Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: August 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good Gluten-free Alternatives - Part 2

Keeping my word about other alternatives for those trying to live a gluten-free lifestyle, this week's post is on some of the other seeds and grains available. Now, most if not all of these, are going to be more difficult to obtain outside of a health-food/specialty store, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try them if you do stumble upon them!

Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus - pictured left) is a plant that many of you have seen growing in gardens, perhaps even your own, and never had an inkling that there was something edible lurking there.

This beautiful plant has tiny seeds, about the size of poppy seeds, that are quite edible. They were a staple of the Aztec people and are still consumed in that part of the world. Amaranth is technically an herb, not a grain and it is related to cockscomb. It is high in tocotrienols (vitamin E), has a nutty flavor, and approaches the nutritional value of milk.

One cup of cooked amaranth has 251 calories, 9.5 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, and 46 grams of carbohydrate, of which 5 g is fiber. You can find amaranth flour, noodles, and baked products like cookies in health food stores. To cook the seeds, boil one cup of amaranth in 2.5 cups of water for 18-20 minutes, drain off any excess water and use as you would other grains.

Next up is buckwheat (Fagopyrum sagittatum). It is a seed, not a true grain, and despite its name, not related to wheat. Buckwheat hails from Asia and has been cultivated since about 6000 BC. It is very popular in China, Japan and Russia and has been grown in the US since the colonial days, but most Americans only consume it in pancakes or as soba noodles.

Buckwheat can also be found as groats, known as kasha, that are very tasty and can be eaten as a cereal or in soups and stews. One cup of cooked buckwheat groats has 155 calories, 5.7 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 33.5 grams of carbohydrate, of which 4.5 grams is fiber. It is a good source of niacin (1.6 mg per cup of cooked) and lutein (1.1 micrograms per cup of cooked).

Kasha/buckwheat can be used to make veggie burgers, or a side salad as well as a hot breakfast cereal option. The cooking is usually to boil 1 cup of kasha in 2 cups of water for around 12 minutes or until tender.

I still have 3 other alternatives which I will save for my next post. I hope you are inspired to find some recipes on the internet or in cookbooks for these two gluten-free alternatives. You never know what new and exciting creations are just waiting to be served!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Good Gluten-free Alternatives - Part 1

As I stated in my last post, those who are gluten intolerant do have some options and you don’t have to have an issue with gluten to enjoy these! Perhaps the most common option these days (outside of corn) is quinoa. Let me tell you a bit more about it.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is often considered a grain, but it in fact a seed which comes from the same botanical family as spinach and beets. (Although the leaves of the quinoa plant are also edible, I've not seen them available anywhere for purchase.) Quinoa has been cultivated and consumed for more than 5000 years originating with the Incas. It is native to the Andes mountains and the name quinoa means “mother grain” in Inca.

The seeds of the quinoa have a protective pericarp layer of saponin (a really bitter substance) which must be removed by alkali before the quinoa is edible. This is most commonly performed before you buy the quinoa, but I recommend rinsing the quinoa in 3 changes of water before cooking, just in case there is residual saponin still present.

What is really interesting about quinoa though is its nutritional profile. It is considered a complete protein (has all of the essential amino acids present) and the FAO have deemed it comparable to dried whole milk. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, 8 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of which are fiber (64% insoluble, 36% soluble). It also is a good source of iron (2.8 mg per cooked cup).

This is all great right? But you really want to know what does it taste like and what do I do with it. It has a slightly nutty flavor and can be consumed for every meal of the day. You can cook it and add milk, cinnamon & some fruit for breakfast, or make a cold salad with it for dinner. I’m going to share my favorite recipe for this fascinating little seed with you to get you started.

1) Cook 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups of water (salted) for 10-15 minutes (until tender). If there is water still remaining, drain in a sieve, and then add to a bowl big enough to do some mixing.
2) Drain & rinse 1 can (15 oz) of cooked black beans and place in the bowl.
3) Defrost 12 oz of frozen corn and place in the bowl.
4) Finely chop 1 small (or medium) red onion and add to bowl.
5) Add your favorite salsa – I prefer to use Fronterra Double Roasted Tomato Salsa for this recipe, it has a great smoky flavor - no quantity here, just to the flavor and consistency you desire.
6) If desired, add chopped fresh cilantro to taste, salt & pepper.
7) Mix all ingredients together.
8) This dish can be served warm or cold as a side dish or main dish.

I hope this has inspired you to give the little quinoa seed a try, after all variety is the spice of life! I'll be back with some other gluten-free alternatives next time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When Good Protein Goes Bad - Gluten

Ahhh summer - so beautiful, so busy! Seems like I always fall off the blog wagon this time of year (conferences, vacations, etc.), I hope you all understand. Today's topic is gluten -a protein found in some grains.

First, what is gluten & where does it come from? When water is added to the endosperm of: wheat, (including spelt, durum & semolina), rye, oats, barley, triticale or kamut, the proteins gliadin (a monomeric protein "single chain") and glutenin (a polymeric protein - "many chain") combine to form a colloid complex called gluten. It is the intermolecular interaction of these two proteins which produce the viscoelastic properties of gluten (i.e. elasticity of dough). Gluten is also known as the water-insoluble protein which remains behind when the starch of the grain is washed away.

Gluten is responsible for trapping air bubbles in baked goods providing the lightness in yeast or leavened baked goods. Because of this, it is difficult to replace; you have to find something, or a combination of things, that work structurally similar to gluten. Anyone who has read a "gluten-free" label has probably seen many of these items: rice flour, sorghum, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, soy flour, potato starch, corn starch, guar gum, buckwheat (which isn't a wheat) or chickpea flour. Most of these plant proteins will do part of the job of the gluten, but are usually needed in combination to the job of both providing elasticity and water binding.

Ok, so you know what gluten is, but why all the fuss about it? Are there really that many people out there with celiac disease? Probably not, but there is another fraction of the population that is regarded as gluten-intolerant and limiting their intake of gluten makes them feel better. To that end, in 2008 gluten-free sales were almost $1.6 billion (retail) and is expected to almost double by 2012 (from Packaged Foods 2009 report).

Now those who choose, or must, remove gluten from their diets still need fiber and B-vitamins, both of which are found in these grains. So what choices exist? Don't worry, there is quinoa, amaranth, millet, corn and teff. Which, other than corn, are lesser known in the US but are widely consumed grains in other parts of the world and aren't that hard to find here.

I'll be talking about these grains in my next post -because the scariest items are the ones we know the least about and I don't want these grains to be scary! Until then - be well!