One of the biggest nutritional movements that has been steam rolling through our nation is eating gluten free. The Gluten Free (GF) “way” has been popular in many different areas of health and nutrition; including the weight loss industry, controlling repercussions of autoimmune diseases, lifestyle changes for over all better health, prescription for celiac disease or gluten intolerance issues, and helping control certain mental disorders. What is eating gluten free? What and where does gluten come from? What foods have gluten in them? These are all questions that probably run through the minds of many information seekers. I will briefly discuss what gluten is, where it is found, and also provide options for baking with other flours if you are choosing to have a diet that is GF.
In general terms, gluten is a mixture of proteins found in different types of grains. Specifically, gluten is made up of two different proteins Gliadin (prolamin) and Glutelin. Gliadin and Glutelin are major parts found in the wheat seed. Glutelin proteins are naturally found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains such as durum (semolina), spelt, einkorn, emmer, Khorasan, club wheat, triticale, and farro. For food purposes gluten helps in providing texture, moisture and air retention, heat stabilization, flavor, and general structure of baked goods and other processed foods.
Below is a list of the grains that gluten is found:
||KAMUT ® Khorasan wheat
In order for foods to be considered Gluten Free (GF) there are specific testing procedures and the results must be less than 20 ppm of gluten particles.
Individuals that suffer from Celiac Disease or Celiac Sprue have a genetic disease that affects the lining of the small intestine and hinders the absorption of nutrients during the digestive process. There are other signs of celiac disease such as failure to thrive, anxiety, brain fog, joint pain, reproductive issues, rashes, and eczema. For more information on signs and symptoms please visit celiac.org. Many individuals that are not diagnosed with celiac disease, but have an array of different reactions to gluten, fall under the terms wheat intolerance or gluten intolerance/sensitivity.
Now that we have established what gluten is, associated diseases and intolerances, and which grains/foods have gluten in them, we can now discuss the challenges in baking that individuals have when using gluten free products and some ideas to help combat these.
As we have established, gluten provides important properties for baking. It helps retain moisture, air, and also helps with structure. When thinking about types of baked goods that need more structure we think about breads and cakes. Other baked goods, like cookies, can handle a flour that does not have the “gluten” type properties. With this said, swapping regular flour with either a gluten free pre-made flour such as Bobs Red Mill or using a naturally gluten free flour such as Almond flour for cookie recipes usually are acceptable and will produce an acceptable product. When baking cakes, pancakes, and breads that need more structure, using a pre-made flour mix such as Bobs Red Mill GF Chocolate Cake mix will already have additives such as Xanthum Gum to help with the binding process of baking. If you do choose to use other flours such as coconut, almond, or quinoa that are in pure form and no added ingredients, a good tip to go by is a ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of Xanthum Gum per cup of flour. This can provide a more suitable product that will be more like traditional baked good. Another great baking tip is to use eggs as a replacer for properties created by gluten. If and when you start using more exotic flours such as coconut flour or tapioca starch, a recipe that has already been tested can be very helpful and also less likely to produce an inadequate product.
Gluten free baking can be a trial and error activity and many times finding a recipe that has been tested and making modifications for your personal liking is always a great way to have a good end product. Other tips to help with taste and production of a quality product are adding extra spices, adding honey, extra eggs, or applesauce for moisture, and also adding cottage cheese for extra structure.
If you are newly diagnosed or have been attempting gluten free baking and are frustrated, there are great resources in your counties with the Nutrition and Food Safety Team!
Colorado State University Extension