A gluten intolerant friend of mine once expressed her frustration in describing her condition to others.
“But what can you eat?” people would ask her.
The answer is complex. Gluten intolerance is a broad term. Some people may confuse gluten intolerance with celiac disease, which is also caused by gluten but is not the same condition. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that results in the immune system overreacting to the protein found in gluten. Antibodies are then released, which, over time, erode the body’s ability to process nutrition. Gluten intolerance, though it takes many forms, is the body’s instant reaction to a food component that it perceives to be an invader. Both conditions are treated primarily by following a gluten-free diet.
Those with gluten intolerance of some sort can still eat a wide range of foods, though they may have to be specially prepared. For instance, there is a range of alternative flours. Popular ones are rice flour and bean flour. However, when baking with these items it is typically advised to add agents such as xantham gum to help maintain the same texture in baked goods.
Cooking like this can, indeed, be a challenge. As first-year Kati Eason said, “The list of ingredients are all things that a college student doesn’t have money or time for.”
Luckily, in recent years many strides have been made to make more considerations for gluten intolerance. Gluten free items can be found in most mainstream grocery stores. Betty Crocker has a line of gluten free mixes. For something a little more upscale, Namaste Foods, found in Whole Foods and other specialty stores, has everything from biscuit mix to pizza crust.
However, Eason said, “Gluten is in so many foods, the obvious being breads and pastas, but it’s also in a lot of sauces and soups, too, because manufacturers add flour to thicken them. Gluten is pretty hard to avoid.”
The restrictions extend beyond the obvious. Fast food companies put wheat in meat patties to stretch them out. Also, many restaurants do not take precautions for the gluten intolerant or offer alternative menus, though some restaurants are beginning to.
Eason said, “French fries are also hard to eat, not because of the potatoes, but because they may be fried in oil that breaded things have been fried in, like onion rings. It’s definitely been hard to adjust to.”
It is hard, but not impossible. Even if you are not gluten intolerant, eating less gluten does have benefits, since a gluten free diet is devoid of refined wheat, such as white bread. This diet can lower cholesterol and increase energy.
Recipe of the Week
Gluten-Free Chocolate Financiers
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup almond flour*
4 tablespoons Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup egg whites (approx. two large)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease and flour financier molds or mini-muffin tins. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set it aside until it reaches room temperature.
Mix the almond flour with the cocoa powder, salt, and powdered sugar. Stir the egg whites and almond extract into the almond mixture, then gradually stir in the melted butter until incorporated and smooth. Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them three-quarters full.
Bake the financiers for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are slightly puffed and springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and let cool completely before removing the financiers from the molds.
Once cooled, financiers can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
* I made this by pulsing blanched almonds in the food processor until they were reduced to a powder.
Recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, originally found in Gluten-Free Girl by David Lebovitz.