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How to Establish a Safe, Gluten-Free Kitchen

Before you bring gluten-free foods into your home, you have to clean the kitchen to safely remove anything that may contain gluten. Even a tiny crumb or some flour dust can contaminate gluten-free products. And crumbs and dust fly everywhere in the rough-and-tumble world of the kitchen.

What to toss

To clean out your kitchen, start by taking everything out of the pantry, fridge, and freezer — but clean out only one area at a time! The key to this step is organization. You don’t want to get overwhelmed by the process; you want to know what’s in your kitchen and make sure every item has a designated home.

Carefully read every label, looking for the terms that indicate gluten. And remember the phrase, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

The baking products that can contain gluten and that you should discard or isolate include:

  • Baking powder: This product often contains an ingredient that helps absorb moisture so the baking powder doesn’t clump. Some brands use wheat starch as that ingredient. Gluten-free baking powders include Rumford, Clabber Girl, Featherweight, and Bakewell Cream.

  • Baking sprays made with flour: Cooking sprays are made with oil, but some have added flour and are marketed for baking. Make sure you use a pure oil spray.

  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch doesn’t contain gluten, but it may be contaminated with gluten if it isn’t produced in a dedicated mill. If the product in your pantry doesn’t say “gluten-free” or “produced in a dedicated mill,” it may not be gluten-free.

  • Flour and flour blends: Until you stock your kitchen with gluten-free flours and mixes, you should toss or isolate all products like these that are now in your kitchen.

  • Malt or malt flavorings: Malt flavoring is made from barley, which is a no-no for anyone allergic to gluten. Other products using malt may be made from corn, but product labels don’t have to specify whether corn is used. Contact the manufacturer to ask about the ingredients.

  • Oats and oatmeal: Although oats don’t contain gluten, they’re often grown in a field next to wheat or processed in the same mill used to process wheat. Throw out oats that don’t have the “dedicated mill” label or clearly mark them as “not gluten-free.”

  • Soy sauce: Though soy sauce is made with wheat, the natural fermentation process can destroy gluten. Kikkoman’s soy sauce tests gluten-free, but the only brand that guarantees its claims of gluten-free is San-J.

  • Spices: Some spices and spice blends (like curry powder) may contain an anticaking agent that contains gluten. As an alternative, you can dry your own spices or look for gluten-free brands in specialty stores or online.

  • Vanilla: Though vanilla can be made from distilled alcohol that comes from grains, it’s most likely gluten-free. You can make your own vanilla by steeping whole vanilla beans in a small bottle of potato vodka for a few weeks. It’s then ready to use in any recipe.

  • Vinegars: Malt vinegar isn’t gluten-free. Most vinegars made in the United States come from corn, potatoes, or wood. Some flavored vinegars aren’t gluten-free, and vinegar made outside the U.S. may contain gluten. Read labels and call the manufacturer if you’re unsure!

  • Wheat germ oil: This product, obviously, is derived from wheat grains. The gluten level can vary from very little to a lot, depending on the production methods, so to be safe, just avoid it. Other oils, like sesame oil and nut oils, are good alternatives.

What to keep

After you sort through all the products in your kitchen and toss the suspected culprits, read the labels of every other product. Toss or give away anything that may contain gluten or put it in a separate area until you decide whether your kitchen is going to be completely gluten-free or not.

Many products are naturally free of gluten, although cross-contamination is an issue with every food until you clean and reorganize your kitchen. These are the foods you can keep:

  • Baking soda: This product doesn’t contain gluten, but if you’ve been using a box for a while, it may be contaminated with gluten from flour products or baking powder. After all, not many people use separate measuring spoons for baking soda and baking powder!

  • Chocolate: Pure chocolate, like baking chocolate and semisweet chocolate, is gluten-free. Cocoa powder may not be, and products made with chocolate, like chocolate chips, pudding mixes, and chocolate drink mixes, may contain gluten.

  • Dairy products: Most dairy products are safe, although low-fat sour cream, eggnog, and cream cheese may be made with stabilizers or emulsifiers that contain gluten.

  • Eggs: Eggs are gluten-free, and because they come in a nice little package, they’re rarely contaminated.

  • Fresh meats: Processed meats may contain gluten, but ordinary chicken breasts and ground beef are considered gluten-free. You don’t want to create a delicious, gluten-free pizza crust and then top it with pepperoni that contains wheat flour!

  • Fruits and vegetables: You may want to peel fruits and veggies before eating them because some are coated with a wax or solution that can contain gluten. Otherwise, whole fresh fruits and vegetables in their original peels are fine for a gluten-free diet. Watch out for frozen vegetable and fruit combinations that may contain seasonings or a sauce mix.

  • Honey and corn syrup: These products are gluten-free, although you may want to check with the manufacturer of corn syrup to make sure there’s no possible contamination.

  • Nuts: Nuts are naturally gluten-free but are often processed in a nondedicated facility. If you’re very sensitive, be safe and only purchase nuts processed in a dedicated gluten-free plant.

  • Yeast: Yeast cakes are usually safe, although you may want to call the manufacturer to make sure. Dried yeast doesn’t contain gluten.

Many “safe food” lists circulate around the Internet. The biggest problem with these lists is accuracy. Some of the lists continue to label safe foods as “unsafe” and vice versa. So always read the label of any processed food, contact the manufacturer if you have any questions, and keep a good record of all safe foods for yourself and your family.

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