Monday, 10 September 2012

Gluten Free Foods vs Regular Foods

Although I haven't been to the doctor yet to have my diagnosis confirmed, I found after the Making Sense of Sensitivity campaign that I was better suited to a gluten free diet. I had less bloating, more energy and generally felt more healthy. So for a couple of months or so I've been eating the vast majority of my foods 'gluten free' (until I can get round to visiting the doctor). When I have to test a recipe I do have to schnaffle down a limited amount of gluten-rich foods, but generally in everyday life I do try to avoid it.

But it soon occurred to me that not all gluten-free foods are the same. While I can get by eating foods with rice, potatoes and rice noodles instead of bread and wheat-based foods, there are times when you need to use a special gluten-free ingredient like pasta or bread.

I'm sure that many gluten-free foods will improve over time, as more people ask for them and they're not just seen as a 'health food'. But here are a few differences I've found between regular and gluten-free substitutes.

Gluten-free pasta

See? Looks exactly like 'normal' pasta

Gluten-free varieties of pasta seem to vary entirely on the shape of the pasta and the brand. Some brands have the same texture and taste almost as regular pasta. Some have a strange, starchy coating even in the finished dish. Funnily enough, DS spaghetti seems to have this, while DS pasta twirls don't. Because it can't contain wheat, gluten-free pastas are usually made from corn (maize) or rice flour. I tasted some corn-based pasta at Carluccio's recently, and apart from it's bright yellow colour, I wouldn't have known the difference between that and regular pasta, texture wise. And I do like Dove's range of gluten-free pastas. My advice is not to stock up on a whole load of gluten-free pasta at once - shop around and try a bag here and there until you find one you like.

Gluten-free bread

Gluten free bread rolls made from Dove's GF bread mix

If you have children, cast your mind back. When weaning your babies did you ever taste a little bit of the baby rice when you checked the temperature of it? And if you don't have children, do you remember the flavour of a Farley's rusk? Some gluten-free breads taste a lot like baby rice or rusk, because they're made up from rice flour. They also tend to be drier. I once bought a gluten-free brioche at Sainsbury's and looked forlonly at the rest of my family tucking into buttery, eggy chocolate brioches, while I chewed on mine. Also, gluten-free bread can be expensive. Get round this by making it at home, using a gluten-free bread flour mixture. Don't just use the flour as you would normal wheat flour, it will behave differently. You'll need to add vinegar and often some xantham gum, but you'll get a decent bread roll that you can freeze and defrost as needed. It will also work out much cheaper than buying indivisual gluten-free bread rolls from the shops. I like Dove's gluten-free bread flour.

Biscuits and cakes
As I mentioned with the brioche above, you do seem to get a drier texture with gluten-free cakes and biscuits. I bought a pack of gluten-free shortbread fingers and they tasted to me, exactly like Farley's rusks. However, you can buy a massive range of gluten-free biscuits - from chocolate chip cookies to flapjacks and sweet Rice-Krispy cake things. Unless I want the comforting milky sweetness of a rusk-type biscuit I tend to avoid  these altogether and snack on a piece of fruit. I do have to admit though, that Byron Bay's gluten free cookies are pretty good (but expensive when compared to regular cookies).

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour

Baking flour
You don't have to miss out on your baking if you're eating gluten free. You can use exactly the same amount of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour as you would wheat flour in recipes, although you will have to add some xanthan gum (check the label for quantities). I've made cakes and cheese scones and they're hard to tell from the originals I used to make. It's just great that you can still bake. (Thank goodness). I bought my baking flour from Waitrose.


Have you bought any of these gluten-free products? What did you think? Do you notice a difference between gluten free and regular foods?


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