Sometimes, it does baffle me, the sheer array of foods that turn out to contain gluten. In some cases, I get it – like gravy granules, they need thickener, so, fair enough, flour is the go-to thing. Anthony Worrall Thompson makes a decent range of GF granules, although they’re a lot pricier than Bisto, so I usually end up making gravy with a Knorr cube and some cornflour.
But in some cases, there can be gluten in some things you would never even think to look, and on occasion my boyfriend has bought things for me, thinking “this would never have gluten in it” and then we’ve got it home and seen the dreaded word on the pack.
So, without further ado, here is the list of the top 10 “catch you out” foods that might contain traces of your favourite nemesis.
So, you think chips are just yummy little crispy chunks of fried potato? Sorry to bust the bubble, but chips can be a gluten-dodger’s nightmare. One of my “safest” meals to have out is a steak and chips, but in the early days, I didn’t realise that I should check with the restaurant what else they fry in that oil. They could be using oil that has been used to fry things like crumbed chicken, for example, or battered fish. And not all the frozen varieties are safe, either. Bizarrely, chips that aren’t even billed as “beer battered” or “seasoned” (where you would generally expect to have to check the label, if not reject outright) sometimes are coated in flour. So you have to make sure that the label says “Potatoes, vegetable oil” only. Or make your own. Nom.
Damn you, Nestle. After a recent craving for white chocolate, BF bought me home a pack of Milkybars, which I absolutely loved as a kid. Imagine my cross panda face, then, upon realising that the label said “May contain traces of gluten”. Stink! He felt a bit bad, but then brightened up on realising that he would have to eat them. Before I vilify Nestle though (even though they kinda deserve it) they are not the only ones who put that on their label. Some Cadbury products carry the warning, as does Galaxy, and some supermarket brands, usually because they are making their chocolate in a factory that also processes gluten products, so they can’t guarantee it’s gluten free.
3. Hot chocolate
While we’re on the subject, some of the powdered hot chocolate drinks have barley malt extract in them, so that’s one to watch for. I don’t see the need for it – personally, I prefer my hot chocolate to taste of chocolate, not Horlicks, but hey, there’s no accounting for taste. Read the Coeliac UK info sheet on barley malt extract here.
Well, duh. Of course most cereal is going to be banned, because it’s made of wheat. But I figured when I first got diagnosed that Rice Krispies (or equivalent) would be ok, right? Because they’re made of rice, not wheat. But no, again the barley malt extract rears its head, and most are not suitable. However, some supermarket own brands have actually removed the barley malt in some of their own brand cereals, making them now suitable. The Coeliac UK Food and Drink directory has a record of which ones. It’s good news for Rice Krispie fiends like me; even though I can’t have the original Kelloggs version thanks to the barley malt, I don’t have to resort to the specialist gluten free brand I once tried (which shall remain nameless) which had all the snap, crackle and pop of sawdust shavings.
5. Chutneys and Sauces
While we’re on the subject of our friend barley malt, watch for it in chutneys, sauces and condiments. Most of us will know about soy sauce, brown sauce and BBQ sauce, but things like fruity chutneys can contain barley malt vinegar as well, so it’s worth checking the label on those. Barley malt vinegar is cheaper then wine vinegar, so you tend to find it in the cheaper brands. Bummer for your pocket, like most things gluten-dodger friendly, it’s more expensive to find them without. Spirit vinegar, acetic acid, wine or balsamic vinegars are fine, and I found a particularly nice malt vinegar free caramelised onion chutney in Tesco Finest range recently. But yeah….Finest price too.
If you didn’t know about the malt vinegar thing, you definitely do now. If you like your pickles, then you have to check what they’ve been fermenting in. Most pickled onions are pickled in malt vinegar, and even some of those posh balsamic pickled ones you get in delis can have malt vinegar in as well as the balsamic. Cheeky little cost saving measure which can be costly on your gut if you get them unknowingly. Again, look for pickles preserved in spirit vinegar. I’m getting quite into the Polish ones they sell in my local Tesco, and they don’t use malt vinegar at all.
Icing? Isn’t that just basically sugar and water? Nope, wrong again. I actually got caught out with this recently when making a Hello Kitty birthday cake for my friend Alice. I figured those tubes of writing icing would just be sugar and glycerine, but on the back there was a warning “May contain Wheat and Gluten”. Sigh….a trip to take them back resulted, and I replaced them with Dr Oetker ones, which had no mention of the evil G, but were, incidentally, not suitable for nut allergy sufferers.
8. Packs of naturally gluten free grains
I love cornmeal and polenta, and had wanted to try a cassava bread recipe, so I was pleased to find that my local supermarket had started stocking a range of Caribbean brands. However, on a closer inspection of their packs of cornmeal, ground yam, ground rice and other grains that are naturally gluten free, there was the familiar warning that it might contain traces of nasties. Curious, I had a look at some of the other things around that section, and one of the Indian brands of rice contained a warning too. I’ve never seen this on the mainstream supermarket brands or the Tildas or Veetees or Uncle Bens, but if you like ethnic foods (and I like those sections, because a lot of the time the brands are cheaper) it’s worth checking it out before you buy.
9. Cured and Deli Meats
I picked up a chorizo the other day which had a warning on, as well as finding a couple of packs of honey roast ham which contained barley malt vinegar in the marinade. I would generally avoid the pre-marinated meats, and things like breaded ham of course, but the deli section can still occasionally catch you out, even when the meat ostensibly looks pretty plain. Roast chickens from the deli, if they have the dubiously ambiguous “tasty” flavouring, also may well have hidden gluten.
10. Ice creams and sorbets
OK, so obviously you can’t eat Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough if you can’t eat gluten. But you’d think you’d be OK with the plainer flavours, surely? And sorbet – fruit, sugar and water, innit? Nope. I recently asked for a sorbet dessert in a restaurant (thinking it would be the safest option) but the waiter came back and said he was terribly sorry, but the sorbet contained gluten. I’m not sure how you would work gluten into a sorbet, or why you would want or need it, but I’m guessing the chef was a) literate and b) not drunk, so I took his word. I don’t know what brand it was, but being the gluten-hunting geek that I am, I checked a few out on my next shopping trip, and sure enough, even plain ol’ vanilla ice creams and some sorbets either explicitly said “Contains gluten” (which came, incidentally, from wheat protein) or had the “traces” warning.
So there you have it. 10 everyday foodstuffs which, if you ask me, frankly don’t need to contain gluten, but in some cases, they do.
Happy shopping (or should I say, happy label scrutinizing!)