In recent years, gluten-free has become a sort of buzzword in the health and wellbeing scene. Being gluten-free became trendy, which in turn produced an abundance of foods and restaurants that cater to those who chose to eat that way. For many gluten-free people, their diet is out of necessity rather than choice – and there are often hidden ingredients that they need to look out for, like those in some brands of powdered sugar.
What is powdered sugar?
Also known as confectioner’s sugar, or icing sugar, powdered sugar is the result of a process which involves milling granulated sugar down into a very fine powder. Though often made in a factory setting, it can also be made at home with a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder or a high-powered blender.
In the food industry, this kind of ingredient is used for foods that require a quick-dissolving sugar. For home bakers, it’s most often used to make icing or frosting and other cake decorations. It can also be used in both home baking and the food industry as a decoration and to add a subtle sweetness by being dusted on top of baked goods.
Is powdered sugar a gluten-free food?
Sometimes it is gluten-free, and sometimes it isn’t. When produced at home from granulated sugar and with no additives, there is no gluten. In industrial settings, sometimes an anti-caking agent is added to prevent lumps from forming and improve the flow. These anti-caking agents can contain particular starches which do contain gluten. Sometimes, the powdered sugar is produced in a facility which also processes wheat – this can lead to the presence of gluten despite none being added to the product itself.
For people with food sensitivities, it is important to check the packaging carefully and make sure that if there is a starch added to the product that it’s one like cornstarch or tapioca starch, as these do not contain any gluten. To be extra certain, you can purchase test strips that measure the amount of gluten in the food.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a combination of two proteins present in cereal grains, most notably wheat, barley, and rye. It’s what gives the dough its elasticity, acting like a glue which holds foods together and helps them to maintain their shape. These proteins can be found in many different kinds of food, including foods which would not obviously have them present.
Why is it important to know if these proteins are in different foods?
Many people believe that consuming gluten in its various forms and the foods they are found in, like bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals can cause them intestinal discomfort. By avoiding these trigger foods, they are able to better manage symptoms like bloating and upset stomach, leading to a much more comfortable dining experience.
More significantly, there are individuals who have Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition. For them, eating gluten causes their body to mount an immune system attack against the small intestine, which can cause an incredible amount of damage. Those with Celiac disease must absolutely avoid food and drinks containing gluten, as exposure to the proteins causes intense discomfort and has the potential for long-term damage.
How can I be sure there isn’t any in my powdered sugar?
Unfortunately, if you purchase your product from a store, there is no way to know for certain that none of the proteins are evident. This can cause problems if you’re using the powdered sugar in baking for someone with Celiac disease or a serious sensitivity, as even the smallest amounts can cause a reaction.
The best way to ensure purity is to make your own. Simply take granulated sugar of any grain size and blend or grind, either with a coffee grinder or a pestle and mortar, until the sugar is the consistency of fine powder. If you do not have white sugar, you can also use different varieties, such as coconut or Demerara, which can be ground to the same consistency. These may give your baking a slightly different flavor, but it is easier to guarantee that these are free from gluten, especially if you are grinding it yourself at home.