When you make the transition to a gluten-free diet, finding the right gluten-free alternatives in recipes can be really challenging. It’s especially difficult if you discover something you’re just dying to cook, or long to make a favorite food you enjoyed in the past.
Sure you can buy a gluten free recipe book to learn how to make safe meals, but what if you already have cookbooks that you don’t want to replace?
Don’t despair. After doing a little research, you’ll be amazed at the array of gluten free ingredients that you can use as substitutions.
Flour is a major staple in most recipes including bread. You can make your own gluten free all purpose flour recipe, or choose a gluten-free alternative. It’s important to mention that an ingredient like flour comes in light, medium and heavy textures. Knowing this can help or hurt your food.
Light flour alternatives include white rice flour and sweet rice flour. These types of ingredients can be incredibly sticky and may result in your food becoming gummy and tasting of cooked rice.
A great medium flour alternative is sorghum flour (otherwise known as sorghum sweet flour). This is the best gluten-free ingredient that closely mirrors all-purpose flour. If you’re still consuming oats, a gluten-free oat flour is a close second to an all purpose flour.
Heavier flour alternatives such as buckwheat, nut meal and bean/legume contain more protein and will give you a similar but darker color food with less rise.
Keep these weights in mind when picking a safe flour alternative. Again, if you usually bake with an all-purpose flour, sorghum or gluten-free oat flours are your best bet because they have a medium weight.
When choosing gluten-free substitutions, finding a suitable alternative to butter is one of the first subjects of discussion. Typically, you don’t need to worry about organic butters, but other butters contain additives with gluten — this is why many people with celiac or gluten intolerance choose not to use butter to be absolutely safe.
The biggest problem with switching out butter is that is has such a desirable, distinctive flavor that’s difficult to replicate. Organic coconut oil is one of the best alternatives to butter. It can be used in its solid state as a shortening, or when warmed slightly, it turns into a liquid.
As far as margarine replacements are concerned, you have a wide variety to choose from. Most of these alternatives are soy-based, however, a few contain some amount of milk protein. Double check the ingredient list. As a rule of thumb, light and airy whipped versions have too much water in them and are useless for baking. The harder stick versions are ideal for baking, but are not as healthy. Steer clear of trans-fat margarine or shortening, as the trans-fat they contain increase the inflammation within the body. As a last resort, you can use a gluten-free vegan mayonnaise.
When baking, if you’re looking for a fat free gluten-free substitution to replace something that your recipe calls for, you may be surprised to learn that you can use applesauce in anything that doesn’t contain chocolate (your chocolate will end up tasting off). You can also try canned pumpkin, squash or sweet potato.
Another great gluten-free alternative is jarred baby food such as pears or apricots. They’re a tasty way to add moisture to your batter without adding fat. Try to keep flavor in mind and choose substitutions that mimic the flavors you are trying to achieve. For example, molasses and warm spices like cinnamon and ginger would work best with canned pumpkin. Coconut oil works wonderfully with chicken and fish.
If you have celiac disease or are severely gluten intolerant, eggs may be a problem. Eggs in their shells are generally ok, but the problem comes from when the chickens mostly consume gluten grains such as rye and barley. This is why we’re including the option to replace eggs in your gluten free diet.
A widely used, fantastic egg replacement is Ener-G Egg Replacer. You could also try a half of a mashed banana combined with ¼ teaspoon of baking powder for a leveling effect. Try to keep in mind the flavor of the banana though, as it is not always desirable for what you are trying to make. Vegan mayonnaise and tofu are other nice gluten-free ingredients that can be used as replacements when paired with baking powder as a leveling agent.
You have a lot to choose from when selecting a gluten-free ingredient to replace granulated or brown sugar. Honey, agave, maple syrup and molasses are all excellent options. When replacing a liquid sweetener for a solid, start by reducing the liquid by two tablespoons and work up from there.
Some dairy products, especially those that are flavored, contain gluten additives. You can choose organic products to be safe, or opt for substitutions.
For example, choose a light, organic coconut milk for cows milk. Not only is it delicious, but it works with almost any meal you can create.
Hemp milk is another widely used alternative, however it does take an adjustment period to get used to, due to it’s strong flavor.
Rice milk can also be used, but it’s very thin. Soy and nut milks are excellent to use when baking.
A note about gluten free ingredients
Some of the alternatives we mentioned, such as apple sauce and baby food, are packaged. Always check the ingredient list to make sure you’re not substituting one gluten ingredient for another.
I always opt for organic choices to be safe. If you have any doubts about the product, it’s best to stay away from it.
As you can see, you have many choices when shopping for gluten free ingredients. And by no means do we cover all possible substitutions — we just list some common ones. You’ll find that there’s quite a bit of trial and error involved. Once you familiarize yourself with what’s out there and keep your pantry stocked with your favorite substitutions, you’ll find it becomes a lot easier.