If you are entertaining guests this holiday season, there is a good chance you will have a person who eats gluten free among them. This can pose quite a dilemma for the cook-as preparing gluten free food is not as easy as it might seem. There are a few reasons for this-first, a gluten free person can become ill by eating a very small amount of gluten and it is easy to cross contaminate food in your kitchen. Second, many foods contain “hidden” gluten, so understanding which foods are safe is a little tricky. Lastly, you will want to make foods that can be enjoyed by all guests.
Eating gluten free is becoming more and more common. This is because celiac disease, once believed to be rare, is actually quite prevalent and is being diagnosed more frequently. And, many people who don’t have celiac disease are finding that they are gluten intolerant and need to avoid it.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you are entertaining a gluten free guest:
Contamination -To avoid contaminating food with gluten that is in your kitchen it is important to think through all the steps. First when cooking-use only non porous materials to prepare and cook food. Glass bowls, stainless steel cookware, metal spoons (as opposed to wood), glass plate for cutting (no wood or plastic cutting boards). Porous surfaces that have been exposed to gluten will retain it and contaminate the food. Also, keep gluten free and gluten containing foods separate. Don’t use the same spoon to stir both things, the same knife to cut them or the same surface to prepare them-unless thoroughly cleaned in between. And remember that if you have items in your home that have had a contaminated utensil in them-they are not gluten free. Examples include-mayonnaise, peanut butter, jelly, butter-anything that you might spread on bread and then reintroduce the knife in to. If you are serving buffet style-place the gluten free food in a separate area and label it.
Simple is best - Cook from scratch as much as possible. Simple foods are the best-fruit, vegetables, meat or fish without marinades etc. Gluten free baked goods can be tricky-either buy them or have your friend bring the brands they like the best.
Be careful of ingredients - Use only packaged foods that say gluten free on the label or that your friend tells you are safe. Many ingredients contain hidden gluten. Examples include flavorings-which can be made from barley malt, modified food starch-which can be made from wheat and fillers that can contain wheat products. Most oats are contaminated with gluten unless they have been processed in a special way. Blue cheese is often made with bread mold-which of course will contain gluten. If you are not sure about an ingredient-ask your friend-they won’t mind the questions but will in fact feel loved and cared for.
Be honest - After understanding the complexity of preparing gluten free food, if you decide you would rather not take the chance to cook for the gluten free person-be honest and let them know this. Ask your friend to bring a couple of gluten free dishes-this will ensure there are at least some things they can eat.
Eating this way can be challenging and isolating at times-but is made easier by friends and family who support it and understand. As someone who follows a gluten free diet-I can tell you that the care and concern shown when someone is careful about cooking, or finding a restaurant that caters to my needs has meant the world to me. If someone you know is gluten free there are many resources available on the web including the Mayo Clinic and Celiac.com.