Cooking for a wheat free diet

Are you confused by the terms wheat free diet and gluten free diet? If so you are not alone. Please note that they are not the same thing!

If you have celiac disease then you cannot eat gluten, which is found in rye and barley as well as wheat.

However, many people are allergic, or intolerant, to wheat but not specifically gluten.

Wheat is the most common grain used in western foods. Once you start reading labels you will find, like gluten, it hides in unexpected places such as rusk, couscous, semolina, wheatgerm and bran.

This means it is often safer to do your own cooking from scratch, rather than relying on ready prepared foods. 

Substituting ingredients in wheat free recipes

Wheat flour is normally used for thickening, coating or binding purposes, or for its elasticity.

Alternative flours can be used on a wheat free diet, but you may find you need to "mix and match" to ensure a similar result. Therefore, a gluten free flour mix is often used, rather than an individual grain. This enables you to replace the characteristics of wheat, while ensuring the food won't make you ill.

A surprising bonus to this, is that the food often tastes better than the original it is replacing.

Let's look at what we can substitute for wheat based products in our cooking.

Thickening

Sauces are often thickened with wheat flour as it absorbs liquid very well, without imparting its own flavor to the dish. Being white, it also doesn't change the color of the food being thickened, which may be important in some recipes.

On both wheat free and gluten free diets, arrowroot or cornstarch could be substituted. It is best to mix both of these into a paste with cold water before adding to a hot sauce or gravy, to avoid lumps.

Coating

Wheat flour, bread crumbs, or batter are often used to coat other foods before cooking.

Again they can be substituted with wheat free products, such as cornstarch, rice flour, gluten-free breadcrumbs, or chickpea flour (also known as gram or besan) made into batter for example. 

Binding

Tapioca, arrowroot, buckwheat and potato flours have binding properties and can be used instead of wheat.

Apple sauce or eggs (if you are not allergic to them) can be used as a binding agent also. Another option is to add xanthum gum to your recipes as a gluten replacement.

Without binding ingredients, your baking is likely to be dry and crumbly, falling apart before you can get it to your mouth. 

Baking

Cakes are not that difficult to make for gluten and wheat free diets. They do not need gluten to help them rise, relying instead on eggs and air or a little gluten free baking powder.

To a certain extent you can choose the flour to use depending on the color you want your cake to turn out. Chocolate or coffee cakes, for example, can  be include buckwheat or carob which are darker in tone. Cornmeal can be used in yellow cakes such as the Victoria Sandwich.

Bread, on the other hand, is more problematic. It relies heavily on the elasticity that the gluten in the wheat provides.

Due to this, gluten and wheat free bread making is handled rather differently than the usual method. It is not kneaded, for instance, but usually made as a batter, which is poured into the tin and left to rise just once before cooking. I talk more about this on my gluten free bread page.

If you are not gluten free, then you could try rye bread. This is normally darker in color and more dense than wheat based breads, with a distinctly different flavor.

Adding bulk and retaining moistness

To add fiber, moistness and color to  a "wholemeal" wheat free diet you can include brown rice flour, or almond meal (with the skin still on)  along with a little rice bran.

Do remember that non-wheat flours may need more liquid added than normal, as they can be less absorbent.

Flaked grains

Flaked wheat products, can be substituted by millet, buckwheat or rice flakes, all of which are suitable for a breakfast dish such as muesli, porridge, flapjacks or breakfast bars.

Summary

This can all seem quite confusing when you first start a wheat free diet. You may want to print out this page, or bookmark it, to come back to as and when necessary. 




  

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