If checking labels for sources of gluten, worrying about cross-contamination and interrogating ingredient lists isn’t a daily occurence for you (as it is for coeliacs) then it is completely understandable that you may feel a little daunted about baking for someone with coeliac disease.
I have written this article to help those of you who may be thinking of baking for someone with coeliac disease for the first time. It may also be helpful to you if you have coeliac disease and need to communicate to friends and family the importance of vigilance when it comes to baking and cooking for you. This can sometimes be a challenge as not everyone fully understands our condition (and why would they if they’re not living with it day in, day out!)
THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT DIGESTING GLUTEN WHEN YOU HAVE COELIAC DISEASE
For those of us living with coeliac disease, a strictly controlled gluten-free diet is vital for our ongoing good health and wellbeing. Even the slightest crumb of a food containing gluten can make us ill for days on end.
I know this may sound far-fetched. And it was something I struggled to wrap my head around following my diagnosis. I mean, how can you eat *all* the gluten for *all* the years and then suddenly a tiny speck of it can make you ill? But it really, really is true. It is not attention-seeking behaviour, it’s not being over-dramatic or paranoid and it’s not that “a little bit of gluten every now and again won’t do you any harm.” It will. And it does. Trust me, I (as do many of my fellow coeliacs) speak from first-hand, deeply unpleasant experience.
The main sources of gluten are the grains wheat, barley, rye and oats, with other less common sources including spelt, einkorn and emmer. I have seen repeated claims over time that baked goods made with spelt are gluten-free. This is categorically untrue. Some people with a gluten-intolerance report being able to more easily digest ancient grains such as spelt, but this does not make these grains gluten-free. And they are absolutely not safe for coeliacs.
Oats are a constant source of confusion in the gluten-free diet. The grain itself does not contain gluten but the way in which it is grown, harvested and milled has a high potential for cross contamination. As such, standard oats are not considered gluten-free. Gluten-free oats do exist and they are safe for coeliacs if they are certified gluten-free.
BUT (and there’s always a but!) some coeliacs can’t tolerate oats – even the certified gluten-free ones – so do please check with the coeliac you are baking for before using them.
I SEE YOU: SPOTTING GLUTEN-CONTAINING INGREDIENTS IN PRODUCT INGREDIENT LISTS
When you are shopping for ingredients to bake for a coeliac, you need to check for the presence of all/any of these gluten-containing ingredients and put them back on the shelf if they appear in the ingredients list.
It is a legal requirement for food to be labelled with any gluten-containing ingredients. It is the grain, not the word gluten, that you are looking for in the list. Allergens must be highlighted in some way so that they are easy to see. And most manufacturers use either bold type or CAPS or both. As an illustration, below are the ingredients lists for a packet of standard digestive biscuits and a packet of gluten-free digestives, which I have lifted from the Tesco groceries website.
STANDARD DIGESTIVE BISCUITS:
Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Vegetable Oil (Palm), Sugar, Wheatgerm (5%), Raising Agents: E500, E503, Salt, Dried Whey (Milk), Natural Flavouring
GLUTEN-FREE DIGESTIVE BISCUITS:
Gluten Free Oat Flour, Muscovado Sugar, Maize Starch, Palm Fat, Rapeseed Oil, Palm Oil, Partially Inverted Sugar Syrup, Raising Agent (Sodium Bicarbonate), Flavouring, Salt, Emulsifier (Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids).
We can see immediately from these two ingredients lists that the standard digestive biscuits contain wheat and are therefore not safe for coeliacs. The gluten-free digestive biscuits have no gluten-containing ingredients highlighted in the list and no may contain warnings, so we know that they are safe for coeliacs. BUT they do contain gluten-free oats, so we need to check with our coeliac friends/family members that they can tolerate gluten-free oats before we use these biscuits in our baking.
WARNING. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!
May contain warnings. A headache for coeliacs and a source of controversy and confusion for a variety of reasons.
The term gluten-free is legally protected, which means that a product should not claim to be gluten-free unless it is under 20ppm. It is not uncommon to have an ingredients list with only non-gluten-containing ingredients but with a may contain warning for a gluten-containing ingredient (for example, wheat).
Here the manufacturer is communicating to the consumer that there is a high probability of cross contamination with the ingredient mentioned. As an example, this is common on some Cadbury chocolate products where products with gluteny ingredients are produced on the same line as those with no gluteny ingredients and the process isn’t segregated to guard against cross contamination.
CADBURY DAIRY MILK (BAR)
Milk, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Vegetable Fats (Palm, Shea), Emulsifiers (E442, E476), Flavourings
May contain nuts, wheat.
We can see here that this product is not safe for coeliacs because of the possibility of it containing wheat. Please don’t use this chocolate if you are baking for a coeliac. There are plenty of chocolate bars that are safe to use and if you’re set on Cadbury chocolate, their buttons and giant buttons do not carry a may contain warning.
It is worth stating here that it is my personal choice not to eat any foods where there is a may contain warning on the label. This is in line with the advice from Coeliac UK. I am aware that not everyone takes this stance. But for me it is not up for debate and you will therefore not find me saying anything other than to avoid them.
IT’S GOOD TO TALK
When someone goes out of their way to help us feel included at an occasion where food is involved, it really does make those of us with coeliac disease feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. But at the same time it is an enormous source of anxiety. Do they know about cross contamination? Or that we can’t eat foods with may contain warnings in the ingredients list? Might they have used an open jar of jam in the cake filling? Should I check and risk offending them after they have gone to the bother of catering for me? Or should I keep quiet and risk getting ill?
You may have no idea that this is what goes on inside the head of many a coeliac in these situations. How could you be expected to if we keep it to ourselves? Which is why I am telling you here 🙂
And it can also be an anxious time for you if you’re going to be catering for us: worrying about how to prepare things and what to think about to make sure we don’t get ill. Which is why I am advocating that you talk to us about how the food we are about to eat has been prepared. And never be afraid to ask questions if you’re unsure about anything.
Having a chat with the coeliac(s) in your life before cooking or baking for them with get any anxieties that either of you have out in the open and will result in a happy eating experience. Which of course I would champion!
NO OFFENCE, BUT WHAT’S WITH ALL THE QUESTIONS?
As coeliacs, we don’t live in a gluten-free bubble and so we have to make decisions every day on how safe it is for us to eat certain foods in certain places and in certain situations. Informed decisions help us to stay safe and well. Which is why it is so good to talk and ask questions 🙂 We’re not questioning your cooking or baking skills. And neither are we saying that we don’t trust you. It would be unreasonable of us to expect you to know the intricacies of a medical condition you don’t live with! So we’re just asking questions to make those informed decisions that will help keep us from being glutened.
DON’T BE DOUBLE-DIPPING
If you’re baking a cake for us, the chances are you will be using butter (or another form of fat) and maybe jam or chocolate spread or something else from a jar. Please always make sure that you use a fresh pot of jam or a fresh packet of butter when baking for someone with coeliac disease.
If yours is not an exclusively gluten-free household (and let’s face it, how many are?), the chances are that the pot of jam in your fridge has had a knife dipped in it, spread on a slice of gluteny toast and then dipped back in the jar for a second helping. This is a one-way ticket to what us coeliacs refer to as a ‘right royal glutening.’ So please start a new packet, pot or jar of any ingredient you are using to cater for us in order to mitigate this risk.
SEPARATING THE WHEAT FROM THE…
In an ideal world, the perfect kitchen for a coeliac would have a completely separate set of cooking and baking tools and equipment than those used to cook gluteny things. But for many this is neither practical nor financially viable. And if you’re just baking something gluten-free for a friend or family member once in a while, it seems a little OTT.
Most of us are accepting of the fact that you will be baking for us using the things you use for your own food on a daily basis. But do please always check with the coeliac you are baking for, as we are all different and have different levels of acceptance when it comes to how our food is prepared.
That said, please give all your pots, pans, tools, tins and utensils a nice and thorough wash in hot soapy water (or better still, run them through the dishwasher if you have one) before you bake for us.
IT’S NOT HIP TO BE SQUARE
We need to talk tins. Baking tins.
As discussed above, not everyone is in a position to have separate baking tins that are used exclusively for gluten-free baking. And the chances are, if you are baking something gluten-free once in a while for a friend or family member, this is you.
My advice in this situation is to give square, oblong and straight-edged cake tins a wide berth if you have already baked gluteny things in them. Stick to round tins and / or cupcake pans lined with cupcake cases.
I say this because it is next to impossible to get baked-in cake batter out of the corners of a square/oblong cake tin. And even those few pesky crumbs can make a coeliac quite unwell.
I hope you have found this little guide to baking for someone with coeliac disease useful. It may seem a lot to remember, so you can always bookmark this page for future reference. But the simplest way to bake safely for someone with coeliac disease is to chat with the person you are doing a spot of gluten-free baking for before you start. Coeliacs don’t bite – unless we’re very, very hungry 🙃