Ten Simple Ways to Make a Recipe Gluten-Free - dummies

Ten Simple Ways to Make a Recipe Gluten-Free

By Nancy McEachern

The easiest way to prepare a gluten-free meal is to follow a gluten-free recipe that’s already been tried and published by someone else who sweated out the details to get the ingredients and proportions just right. But that’s not always possible. So here are some suggestions for converting gluten-containing dishes into safe and delicious gluten-free versions.

Omit ingredients

The first step in making a gluten-containing recipe gluten-free is to know which ingredients to avoid. While you search the ingredient list for items you can leave out, be sure to check the labels on ingredients you plan to use as well.

Replace the flour

Converting recipes that don’t contain a large amount of flour is easiest. If the recipe calls for only a little flour, then just swap out the gluten-containing flour for cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or any gluten-free flour or flour blend.

But if you’re preparing a recipe with more than just a few tablespoons of flour, you can’t throw in the same volume of gluten-free flour and have a recipe turn out well unless you use a blend.

Keep it together with xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is a natural soluble fiber that’s produced by fermenting a microorganism with sugar. So why do you need xanthan gum in your gluten-free baked goods? This ingredient helps give dough a sticky consistency, and dough minus gluten really needs some help to stay together! If you’re just mixing a little gluten-free flour into gravy or a soup or using it for a coating, then no gum is required.

Add moisture to bakes goods

Gluten-free flours tend to produce foods that are denser and drier than their gluten-containing cousins. If your gluten-free cake or muffins turn out dry or heavy, here are a few ingredients that you can add the next time to improve the consistency:

  • 1/4 cup applesauce

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup sour cream

  • 1 or 2 tablespoons vanilla instant pudding mix

  • 1 or 2 tablespoons extra milk, butter, or oil

Use alternative breading options

If a recipe calls for a fried or baked crispy coating on meat or veggies, you don’t have to do without. Just use ingredients like gluten-free breadcrumbs, gluten-free flours, ground nuts, cornmeal, crushed potato chips or corn chips, instant mashed potato flakes, or crushed gluten-free cereal or crackers. Or you can forgo the coating and grill the food instead.

If you’re using an ingredient that’s coarser than flour, like crushed corn chips, handle the food carefully and press the crumbs in a bit before baking or frying.

Make gluten-free ingredients

If your recipe calls for croutons, breadcrumbs, or a pie crust, you can leave them out, buy them ready-made, or make your own! If pie crust shows up in the recipe, you can make your pie or quiche crustless by adding a few tablespoons of gluten-free flour. The flavor comes through even more without any crust, and you avoid a lot of fat and calories.

You also can make a simple pie crust from gluten-free graham crackers, cookies, or nuts.

Get saucy

Many recipes call for sauces and cream soups, but you may not have a gluten-free version handy. Here’s how to whip up these sauces quickly in a pinch:

  • Make your own teriyaki sauce by combining gluten-free soy sauce (tamari) with honey to taste. Try 1/2 cup gluten-free soy sauce plus 2 tablespoons honey.

  • Make your own barbecue sauce by combining 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons gluten-free Worcestershire sauce, and 2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce (tamari).

  • Use cornstarch or gluten-free flour instead of regular wheat flour to thicken any gravy.

Swap out other common allergens

People who have trouble with gluten may also have trouble with dairy, egg, or soy as well. For a recipe with only a few eggs, try some of these ideas to replace each egg:

  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal plus 3 tablespoons hot water (let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes before using it)

  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • Powdered egg replacer such as EnerG or Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer

If cow’s milk is your issue, maybe goat’s milk is better for you. Try it, or go with one of these vegan solutions in your recipes: Cup for cup, you can replace cow’s milk with coconut milk, rice milk, almond milk, or soy milk.

If you’re avoiding dairy, then you can’t use butter in a recipe. No problem! Just replace 1 stick (8 tablespoons, or 1/2 cup) of butter with one of these alternatives:

  • 8 tablespoons shortening

  • 8 tablespoons dairy-free margarine

  • 8 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread or Buttery Stick

  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (a lower-fat solution!)

Try alternative grains

As part of your gluten-free diet, take the time to experiment with the wide range of gluten-free grains: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff, and quinoa.

Reference gluten-free recipes

You don’t need to give up on favorite family recipes when you give up gluten! You just need to invent gluten-free versions. One way to figure out how to alter your recipe is to hunt for similar gluten-free recipes that have already been tried and published by someone else. If you want to make your grandma’s Spritz cookies, for example, there are certainly gluten-free cooks who have figured out similar cookie recipes.

If you can’t find a gluten-free recipe for a specific dish, read through several recipes, looking for patterns that can help you alter your recipe.


You may feel a bit like a mad scientist when attempting to turn an old favorite recipe into a gluten-free version, especially if it involves baking. Tap into that! Like a scientist, you should write down what you do and what the results are. Keep track of all the variations you try so you can make adjustments the next time if the food’s not just right — or so you can repeat your results!