For diners who don’t have dietary restrictions, spotting the words “gluten” and “free” together on a menu can represent something of a red flag.
Foods that contain gluten are often associated with wholesomeness, especially when it comes to pasta and puddings. As a result, gluten-free alternatives to popular dishes are perceived to lack taste and hearty goodness.
This idea that eating gluten-free food means sacrificing flavour just isn’t true, however, with creativity and care, gluten-free options can be just as delicious as any food.
Yes, there are certain challenges associated with making gluten-free desserts (particularly with baking), but overcoming these hurdles will expand your repertoire and improve your culinary skills in the process.
Why do chefs need to know about gluten intolerance?
Gluten intolerance and coeliac disease are lifelong conditions in which a person’s immune system reacts with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and adds elasticity to foods such as dough.
Around 1 in 100 people worldwide are thought to be gluten intolerant. While gluten intolerance describes an allergy to gluten, coeliac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that can be life-threatening. The disease can often lead to dermatitis herpetiformis and other skin conditions.
Once diagnosed, the only treatment for gluten intolerance and coeliac disease is sticking to a gluten-free diet. Yes, this means avoiding favourites such as birthday cakes, pizza and beer.
However, living with coeliac disease doesn’t mean falling prey to a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). That’s because new products and techniques have created a number of alternatives for chefs to get their hands on and diners to sink their teeth into.
Meanwhile, increasing awareness of gluten-free diets has caused a surge in the number of gluten-free options on menus up and down the country.
Gluten intolerance should not sentence people to a lifetime of limited food options, and chefs are in a position to expand the culinary delights on offer. Here are some tips to help chefs up their gluten-free game and avoid the pitfalls often associated with it.
1) Don’t dwell on the limitations
When cooking a gluten-free meal, it’s best to focus on what you can use, not what you cannot. You already have plenty of naturally gluten-free foods to work with, including:
- Fruit and vegetables
With these ingredients already in your parlour, it should be easy to make a delicious meal -- and even an entire menu -- from foods that don’t include any grains.
2) Stay away from processed foods
Many packaged foods contain gluten, even if the ingredients on the food labels don’t explicitly list wheat, barley or rye. To cut out the risk of accidentally serving gluten to a customer with coeliac disease, stick to wholesome, natural ingredients. If you don’t have the budget available to buy fresh, natural and local, check your ingredients lists first before creating new gluten-free dishes.
3) Dabble with some gluten-free baking
Though gluten-free food can taste great, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get an explosion of flavour from gluten-free products bought from supermarkets or suppliers. That’s why it’s best to try your hand at making some gluten-free goodies of your own.
Take flour, for example. Flour is a hallmark of most forms of baking. Unfortunately, it contains gluten. Making your own gluten-free substitute will help you get to grips with the different taste and texture that come with this powdery alternative. Gluten-free flour alternatives include almond flour, rice flour, oat flour, sorghum flour, coconut flour, chickpea flour, and tapioca flour.
Texture is a vital component of baking, and getting it just right is often the difference between sugary delight and soggy disaster. Choosing the right thickening agent for the baking process can also help you get the level of chewiness or crunchiness on point. There are plenty of thickeners available, including the different gluten-free flours mentioned above, as well as agar-agar, flax seeds and chia seeds.
4) Use a range of spices to add flavour to your recipes
If you’re worried that eliminating gluten from certain recipes will cause the taste to disappear, let the spice cabinet be your source of solace.
Creating recipes with explosive favour can alleviate any unfair comparisons that might be made to the gluten-based original. By doing so, you can make your dishes stars in their own right rather than being cheap imitations of the real thing.
Some great spices to use in gluten-free desserts include turmeric, cinnamon. and ginger. You’ll also have a plethora of fruit, nuts, seeds, and even vegetables at your disposal to experiment with.
Gluten-free food can be as adventurous, colourful and delicious as the many gluten-filled favourites that are staples of various types of cuisine. Instead of being mere afterthoughts that languish at the bottom of the menu, gluten-free options can be centrepieces in their own right.
Some delicious gluten-free recipes for you to try
Though the joys of creating amazing gluten-free dishes are best accessed through experimentation and trial and error, we thought we’d give you a head start with a selection of delicious gluten-free recipes. Bon appetit!