Accompanying recipe: Buckwheat Crepes
If you are among the fast growing population that is allergic to gluten, don’t despair. It is often possible to reverse food sensitivities (see Clean and Free).In the meantime, here’s how to enjoy bread, pasta and cookies…albeit, wheat-free.
First, identify any problematic foods that trigger your reactions and then avoid eating them while your digestive system repairs. Wheat and dairy are the most common allergens. Others include: corn, rice, other gluten grains (barley and rye), oats, soy, eggs, nuts, citrus, shell fish and fish. Gluten sensitivities range from mild to life-threatening; consult your doctor as necessary.
Because wheat is versatile and inexpensive, it’s used in most packaged and restaurant foods. When shopping, read labels carefully. Depending upon how it’s processed, wheat is labeled as bran, bulgur, cous cous, flour, gluten, pasta and semolina.When eating out, insist on gluten-free options. Better yet, shedule in time for more home cooking. If this feels daunting, take a cooking class for inspiration and support.
Below I’ve listed wheat substitutes. They are, however, substitutes as only wheat tastes, smells and performs like wheat. It is wheat gluten that enables bread to rise, pastry to have a tender flake and pasta to be firm and al dente but not soggy. However, in some uses the alternatives are more delicious than wheat (see the Buckwheat Crepe recipe below).
While it’s a challenge to make a good wheat-free leavened bread, you can easily make tasty and exotic wheat-free quick breads, cakes, cookies and sauces. My web page and book, The Splendid Grain, provide several hundred wheat-free recipes. My favorite wheat-free pastas are Asian (rice noodles or threads, mung bean pasta and shiritake). Commercially made wheat-free breads and pastries have increasing availability in natural food stores and quality bakeries.
1. Cereal Grains Barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, tef and wild rice are all in the same cereal grain family as is wheat. All flours ground from cereal grains may be used as a wheat substitute. Commonly available are barley, buckwheat, corn, rice and rye flour. The less utilized flours may be purchased online or from natural food stores. Note: people with a gluten allergy must also avoid barley, oats and rye.
2. Non-Cereal Grains Amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat are three grain-like seeds unrelated to cereal grains. (Despite its name, buckwheat is not a wheat-relative.) It is rare for anyone to develop a sensitivity to these non-cereal grains. Amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat are gluten-free and therefore not suitable for making leavened bread; however, they make excellent quick breads and cookies.
3. Nut Meal Ground nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts make the richest flour substitute for cookies and cakes. Because their fragile fatty acid content gives them a brief shelf life, it’s preferable to grind your own nuts in a food processor just prior to use. Nut meal requires a binding agent such as eggs. Because chestnuts are lower in fat than other nuts, chestnut flour has a longer shelf life. It is available online.
4. Bean Flour, NOT RECOMMENDED Dried beans, such as navy, pinto, soy and chickpeas may be milled and used, in combination with other flours, as a wheat alternative. However, they make baked goods dense and hard to digest; or for many people indigestible.
5. Other Flour Substitutes Potato starch, arrowroot powder, cornstarch and tapioca are thickening agents that substitute for wheat in sauces and gravy. In baked goods these starchy ingredients serve as a binding agent.
May you be well nourished,