Flour Power

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Flour product images courtesy of brands

Blame it on diets like Atkins demonizing grains and carbs, and paleo, which sets baked goods and grains off limits-to turn gluten into an enemy of the hungry.

Not too long ago, all baking started with wheat flour, but in recent years, substitutes have emerged as antidotes to gluten phobia. This fear has many, who can’t even define gluten, convincing themselves that the protein that gives dough its elasticity is responsible for everything from lethargy to joint pain, based on little or no evidence.

In people with celiac disease, gluten— found in foods processed from wheat and particular grains such as barley and rye—triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, which can lead to problems like osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage and seizures.

Only 1 in 100 people, about 1 percent of the population, actually suffer from celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease. Another .4 percent of people suffer from a wheat allergy that results in skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms when wheat products are ingested.

For those affected, going gluten-free means sacrificing edibles that might have brought them the most joy prior to diagnosis. A gluten-free diet means bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, cereals, candy, soy sauce, fried foods, and even beer, are out. Few have the willpower to give it all up.

Enter the wheat substitutes, flours made from a range of foods such as coconut and rice that allow those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, to have their fill of pastas, baked goods and more.

Baked goods made with white rice, tapioca and other gluten-free flours are becoming more common, from the neighborhood health-food store, to restaurants.

Gluten-free sauce options substitute for typical soy-based sauces at Gyu-Kaku Restaurant (gyu-kaku.com).

At Vegan Hills (veganhills-hi.com), a dish of COCO-Mari features organic king oyster mushrooms dredged in corn meal and coconut flour, deep-fried and served with house fill mayo and lime to mimic deep-fried calamari.

At Le Crêpe Café (lecrepecafe.com), diners can request a gluten-free option of a buckwheat flour crepe. Here’s a list of flours that can be found at groceries such as Down to Earth and Whole Foods Market, for those who want to try gluten-free baking and cooking at home:

BUCKWHEAT FLOUR
In spite of its name, buckwheat is unrelated to wheat and is not a grain, but a seed. It’s most commonly used to make blinis and crepes, and is good for making yeast breads.

ALMOND FLOUR
This flour is used in grain-free and gluten-free baking, or as a breading for red meat, chicken tenders and vegetables. It lends a moist texture and rich buttery flavor to cakes, cookies, pancakes and muffins. In addition to eliminating gluten, almonds are packed with minerals, calcium and potassium. They also have a “bad” LDL cholesterol-lowering effect.

COCONUT FLOUR
This is a high-fiber replacement for wheat flour, high in healthy fats used by the body for energy and healthy metabolism. It also carries a low glycemic load that doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Studies show that coconut flour has the ability to help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and serum triglycerides in people who have raised cholesterol levels. Can be used in baking and breading foods.

GARBANZO (CHICKPEA) FLOUR
Also called gram flour, this is a staple in India and surrounding regions. It possesses more protein than wheat flour, with fewer carbs and calories. Chickpea flour is dense and stickier than all-purpose flour when added to liquids, making a good binder for baked goods, veggie burgers or fritters. It also results in a light batter when frying. Mix it with spices and club soda before battering to create an easy tempura-like texture. It’s the flour of choice for papadums and falafels.

HAZELNUT FLOUR
This gluten- and grain-free flour adds its distinct, naturally sweet, rich flavor to baked goods. It can also be used as a breading for meat and vegetables.

MILLET FLOUR
This ancient grain was one of the first to be cultivated in China. Full of protein, essential amino acids and fiber, it’s easy to digest and also has a sweet flavor suitable for baked goods, also imparting a delicate cake-like crumb.

OAT FLOUR
Although gluten-free, oat flour is usually processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley and rye. If choosing this flour look for brands with dedicated oat-processing facilities, such as Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods. It’s also possible to make your own oat flour with whole rolled (old-fashioned) oats in a high-speed blender equipped with a dry container. Use it in breads, cookies, brownies, muffins and pancakes. In addition to being highly digestible, the oat content can help lower cholesterol and provide fiber to ward off hunger pangs between meal times.

POTATO FLOUR
This flour works as a thickener for sauces, soups and gravies. A teaspoon added to baked goods lends a moist crumb, a trick that also works with hamburgers.

QUINOA FLOUR
In addition to being highly nutritious as one of the only plant foods that’s a complete protein, with all the essential amino acids, flour made from this South American super grain imparts a delicate nutty flavor to foods is versatile for baking.

RICE FLOUR
In addition to being gluten-free, rice flour tends to be non-allergenic for most people. Brown rice flour is considered best because the milling and polish- ing that converts the natural grain into white rice destroys up to 90 percent of its vitamin and mineral content. Pasta made from brown rice flour probably most closely mimics the texture of wheat pastas.

TAPIOCA/CASSAVA FLOUR
Tapioca is a starch typically used as a low-calorie, sugar-free thickening agent. Although tapioca and cassava flour both originate from the cassava root, cassava contains more vitamin C and is less processed. Tapioca comes from the starch of the root and is bleached.

TEFF FLOUR
This nutritious flour is made from the smallest grain in the world, at the size of a poppyseed, is a nourishing staple of the Ethiopian diet, full of fiber and iron. It is traditionally used to make fermented injera bread, but is also delicious in stews, stuffing and pilaf. It also works well in pancakes, pie crusts and cookies.

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