No longer a new concept in this day and age, gluten free products on cafÉ and restaurant menus are not only common, but are essential if you want to cover the needs of your customers. But what does it mean?
Gluten is a protein compound found in foods or produce derived from wheat. It is the component that gives elasticity to dough allowing it to be shaped, rise and fall and adds a distinctive texture to the overall product. The problem is we were never meant to digest it. Eating gluten can be somewhat compared to digesting metal, as our bodies simply were not made to break it down. Our internal organs recognise it as a foreign substance, so our bodies struggle to digest it properly. Some people can handle it; however, more and more people are becoming gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, leading to a diagnosis of Celiac Disease, which is actual damage to the small intestine caused by a severe allergic reaction to wheat gluten.
Gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease symptoms can include: itching, swelling and irritation around the mouth; itchy rash or hives; nasal congestion and itchy eyes; cramps, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis.
Whenever I translate what gluten is, I like to take people back to their childhood. Not sure if this relates to you, but do you remember CLAG glue? The substance you used in arts and crafts in kindergarten and you used a paddle pop stick to remove it from the bottle? When you ate this … which some kids did, it is as if you were eating gluten. The glue like substance is stretchy, sticky and toxic and as it passes through your system, it sticks to walls, stretches, causes passageway issues, and ultimately your stomach cannot break it down. So just remember next time, go easy on the glue … I mean, bread.
Common foods that contain gluten are: pizza, pasta, soy sauce, cakes and pastry. As more and more people are recognising and experiencing the intolerance, companies are bringing out gluten free options for pasta and pizza doughs. Even cakes are becoming gluten free.
As bread in today’s modern age is a big part of western societies’ meals, to some degree our bodies are becoming adapted to breaking it down. As a result, the onset of the associated illnesses are being delayed and individuals are not being affected until their early twenties. The biggest problem with this is people feel they are immune to the intolerance and consume bread without any initial problems; however, once reactions begin it is harder to stop, because they have been putting their hand in the cookie jar for so long.
It is unrealistic for me to say you should stop having gluten altogether, purely because: one, that would make me a hypocrite; two, it is unrealistic; and three, it does not fit in with my “Healthy Cook” philosophies. I myself consume almost everything gluten free; however, I also place a high value on a balanced lifestyle. I grew up on making my own fresh pasta and pizza doughs and call myself Italian. It’s important to still have these meals every so often, as they produce an amazingly positive response from your hormones; you just have to establish how often.
It’s great to see the shift in so many cafés including gluten free products or at least, healthier options. For example, with whole wheat sourdough becoming much more common among baked and green eggs, it’s fantastic the movement is occurring slowly but surely. Nearly every single café I walk past has gluten free muffins cakes and even tarts. Although they still might not be the overall healthiest of options, many whole food cafés are creating great alternatives in flourless muffins with no added sugar and they taste just as, if not better, relying on the natural sweeteners and flavours in whole produce.
I say this as I sip on my piccolo and eat a flourless and sugar free banana bread.
By Daniel Churchill
Sweet strawberry and coconut muffins
If I said these had no confectionary sugar in them, you wouldn’t know it. By removing the moisture from the strawberries you enhance their natural sweeteners, making this cheat less of a treat but even tastier.
• ¾ punnet strawberries, topped and quartered
• ½ cup quinoa flakes (can also use oats)
• 1½ cups almond meal
• ¼ cup desiccated coconut
• ½ tsp chia seed
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 3½ tbsp maple syrup
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 eggs
• ½ tsp vanilla extract
• ¼ cup cocoa nibs (optional)
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Line a tray with baking paper and evenly spread the strawberries on top. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, or until juicy and soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
In a mixing bowl, add the almond meal, quinoa flakes, chia seeds, coconut, salt and baking powder.
In another bowl combine the maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract
Mix the wet with the dry, then fold in the cocoa nibs if using.
Scrunch up an 8 x 8 cm piece of baking paper and unfold it to fit into the inside of a muffin tin. Repeat with remaining muffin holes. Alternatively, you could use pre made muffin wrappers.
Spoon the mix into each tin, ensuring there is ½ cm gap from the edge to allow it to rise. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.