Gluten free straightforward

July 26th, 2013 | Posted by greg in Daily life...

I have to say that we are living in a rather abnormal period of bread or should I say food history on a more general scale; on one hand you have people like us trying to bake wholesome artisan bread using natural flour and sourdough, and on the other hand you have the Cronut, which is everything your arteries hates, and then you have gluten free.

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Before I go any further on the topic, you have to know that for us, bakers, the term “gluten free” gives us goose bumps! Making bread without gluten is like painting without paint if I may say. That said there is a real and very legitimate movement out there and it has every right to exist as much as any other food. I found rather interesting to look at figures and seeing that while 1.4 million people have been diagnosed with coeliac disease in the US, another 1.6 million of them are on gluten free diet for no specific reason, or maybe because it is simply fashionable.

But beyond fashion, there is a true cause in the elastic protein’s intolerance. There are different levels of gluten sensitivity; so much that its classification has never been truly scaled. It ranges from slight discomfort to highly sensitive grade in the coeliac disease range, a condition where the digesting system in the body can’t deal with so much gluten anymore. And then there are the allergies which also range from mild to severe. One of the causes of the rise in cases of coeliac disease is the progress in medical diagnosis – indeed, over the last 20 years, the method of finding out about gluten sensitivity tremendously increased.

When I was a young pastry chef at the famed Regent hotel here in Hong Kong, back in 1999, gluten free was quasi nonexistent, or if we were to hear about it, it was almost like we had to call a doctor to find out how to handle it, like NASA stuff. Today, it has become nothing short of a must on your menu!

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While we partly blame the increase of cases on medical testing improvement, the principal culprit lies elsewhere. With the industries wanting more output, faster and cheaper production, the food industries looked at the root of their businesses: the ingredients. And so wheat crops were genetically modified to obtain a higher gluten level in flours. It worked for the industries, and of course, if it worked for bread, it worked for many other foods and so the ratio of high-gluten foods increased in the everyday diet. This daring game industrials played with Mother Nature is most likely the principal source of the problem. Creating levels of gluten that doesn’t exist in nature and therefore, never seen by our humble human metabolism, thus creating hypersensitivity amongst those of us with higher sensitivity.

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A proper loaf of regular bread, fermented on sourdough, without any chemical, and made using wholesome flours is perfectly healthy and contains natural vitamins, minerals and acids obtained by the natural process of lacto fermentation – a wheat based loaf of bread stands at a glycemic index of 70, which is fairly high on the GI table. But what is interesting is to know that a similar white gluten-free loaf reaches a GI of 80, meaning that the potential sugar intake, or carbohydrates, is sensitively higher than real regular bread – this is most likely due to refined rice or other flours used in gluten free bread. So, you might escape gluten indeed, but you may move towards an increase in your insulin level… then are we looking at diabetes? I’m just saying…

We could also lower the GI index by using rhubarb’s cousin, buckwheat flour to make it more flavorful and a little healthier. I will probably repeat myself here, but having a balanced diet with wholesome ingredients and no processed industrial food is the way to go. I actually like to eat a slice of toasted gluten free raisin bread with butter and honey – it makes me think of a cake rather than bread, but I like it as a different food item in itself. As long as it is made with the same care and passion, deliciousness is everywhere – try it and you may very well go “I can’t believe it’s not bread!”

Find the above article on my regular column at Tatler Asia!

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5 Responses

  • Pingback: Gluten free straightforward | The Cronuts

  • Anita Caswell Ng says:

    Thank you very much for sharing, Chef. I have been practicing on making gluten free bread because my husband is allergic to it. We used to buy gluten free bread in the shop but it is so expensive and it does not taste good. The most important thing is we don’t know what is in it! Thanks again for your advice on using buckwheat flour for a healthier option!

    • Yes, I have seen your test on Facebook, it’s a very interesting challenge indeed!
      We are baking a pretty awesome gluten free loaf which I fell in love with for breakfast, toasted with a lot of butter! So delicious!!

  • Angie_L says:

    Gluten-free dietary…… aside from a medical treatment for Coeliac disease or an “Oprah-ish” prescription for trendy eating, I must admit that the growing interest in gluten-free trend even triggers the fast food chains here in N.A. get in on the “Gluten-Free War”. Other than gluten-free breads, gluten-free donuts or gluten-free coconut macaroons etc.. You name it, they have it.

    Should we say thank you to the improvement in medical research? Otherwise, we have no chance to see those gluten-free food or lactose-free milk in supermarkets these days. :)

    • I agree with you – the industry has overloaded gluten in too many things – just like refined sugar – mass volume production made it cheaper, leaving other more healthy sweetener outside the door. For the flour, it’s the same. Today, medical research sure have proven that instead of helping our society it’s actually going the other way! But thanks to small artisan and passionate people, we’re moving the tendencies back to a more normal way of life!



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