have found are available at Amazon: Xanthan gum on Amazon

Guar Gum:  This is the second most common suggested substitute.  It is also used in a wide variety of foods found in the supermarket. It is made by grinding Guar beans in a fairly complex process.  Some would consider the process more natural than the process used to create Xanthan gum.  There may be an issue with soy contamination during manufacturing so people who are allergic to soy may want to avoid foods containing Guar Gum. This is a little harder to find than Xanthan gum.  Many health food stores carry it at times.  I have not used this personally except in mixes that contain it.  It is available on Amazon:  Bob’s Red Mill Guar Gum on Amazon

Psyllium husk:  Most people are familiar with this as the main ingredient in Metamucil.  It works as a laxative by absorbing and retaining water.  It is becoming very popular as a gluten substitute.   When I have used it as a substitute I have been very happy with the results.  At first glance you would think this is available almost everywhere in the pharmacy department however you need to be careful when purchasing it.  If you are going to use it as a substitute for gluten you do not want it to impart a flavor to the bread.  Most over the counter Psyllium husk products have some added flavorings to make the mixture taste better when stirred into water and drunk as a laxative.  I have never made orange flavored bread and I don’t want to start now. Even “unflavored” Psyllium is likely to contain sugar or artificial sweeteners.  When you go to the store to buy it do not be surprised if you wind up looking at the backs of every container for the ingredient list and rejecting every one.   I have found an acceptable container at Walmart but it did take quite a bit of time to find it.  It is available at Amazon but if doing a general search be careful about reading the full description.  You want to get ground not whole,  not capsules and no additives.  Here is a link that I think is ok, but I have not purchased this specific one:  Amazon: Vitamin Shoppe – Psyllium Husks Powder, 12 oz powder

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