Grain Allergies

Allergies or intolerance to wheat or to other members of the cereal family will require many changes in your grocery shopping and food preparation.  First, you will have to become familiar with label reading. You can obtain a laminated card with names for wheat derivatives from the Food Allergy Network,  These laminated cards are very handy for shopping.

Next, you will have to check ingredients carefully before using them.  You will need to become familiar with the fact that wheat and other grains are often hidden ingredients in many prepared foods.  Grain alcohol, and/or vinegar, for instance, may contain wheat or corn.  Malt is typically derived from barley, and may also contain corn by-products.  "Food starch" in prepared foods may be wheat or grain derived as well.

 Cross contamination issues associated with the grain family are a significant concern.   Wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye and rice are all products used in the manufacturing of most commercially produced cereals and flours. Manufacturers will typically make a variety of products on the same equipment.  So, the risk of cross contamination exists with a number of otherwise safe cereals or flours.  It is important to contact the manufacturer on a regular basis, and inquire about the safety of specific products. Spice extracts (e.g., vanilla extract) suspended in alcohol may be labeled as "spices" or "flavoring" on the label.  It is important to call each manufacturer, and emphasize that a food allergy or severe intolerance exists.  Most companies will gladly provide information on the safety of their products.  If they do not, it is safest to find an alternative.

You will have to adapt many recipes to accommodate grain substitutes, since wheat is the main ingredient in most baked goods and pastas.  You will find it very difficult to produce baked goods with the exact texture and flavor as those prepared with wheat.  With recipe adaptations and familiarity with safe grain alternatives, though, you will still be able to prepare many nice tasting baked goods.  To choose the best wheat flour substitute for your baked goods, you will first have to determine the characteristics of the finished product in the wheat form.  Once you have done this, you can evaluate flour substitutes, find one with similar characteristics, and use it in your recipe.  For example, a heavy spice cake will generally achieve the best results with heavier flour.  Oat bran or oat flour may be good substitutes to consider if allergic to wheat, and attempting to alter an item like a heavy carrot cake.  On the other hand, a light and fluffy angel food cake will require flour with a higher starch content and lighter texture. Tapioca, potato or rice flours used in combination, will produce a lighter finished product.

The art of wheat-free baking will require a great deal of practice and patience.  So don't become frustrated if a recipe fails.   Record and celebrate your successful recipes, and use them to create a variety of similar items with different flavors.  If you don't want to experiment yourself, you can find companies that produce wheat-free or gluten-free baking mixes that will eliminate the guesswork of baking without wheat.