Sleuthing out Hidden Gluten (Let the Gluten Go #4)

How food, diet, and dieting affected my writing and my life.  And maybe effects yours…

I’m making the case for a diet experiment – going one month without gluten (or just without wheat, if that’s all your schedule can handle right now.)  We’re got four different levels of trying this out, and a world of different grains to try in place of wheat, barley and rye (as well as oats, which are contaminated by gluten unless the package says “gluten-free.”)  Now, we step over to an important topic – gluten hidden in condiments and other places you just don’t expect it.  Such as – ice cream?  Eggnog?  Cheese?

Looking for condiments without hidden gluten (or without High Fructose Corn Syrup, another conversation completely) is like looking for applesauce without added sweeteners – they exist, but every grocery may not carry them.  You may have to become a multi-grocery shopper.  I buy what I can at my regular grocery, to encourage them to carry things, and occasionally I point out something they may have overlooked.

For example, the company San-J International, Inc. has an entire line of grilling and dipping sauces, as well as different forms of soy sauces.  The sauces come in organic and not, low salt and regular, and also gluten free.  My closest HEB, a major and generally good grocery store chain in Texas, has several of their grilling and dipping sauces in their “Asian” section.  It even has one size of their low-sodium soy sauces.

But it doesn’t carry their Organic Tamari (which has the words “gluten-free soy sauce” in visible type under the title.)

Now, I use a lot of this – at a minimum, a half-teaspoon every morning that I have Vega tea, and I also use it for sautéing temph, which is fermented, chopped and pressed soybeans.  (I love temph, which has a lot more texture than tofu, but watch for gluten – I had to give up a three grain variety I liked, because barley was one of the grains.)  I also saute onions and other veggies in soy sauce, and I like to have a bottle to take to the local Mongolian-style restaurant, where you build your own meal.  (Yes, I may have to give this up, if I still have gluten numbers through the roof.  Sigh.  It’s a communal cooking surface.  There are places like this where you get your food cooked in a separate fry pan.)  I used to take my own sauce to my sushi place, but you can now ask for gluten-free soy sauce there!

So I wrote up a request slip at my grocery for the product.  I pointed out that HEB carries the San-J line, and has no gluten-free soy sauce in either the GF section, or the Asian section.  And — it would be one less product for their customers to be hurrying off to Whole Foods to buy.  My local manager cannot order it, but he suggested I write a suggestion at the HEB site, and I’ve done that.

This of course led to the web site people telling me to ask my local manager for the product.  Right.  I decided to call back and talk to the grocery people (as opposed to giving up) and found out that my local store is expanding the food side of their operation – including eight more feet of aisle for gluten-free!  So there’s a chance I might get the GF soy sauce close to hand.  But I had to work for it.

Right now, we all still have to work for it.  But it’s getting a lot better – we aren’t chained to ordering in blulk from the Internet, or never eating out.   When you can, educate your grocery people.  When you’re brief and polite, they are always gracious even if they don’t want to try something.  After all – they have something like 50+ new products a week to evaluate.

That’s fine.  I just want some of them to be things I can eat!

One of my rules of buying safely – Wheat-free does NOT mean gluten-free.  It only means wheat-free.  Remember what you are looking for!

Don’t forget to watch for any other items that trigger an allergic reaction in you.  Don’t look so hard for gluten that you forget to look for other allergens!

Hidden Glutens – a growing list

battered/breaded foods
bouillon (canned, jars and instant)
broth (canned, jars and instant)
cheese (look at processed cheeses, in slices and bricks.  It’s okay, you can gasp.)
cheese, shredded — often uses corn, potato or wheat starch to keep from clumping.
chocolate (especially major mass market brands)
color, artificial and natural
cookies (remember – wheat free does not mean gluten free!)
corn chips, especially flavored ones
cornstarch can have gluten mixed into it!
crab, fake
edible coatings
edible starch
energy bars
fast food hamburgers
frozen dinners
frozen vegetables that are smooshed and then pressed into shapes    (I’m thinking of one brand of frozen sweet potato fries, for starters)
glucose syrup
gravies (canned, jars and instant)
hot dogs
ice cream (ice cream cones have wheat, remember.)
licorice candy of any kind (I have yet to find one GF, drat it)
luncheon meats, processed, including hot dogs
mayo, real and tricked up varieties
malted drinks
natural flavors
natural seasonings
non-dairy creamers
nuts, dry roasted
pretzels – most formed snack food is wheat/gluten
potato chips, especially flavored ones
rice mixes, instant, of any kind, especially flavored ones
root beer and other soft drinks
salad dressings
sandwich spreads
sauces (for meat, veggies, fruit, desserts)
sausage – both meat and vegetarian
seitan (its other name is “wheat gluten”)
soups (canned, jars and instant)
soup mixes/kits
soy sauce
spices, ground
stock (canned, jars and instant)
teas (especially herbal)  Watch out for “natural flavors” in teas.
turkey (if it was injected, it might have gluten)
veggie burgers
vinegar (sometimes made in facilities with wheat products, or have had malt added in after the distilling.)
vitamin E (can be made from wheat germ, a fine healthy item for some – but not gluten-free)
vodka  (some are grain vodkas – check your brand thoroughly)
whiskey (“malt” almost always means a grain with gluten in it)
wine (wine “drinks” and cheaper wines that may be adulterated.)

No list on foods containing gluten is complete.  If it turns out you are very sensitive to gluten, you’ll have to keep combing sites looking for this info – or, like me, you can take up cooking as your new hobby!

Found a few I have not noticed yet, often because I gave up a lot of common foods years ago?  Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.  There are lists out there on the Internet and in books you can find, but some are very vague, for various reasons, or may give you specific brands – and we all know that’s like reading an old Consumer Reports article.  A third of the brands or models (probably the ones that are cheapest and with the highest ratings) no longer exist.

By they way — has anyone ever found a rum that contains gluten?  The color of amber rums should come from the rum process, but they cost more, so in theory someone could add caramel coloring to white rum – and voila, you may have gluten in the rum.

I’m not using a lot of brand names at this point because you cannot use them as a crutch, unless they specialize in gluten-free products.  They may suddenly change the way they clean or use their processing equipment.  They may use a different machine, but make wheat products in the same room as corn products.  And for some people, that’s too much wheat – just the chaff blowing around and the dust in the air can be a hazard.  The company may discontinue the gluten-free aspect of a product – they’ve done it before.

Our ancestors could take a slow day in most of their chores, if a food intolerance made them feel a little bit ill, off, slow or stupid.  It’s a lot harder for us – every day most of us drive a machine that can easily kill people, or manipulate figures or programs on computers that can cost our employers a small fortune in lost time and worker hours – all because we got some wheat or other gluten we should not have eaten.

So – if you’re reading labels, be thorough.  Watch for the obvious stuff, and also the sneaky types of things listed above.  If you’re not reading labels, try to be aware of items that could make your progress stumble – luncheon meats, veggie burgers, processed cheese, etc..

We can do this!  Let the gluten go!


Cat Kimbriel is a fantasy and science fiction writer with a practical streak, a passion for great characters, and a focus on justice and compassion. Her current ebooks can be found over here.


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