May 10, 2011

The Dietitian Speaks: Part 3

pioneers...

i ran across a quote over at the gluten-free girl's site a few weeks ago...

“... gluten free baking takes risk-taking and the ability to try things and fail. while regular baking has a long history and precedent, those of us baking gluten-free are really breaking ground and forging the path to finding amazing recipes.” – devon

to me, there is excitement in the challenge of pioneering the future of baking without gluten.  there are certainly failures and retests. but even those are a step in the direction of knowledge and success. and along the way we can also learn what is necessary or unnecessary.

for example, xanthan gum.

many people have believed xanthan gum is necessary to successfully bake gluten free. what is xanthan gum, you ask? it is derived from a certain bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.
have you ever seen black, slimy rot growing on broccoli or other leafy greens? that would be Xanthomonas campestris. once the bacteria was combined with certain sugars, the slime turned into a clear gum. and someone decided to use it as a thickener and binding agent in all sorts of things, especially gluten-free things. nice, huh?

adding to the "ick" factor, xanthan gum can have a laxative effect in large quantities and can cause all sorts of gastrointestinal issues in some people. thanks, but no thanks. that's the last thing someone recovering from gluten issues wants to take on. we want happy bellies.

have you ever had a gluten-free product that was especially chewy and gummy? that's the xanthan gum. no wonder, right? when you don't use the gums, the products are tender, but not chewy.

there are times, though, that gluten-free baking calls for a little help in the binding department. (think about the structural difference between a yeast bread and a pie crust...) in wheat-bread baking, that little protein, called gluten, acts to give structure and strength. when not using gluten, there are options for binding agents other than gums... egg yolks, ground golden flax seeds, ground chia seeds, gelatin and pectin.

the recipes i've posted on this site mostly call for ground golden flax seeds (which can be purchased already ground) and egg yolks. when the flax seeds are combined with warm water, it forms a viscous mixture. they're highly hygroscopic (layman's terms: water-lovin') which makes them a good substitute for gums. but even better, flax is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. flax has been shown to protect against cancers, help fight high blood pressure, improve heart health and fight numerous other diseases. so much better than black rot, right?! because of the high oil content and tendency to go rancid, it's important to keep ground flax in the refrigerator. (chia seeds are similar in property and function, but i've not used them. have you?)

so if you don't see xanthan gum called for in my recipes and/or you wonder what all the flax seed is for, then hopefully this has explained it. and if you don't eat gluten, have been eating products chalked full of gums and continue to have tummy issues, maybe this is the key for you!

as pioneers, we're learning as we bake. seems, we've only just begun...

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