Ever since our ancient ancestors began cultivating crops such as wheat and barley around 9000 BC, there seem to have been individuals unable to digest these grains. We now know the culprit as gluten; a protein which gives dough a desirable texture and stretchiness which may partly account for the popularity of these grains over others. However, adverse and sometimes serious reactions such as bloating and bowel conditions mean that still today many people cannot tolerate wheat, barley and rye in their diets. In fact, as many as one in a hundred people suffer from the autoimmune coeliac disease that is caused by intolerance to gluten.
While coeliac disease has been understood for over a century, it has in recent years received more widespread attention, so that today more producers, shops and restaurants are offering gluten-free options. A gluten intolerance no longer means giving up on dining out or avoiding certain foods for good; it simply requires an understanding of the grains and flours affected, where they are used and what alternatives can be used.
Of course, this can be tricky, not least because gluten crops up in places you would least expect to see it, such as in soy sauce, ketchup, some ready-made soups and even cosmetics. As with all such things, it is important to read labels and look out for special sections selling gluten free alternatives. Most supermarkets have cottoned on to this by now, but if you find one that hasn’t, tell them so.
At The Devilled Egg Kitchen Academy we run a variety of cookery courses dedicated to food intolerances such as this, encouraging people to take greater control of what goes into their food (and thus what they can eat) by making it themselves. The main frustration most coeliac sufferers still seem to have here is with baking. Let’s face it, most of us would sorely miss pastries, cakes, biscuits and even a nice white loaf if we had to give them up.
The misconception here is that traditional flours are the only means to achieve really tasty results. They are not, but this idea is only reinforced by imitation of the ‘real deal’ by gluten-free foods; the same phenomenon which has given rise to fake bacon and other products which emulate the popular image of the western diet. It is far better to let the right ingredients speak for themselves than to reverse-engineer each meal from something that your body cannot process. We may as well prepare a steak so it resembles chicken.
This is why we advise students not just to rely on ‘gluten-free’ substitutes but to look at real alternatives. People are generally stunned at what can be achieved with corn, rice, potato, chestnut and buckwheat flour, particularly when coupled with xanthan gum to give back the ‘stretch factor’ which is often lost without gluten. There are other tricks too, such as mixing ground nuts into the flour to add moistness, which we reveal during our classes, not to mention some of the more unusual flours such as millet, teff or the wonderful coconut flour. Ultimately, we teach our students to become confident with these less common ingredients and encourage them to practice, offering delicious recipes for classics like brownies, pastry or even gluten-free sausage rolls. Crucially, we also provide a foundation from which they can convert traditional or beloved recipes to gluten-free versions.
To learn more, join our class on 10th October.