More and more we are seeing a trend of people shying away from gluten which is commonly found in foods containing wheat flour and some other sources. Gluten is found in most of your favourite pastries, pasta and even in beer. One can argue that gluten is practically in everything but, that’s not really the case. With this prevalent change in attitude, we are also seeing expansive gluten-free alternatives on the market.
Before I go any further, let it be known that I am not a dietitian and that you should see a registered dietary professional should you need counsel on whether you have a need to remove gluten from your diet or not.
Wait, what’s gluten?
Gluten this, gluten that but wait, what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains or cereals like wheat, spelt, rye, barley and others. They consist of two compounds, gliadin, a soluble protein and glutenin, an insoluble protein. The culinary functions of gluten proteins are for water absorption capacity, viscosity and elasticity of doughs. Gluten proteins are also responsible for the structure of doughs for baked goods.
Those who suffer from celiac disease which is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by gluten, have a serious health-related reason to justify their abstinence from diets containing gluten. Another health-related reason for a self-imposed ‘gluten ban’ is inflammation which is said to be caused by proteins found in wheat. There are also others who believe that maintaining a diet that is gluten-free would improve mental and physical health however, there are arguments on both sides of that fence. My advice is again, to consult a registered dietitian.
There are now many gluten-free options available on the market. We can now find everything gluten-free; from wine, beer or pasta, to sauces, pancakes and even bread that is sometimes of higher quality and more palatable than their gluten counterparts. Amazing right?
So on the topic of bread, the usual main ingredient would be baker’s flour, or more commonly, all-purpose flour. How does one go about making bread without the main ingredient? Well, the answer is to substitute the main ingredient for one of the many alternative flours. It is important to note that the various types of flour may not have the same attributes of wheat flour and therefore, must be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome. We will tackle a few of the options that are readily accessible.
Split Pea Flour
Split pea flour is very popular in our country. We may be most familiar with it in the form of pholourie mix; its mildly nutty flavour and ability to carry other flavours well makes it a very good option for various purposes. Split pea flour is well-suited to making fritters, pancakes and even cakes. Being that yellow split peas do not bind in the same way wheat flour does, other ingredients are needed to allow an item made with yellow split pea flour to hold; they include potato starch, rice flour and tapioca or dasheen starch.
Chickpea flour is another great option if you need to swap out all-purpose flour. Similarly, other starches like potato, buckwheat and rice flours are needed to help hold the structure of baked dough items. Ground flaxseeds and linseeds act as a binding agent and take the function of gluten proteins found in wheat flour.
Almond flour, made from dried, ground almonds is yet, another popular option as it pertains to alternative flours. I love the nutty flavour of almond flour and how close it comes to the real thing. The main drawback of almond flour is the cost as compared to regular flour. Almond flour also needs a binding agent such as ground flaxseeds or xanthan gum. Almond flour is very versatile and is well-suited to making bread, quick breads, cookies and cake batters.
Aside from these, there are options unique to our region such as breadfruit, cassava, green fig and even coconut flours. The trick is learning which qualities they carry and figuring out what purposes they are suited for. It would take some experimentation in some cases but that’s the fun part; not to mention you get to eat all the ‘failures’. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on how good or bad you are in the bakeshop, but as the timeless saying goes, ‘What doesn’t kill will fatten’.