Thursday, May 19, 2005

Our Food is Riddled with Gluten

What is gluten?

Gluten is part of wheat; it's what makes wheat elastic. It's made of different proteins, including one called gliadin. Rye and barley contain similar proteins. The term gluten is used to encompass all of them.

What is celiac disease, or gluten intolerance?

It's an auto-immune disease, often hereditary, and causes a chronic reaction to gluten in the small intestine. Antibodies attack and eventually destroy the tiny, nutrient-absorbing villi in the small intestine. An estimated 1 percent of Americans have it. It affects both sexes and all ethnic groups.

Gluten-free foods are made using flours milled from starchy plants like potatoes, garbanzos, fava beans, sorghum and tapioca. These can be good substitutes in cakes and brownies, but fall short in breads and pastries. The proteins in gluten give bread its stretchiness and and loft, and glue together other doughs.

"If you can cook from scratch, it's not that hard to avoid gluten," but baking is a challenge, says cookbook author Jacqueline Mallorca of San Francisco, who is gluten-intolerant and is working on her second gluten-free book, "The Passionate (Gluten-Free) Baker."

Her book will join a flood of gluten-free cookbooks published in the last couple of years, including new comfort food and dessert offerings from Bette Hagman, the reigning queen of gluten-free cookery.

Teff Gingerbread with Dates

Teff, sometimes spelled tef, is a grass native to Ethiopia. It's ground into a fine flour that Jacqueline Mallorca often uses in her gluten-free recipes.


1 cup brown (dark) teff flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup boiling water

4 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped


Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 8-inch square cake pan and line the bottom with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the teff flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, cloves, cinnamon and ginger.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs. Add the molasses and boiling water and beat until smooth. Beat in the flour mixture; then stir in the dates by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until firm and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pan before unmolding. Cut in half, and then cut each half into 6 slices.

Makes 12 slices

PER SLICE: 200 calories, 3 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat (5 g saturated), 56 mg cholesterol, 157 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

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