Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wheat-Free: Allergic to wheat? Or have gluten sensitivity?

FRESH BAKED BREAD is only a dim memory and you know all the flavors of rice cakes by heart, you're probably one of the millions of Americans who don't eat wheat or gluten. Whatever the reason for this abstinence-whether it's a wheat allergy, wheat intolerance, or gluten sensitivity-it's important to know how to prepare the dishes you love, without the ingredients you can't have.

Wheat and Gluten

Gluten is the protein in wheat and other grains (such as oats, rye, barley, and spelt) that gives dough its elasticity. In baked goods, gluten provides a cell structure that allows the carbon dioxide from the leavening (e.g. yeast, baking powder, baking soda) to make the dough rise while baking.

Some people can't tolerate the specific protein in wheat, but can eat other wheat-related grains such as spelt. Other people must avoid all grains in the wheat family. It's best to have your health professional help you determine whether it's wheat alone or all gluten grains that you must avoid.

When Gluten Becomes Life-Threatening

Some people are so severely allergic to wheat that they cannot inhale wheat flour particles floating in the air, let alone ingest any product made with wheat. In some cases, eating wheat can be a trigger for an asthma episode or a severe reaction known as anaphylactic shock ( swelling of tissue, often the airways), which can be fatal. Such allergic reactions typically occur fairly soon after ingesting or inhaling the food allergen.

Wheat also threatens the health of those with Celiac Sprue, a disease that is actually caused by gluten. The gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine, inhibiting its ability to absorb nutrients. In some cases, a skin disorder known as dermatitis herpetiformis also occurs. Celiac Sprue can strike people of all ages-from toddlers to senior citizens-who must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives.

Wheat and Gluten as Digestive Problems

There is a large group of wheat-sensitive people who aren't necessarily allergic to wheat or gluten, but their digestive systems simply can't tolerate it. This intolerance produces many symptoms, including nasal stuffiness, sinus congestion, headaches, stomachaches, intestinal discomfort (diarrhea, constipation, or gas), achiness, skin disorders, and general fatigue. These symptoms can occur hours after eating the food-usually in a more subtle fashion, rather than suddenly and violently as in allergic reaction. It is the subtlety and delayed nature of this reaction that can make it difficult to identify the true culprit.

While these symptoms are not necessarily fatal, they considerably reduce the quality of one's life. And, the medications prescribed to treat these symptoms (such as antibiotics for sinus infections) can take their toll. Although reactions to food are typically thought to affect children only-to be eventually outgrown-the people who are affected by this problem represent all age groups.

Ellen Speare, Clinical Nutritionist for Wild Oats Markets (a chain of health food stores headquartered in Boulder, CO) says, "As a nutritionist for over 15 years, I have worked with many clients with multiple food allergies that include wheat. Avoiding wheat changes their lives in terms of energy, moods, and digestion. Whole wheat is touted as being a healthy food but, if your body becomes sensitive or allergic to it, it has the potential of creating many health problems."

Health-Conscious Grain Seekers

A growing group of health-conscious people who are not allergic or intolerant to wheat or gluten, prefer a more varied diet by consuming wheat flour alternatives such as rice, amaranth, or quinoa. The latter two are ancient grains which are extremely nutritious. They can be used in baked goods, as cooked cereals, or as a bed for roasted or grilled vegetables (although amaranth and quinoa are not recommended for persons with Celiac disease).

Hidden Sources of Wheat and Gluten

You must read all labels on prepared foods to avoid wheat or gluten. Of course, wheat is found in obvious places such as breads, breakfast cereals, pasts, and baked goods, but it also lurks in other unsuspecting places such as ketchup, soy sauce, licorice candy, canned cream soups, flavoring extracts, and some vitamins. And, wheat flour is called different names in ingredient lists-semolina is actually wheat flour.

It's also wise to avoid ingredients such as modified food starch (it could be corn, soy, or wheat), texturized vegetable protein, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer, or don't eat it.

Converting Recipes to Wheat-Free

If you'd like to convert your recipes to wheat and gluten-free, the following general guidelines will reduce some of the guess-work. Depending on the recipe and your taste preferences, you can use a variety of non-wheat flours. I like to use a combination of rice, potato starch, and tapioca flours because, when used together in the proper proportions, the unique characteristics of each flour make them a great team. Also, these flours are safest for most people.

For a cake requiring 2 cups of all-purpose flour, I would convert the recipe to wheat-free with this flour combination:

1 cup white or brown rice flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca flour
(always sift the flours after measuring)

Some recipes work better when "wetter," therefore, you may need less flour. Depending on the recipe, the 2 cups of flour may need to be reduced to as little as 1-3/4 cups (by reducing the potato starch to 1/2 cup).

Wheat flour imparts flavor to baked goods. Therefore, when it is removed, flavor has to be restored. Recipes that convert best are those that have lots of flavor to begin with, such as spice cakes, chocolate cakes, or flavored breads-although you can increase the flavorings (herbs, spices, citrus peels, etc.) by up to half as much even in these recipes.

If you're converting a "bland" recipe such as white cake or sugar cookie (which customarily has no flavoring except perhaps vanilla), you can beef up the flavor by adding additional extracts such as lemon or orange (check to make sure they contain no grain alcohol) or by using grated lemon peel or orange peel.

You can restore texture to dough with "texturing" ingredients such as xanthan gum or lecithin. Also, keep doughs and batters wetter and sticker than wheat-containing versions and to help leavening do its job. Bread machines, food processors, heavy duty electric mixers, and electric pasta machines can help keep your fingers clean and aid in preparation.

Bake in smaller pans for better texture and height. For example, rather than 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, try three 2-1/2 x 5-inch pans. With practice, you'll discover those delicious baked goods and pastas you thought were off the menu forever.

Setting Up a Wheat-Free Pantry

Wheat-Free Resources
The ingredients needed for cooking without meat or gluten are readily available at your local natural food store and at some supermarkets. Here is a basic list to get started.

Brown or white rice flour
Primary flour in wheat-free baking. Best combined with other flours such as potato starch and tapioca. Brown rice flour is more nutritious than white rice flour.

Potato starch (not potato flour)
Very fine, powdery. Lightens baked goods; especially effective when used with eggs.

Tapioca flour
From cassava plant. Reduces crumbling in baked goods and gives more "chew."

Xanthan gum
Substitutes for gluten and acts as a stabilizer, emulsifier, and suspension agent so dough rises well. Use in all baked goods.

Lecithin granules or liquid
Softens baked goods and improves texture. Granular and liquid versions measure the same. Imparts "fatty" feel to baked goods.

A vegetarian gelatine made from seaweed. Sold in powder, flake, strip, and strand form, it is dissolved in hot water and sets at room temperature. You can also use vegetable-based (parve) unflavored gelatin powder to moisturize and bind ingredients.

Cider vinegar
(not distilled vinegar) Strengthens yeast dough to rise better.

Dry milk powder
(not instant milk granules) Boosts yeast activity in baked goods and also helps browning action.

Wheat-Free Sugar Cookies

A rich simple cookie with a flavor like shortbread.

1/4 cup vegetable margarine or shortening
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups white or brown rice flour
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1. In a food processor, combine margarine, honey, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Process to a smooth consistency. Add egg, rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, salt, and baking powder. Pulse to combine all ingredients thoroughly. Shape dough into a ball, cover and refrigerate one hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325F. Divide dough in half and shape first half into a flat mound on a piece of waxed paper. Sprinkle with a bit of flour, if necessary to prevent sticking, and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to nonstick, ungreased baking sheet.

3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are browned. Cool for about 2 minutes before removing from sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

PER COOKIE: 80 CAL (25% from fat), 1g PROT, 2g FAT, 14g CARB, 77mg SOD, 11mg CHOL, 0.2g FIBER

Wheat-Free Pizza Crust

Photo of Wheat-Free Egg Pasta and Wheat-Free Pizza Crust A 2-step process makes a tasty pizza. Bake the crust first, at 425F for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, add sauce and toppings, and return to bake another 15 to 20 minutes.

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 tablespoons dry milk powder or tapioca flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon agar powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 425F. In a small bowl, stir together yeast, water, and sugar. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes, until foamy.

2. In medium mixing bowl or bowl of an electric mixer, blend rice flour, tapioca flour, milk powder, xanthan gum, salt, agar powder, and Italian seasoning. Mixing on low speed, add yeast mixture, oil, and vinegar. Raise speed to high and mix for 3 minutes.

3. Lightly spray a 12-inch pizza pan or baking sheet and turn dough out onto it. Sprinkle with rice flour, as needed, to keep dough from sticking to fingers. Pat out to a 12-inch round crust, making edges slightly higher to contain toppings.

Makes one 12-inch crust.

L PER 1/2 CRUST: 337 CAL (9% from fat), 7g PROT, 3.5g FAT, 69g CARB, 569mg SOD, 0.8mg CHOL, 1.3g FIBER

Wheat-Free Pound Cake

Now you can have your cake...and eat it, too. Enjoy this versatile cake frosted, sauced, or plain.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or soy margarine
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1-3/4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 cup white or brown rice flour
6 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon each, baking powder, soda, and salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 2 tablespoons cider vinegar plus enough rice or soy milk to equal 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

2. Using large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, eggs, and lemon peel, until light and fluffy. In another bowl, stir together potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, soda, and salt. In a measuring cup, mix buttermilk and vanilla.

3. With the mixer on low, alternately add flour and buttermilk mixtures to creamed ingredients, starting and ending with flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto rack.

Makes 16 servings.

L/O PER 1/16 CAKE: 161 CAL (31% from fat), 2.3g PROT, 5.5g FAT, 25g CARB, 82mg SOD, 46mg CHOL, 0.3g FIBER

Wheat-Free Blueberry Muffins

With or without the optional glaze, these muffins are delicious.

1 cup white or brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon agar powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/4 cup applesauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup nonfat milk or soy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Paper muffin liners or cooking spray

Optional glaze:
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line or spray a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, stir together rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, agar powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, sugar, salt, and lemon peel. Make a well in center of mixture and into it add applesauce, eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla. Stir together just until ingredients are moistened. Gently fold in blueberries.

3. Divide batter evenly between prepared muffin cups and bake about 25 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool. Make glaze, if desired: In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and lemon juice; drizzle over warm muffins.

Makes 12 muffins.

L/O PER MUFFIN: 168 CAL (19% from fat), 3g PROT, 3.6g FAT, 30g CARB, 246mg SOD, 46mg CHOL, 1g FIBER

Wheat-Free Egg Pasta

Wheat-Free Egg Pasta This dough is a bit hard to handle at first, but the al dente texture of the finished product is very much worth the effort. Cook as you would any fresh pasta-in plenty of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, or to al dente.

1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup potato starch
4 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon agar powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup water

1. In a large bowl, whisk together rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch, potato starch, xanthan gum, agar, and salt. In another bowl, combine eggs, oil, and water and whisk until thoroughly blended and light yellow in color.

2. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture and work dough into a firm ball. Knead for 1 or 2 minutes. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic, and set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Using a rolling pin or pasta machine, roll each piece as thin as possible. Cut into desired shapes or strips: 1-1/2 inches wide for lasagne, 1/4 inch wide for fettucini, etc.

Makes about 1 pound.

O PER 4 OUNCES: 283 CAL (20% from fat), 5.4g PROT, 6g FAT, 50g CARB, 310mg SOD, 137mg CHOL, 1.4g FIBER

Wheat-Free Baguettes

I've served this French-type bread often and my guests never guess it's made without wheat.

2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 cups white rice flour
1/2 cup corn flour (masa harina)
1/4 cup tapioca flour
3 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1-3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon agar powder
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Cooking spray or oil

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in water, and set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly spray or oil a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.

2. In bowl of a heavy duty mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine rice flour, corn flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, dry milk, salt, and agar. Blending on low speed, add yeast mixture, then egg whites, vinegar, and oil. Turn mixer to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Dough will have the texture of a stiff batter.

3. Spoon dough into 2 mounds on prepared sheet. Dampen fingers or spatula with water and smooth mounds into long baguettes. Lightly spray or oil a length of plastic wrap and cover loaves, setting aside in a warm place to rise until double, about 40 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 425°. Bake baguettes about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool before cutting.

Makes 2 loaves.

L/O PER 1/6 LOAF: 181 CAL (20% from fat), 4g PROT, 4g FAT, 31g CARB, 336mg SOD, 0.2mg CHOL, 1.4g FIBER

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