By: Chef Cristian Feher
So you're allergic to wheat... Sucks to you. But if it makes you feel any better, there are thousands of people who share your pain. Me included (I still eat it, though).
Have you ever felt really tired, gained weight, suffered skin problems, or had digestive issues after eating foods with wheat in them? If your answer is yes, then you may be allergic to wheat - to be more exact, you're probably allergic to a protein found in wheat which is called "gluten". Gluten is that thing in wheat which makes foods gummy, elastic, and gives pastas and breads that unique springy texture. Not to mention that it's a binder - without it, your foods would crumble instead of stick together.
My Theory on Wheat/Gluten Allergies
I'm not a scientist in the scholarly sense, but I do practice science. Which is to say, that I make observations, and then align what was observed to explain or solve problems - science. So here is my theory and observations on my own wheat/gluten allergy.
1. When I eat products containing wheat in North America (Canada and the US), I feel certain allergic reactions.
2. When I eat products containing wheat in South American countries like Venezuela, and Argentina I do not feel any allergic reactions.
3. Venezuela gets 95% of their wheat from Canada and the US.
My initial theory was that there was something wrong with North American grown wheat. However, since finding out that I've been eating that same North American wheat in South America, that theory had to be false. But, there still remains the observation that when i eat that same wheat in South America, I am not feeling the effects of a "gluten allergy", which brings about the following theory.
There must be something that is added to the wheat here in the US or Canada, or it undergoes some sort of process (which is not done or added to that wheat in South America).
So it may not necessarily be that the wheat or gluten grown here causes allergies, but that something is done to that wheat while it's becoming flour that makes us allergic to it.
Chemical additives? Molecular change? Stripping of nutrients? I'm not sure. But the fact remains that there is a factor present which makes me have a reaction after eating it if it has been processed here in the good ol' US of A.
A theory is as good as it solves a problem, and it doesn't have to be better than that. So my solution is simply to avoid wheat, make my own pastas from scratch using wheat flours not processed in North America, or eat wheat only when I'm traveling.
How to avoid wheat and have your cake too
I understand that many of you are not chefs, and have better things to do in life than to experiment with foreign flours. So here is a simple guide that will help you make wheat-free substitutions that will permit you to still enjoy eating.
Although nothing truly replaces the exact taste, consistency and texture of wheat, here are some things which come close enough.
There are also pastas made of corn and quinoa out there. But I think they suck. Stick to brown rice pastas, especially Tinkyada brand.
Gravies and Sauces
In the culinary world there are many things which you can use to thicken sauces. But not many of them come close to the creamy consistency that wheat flour (with gluten) gives you. I could write a whole article on all the different thickeners used in cooking - but I'd rather you book me for a private lesson ;)
I will give you a couple, though. You can thicken sauces, gravies and soups by whisking in a quickly-made slurry of white rice flour and water (to the consistency of toothpaste). The key is to make the slurry right before you add it. If you make it ahead of time, the rice will absorb all the water in the slurry and will not thicken your soup or sauces as well. Do this in small batches, and bring to a simmer each time, and you will achieve the perfect thickness. Remember that rice slurry will thicken more and more over the first few minutes, so don't over-do it and end up with an overly thick paste!
Another great thickener is egg yolks (the yellow part of the egg), and you if you mix egg yolks with heavy whipping cream (good for sauces) it's called a "liaison".Whisk these in very quickly so that you can get thickening, and not scrambled eggs! It's an art, but it's a great way to enjouy quality gluten-free dishes once you master it.
Nowadays, with the growing awareness of gluten allergies, there are companies out there that have worked very hard to come up with gluten-free breads that are actually satisfying and come close to the consistency of the real deal. Udi's is one of them. They sell sandwich bread, muffins, bagels, burger buns, hot dog buns, and other gluten-free baked goods which are actually pretty enjoyable. I find mine in the freezer section of my grocery store. Your store may carry them fresh.
Not willing to give up carrot loafs or banana bread? I don't blame you. However, I recently worked with Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, a leader in the Paleo Diet movement, and we came up with a really good recipe for banana nut bread made with almond flour, eggs, and coconut oil. Although it was high in calories, it was gluten-free, rich, moist, thick and delicious! Email me for the recipe at email@example.com
I hear that Udi's also makes good gluten-free pizza crusts. So those are probably worth checking out.
There are many gluten free cereals, like Rice Crispies and Rice Chex. Pamela's gluten free pancakes are also quite good. And a hearty three-egg omelet stuffed with sausage, peppers, tomato, mushrooms, onions and cheese has always been gluten-free! I also enjoy sliced turkey, cheese and a nice fruit bowl with chopped mint. Breakfast is probably the easiest of all meals to rid of gluten.
Do you have your own gluten-free alternatives? Email them to me! I'm always happy to hear from my readers. Or post a comment below. firstname.lastname@example.org