My kitchen has become a coveted rodent party palace. Who would’ve thought I’d need to keep mouse traps going year round? Or scour my pantry for signs of mini mammal nocturnal visitations every morning? If I have to purge my pantry and sanitize it one more time, I swear I’ll give into some primal scream therapy…oh, wait…I did that already.
Guess what made me so popular amongst the local rodentia? It isn’t my little garden, not my dog’s big bag of lamb kibble and not my bags of various types of sugars. No, it’s all because we had to go gluten free. Huh?! What has that got to do with anything you ask? Well, it’s all because of the grains I collected; sorghum, millet, amaranth and quinoa. Not to mention the buckwheat, corn, rice and sweet potato.
Have you ever been to a pizzeria and seen the person at the counter working the pizza dough? They knead the dough a little with their hands next they stretch it out and then flip the dough up in the air and let it spin a little, stretching out the disc of dough. Gluten is what holds the dough together as it is worked and spun in the air.
Pizza is problematic for the person with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or intolerance and certain grain allergies. Since these people can’t tolerate gluten or wheat, they will need to find another way to hold their baked goods together, rather than gluten, as well as finding other flours to use.
What is celiac disease (also called coeliac disease, celiac sprue, non-topical sprue, and gluten sensitive enteropathy)? It is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks bodily tissues. The attack is set off by the protein – gluten, which is found in wheat, emmer, kamut, spelt, triticale, rye and barley. As the protein travels through the digestive tract, the immune system attacks the villi found on the walls of the small intestine. The damaged villi are then unable to properly absorb nutrients into the body, which can lead to poor nutrition and a wide variety of other issues such as cancer, infertility, diabetes, osteoporosis and other autoimmune diseases.*
A person with a wheat allergy is typically allergic to one of the proteins found in wheat. Their allergy can show up with a variety of symptoms, for example hives, nausea and difficulty breathing. A life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can also occur. **
The important thing when looking for alternative flours or binders to hold your baked goods together is how the food processed. Foods that are naturally gluten free can become contaminated during the growing and manufacturing process. For example, in the United States, oats are typically grown as a rotation crop for wheat. They are harvested using the same equipment, housed in the same storage facilities and send to the same mills. This can also happen with other flour options such as, millet or buckwheat. If you don’t know whether or not a food is gluten or allergen free, contact a customer service representative from the foods’ manufacturer or check out the gluten free food lists maintained by Celiac.com and others.
What are your flour options when baking? Well, they are truly endless. You can use sorghum, teff, amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, corn, white, brown or sweet rice, white bean, green pea, sweet potato, mesquite, Montina, and any of the starches: tapioca, potato, corn and arrowroot.
Plus you can use any bean, lentil, tuber, nut or seed. For beans, you will need to grind the dried bean or lentil into a powder. The benefits to you are that these flours are high in a wide variety of nutrients. To counteract the bitterness of bean flours, you will need to use additional sweeteners. For tubers, you will need to thinly slice and dry each slice, before grinding into a powder.
For nuts and seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder, making sure to remove all the leftover coffee grounds first. Some nuts, such as pine are soft and filled with oil. To counteract the oil, you will need to add some flour to the grinder, otherwise you’ll make pine nut butter pretty quickly.
Alternative flours all have a distinctive flavor and none of them taste just like wheat. While there are recipes that call for just one of these flours, for example tapioca or corn starch. Your baked goods will taste better and have a better texture if you use a blend of flours. One of the basic flour combinations you will find is white rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch. As a rule of thumb you will use more of your main flour than you will each starch used. If your recipe calls for 2 cups/460 g of flour, you will divide it as 1 cup/230 g white or brown rice flour, ½ cup/115 g tapioca starch and ½ cup/115 g potato starch.
Additionally, each one of the alternative flours has a different texture. Some will be like wheat, others very powdery, some will be granular and some will be fibrous. For example, if you have cooked with white or brown rice flour you may have noticed that your baked goods had a granular feel in your mouth. This is due to the size of grind the mill used to process the rice. There are companies that make extra fine grind flours so that your baked goods turn out much nicer.
Now you have these great flours, but how are you going to hold them together? You can use the starches, gums, seed gels, egg whites, kudzu, agar agar, gelatin and pectin for their binding power. The lightest in strength are the starches, kudzu, and egg whites. You will need to cook the starch with water until it forms a gel. Then use anywhere from 1 Tb/14 g to ¼ cup/57 g. Egg whites would typically be used in low quantities such as 1 or 2, then beaten and folded into your baked good. You can also purchase albumin powder as an alternative. Kudzu is found in dried chunks, usually in the Asian section of your grocery store or direct from a company such as, Eden Foods. It is the dried root of the kudzu vine and can be made into a gel just like the starches.
The gums you can typically found are xanthan, guar, methylcellulose, arabic, kuraya, mastic and tragacanth. Use anywhere from 1 to 2 tsp/5 to 9 g of the gum you have chosen to a baked good recipe. If you are using a gum for the first time, be aware that some of them have a unique flavor all their own and can change the flavor of your baked good. Before baking, taste test of the gum first, so you know how it will taste and affect your recipe.
Some seeds create mucilage when they get wet. This gel coating allows the seed to anchor to the ground, so it can take root. Gluten free foods benefit from these seed additions not only for their gelling abilities, but also their high nutritional content. The mucilaginous seeds that are typically found are: flax (linseed), chia (salba) and hemp. Grind the seeds and then add 1 to 2 tsp/5 to 9 g to your dry ingredients when baking. If you allow the seeds to gel in water first, the gel will stiffen and will break up into little bits when blended with your dough.
Lastly you can use agar agar, gelatin and pectin to hold gluten free baked goods together. Pectin is found in a powdered form, but agar agar and gelatin can be found in both powdered and a sheet form called leaves. You can use 1 to 2 tsp/5 to 9 g of the powder in your recipe. The sheet form has to be dissolved in boiling water, whereas the powdered form can be added directly to your dry ingredients.
For recipes that call for more holding power, i.e. breads or pastries, you can use two types of binders, such as 1 tsp/5 g xanthan gum and 1 tsp/5 g gelatin or 1 tsp/5 g agar agar and 2 tsp/9 g chia (salba) seed meal.
For a long time storing my flours and binders in labeled reclosable plastic bags. Then the mouse found my pantry. I realized that while plastic bags were easy to use, they are no match for a rodent’s teeth and nails.
While I was cleaning and sanitizing the pantry, I found the mouse had actually moved in on a temporary basis. It made a sweet little residence inside a gnawed open bag of sweet rice flour. There were exercise tunnels running through a large block of white Valrhona chocolate, packaging and all. My pantry had been under siege and I didn’t even know it…sneaky varmints.
To keep the rodent horde from your pantry door, pick up some glass or rigid plastic storage canisters to store your flours. There are some very nice versions that are air tight and some with glass jars with precision lids. So unless your mouse is a genetic mutant and has opposable thumbs your flours are pretty safe in these types of containers.
There you have it…how my house got to be on the mouse party circuit. Not that my mouse was sharing the secret, because like Las Vegas, what happened in the pantry stayed in the pantry.
For More Information:
Cooking & Informational Books:
Bundy, Ariana; Sweet Alternative. Whitecap: North Vancover, B.C. © 2005.
Cupillard, Valerie; Gluten-Free French Desserts and Goods. Book Publishing Company: Summertown, TN. © 2006.
Green M.D., Peter H. R. and Jones, Rory; Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic. William Morrow: New York, NY. © 2006.
Hagman, Bette; Gluten Free Gourmet. Holt Paperbacks: New York, NY. © 2000.
McKenna, Erin; Babycakes. Clarkson Potter: New York, NY. © 2009.
Reilly, Rebecca; Gluten-Free Baking. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY. © 2007.