Guest Post: Gluten-Free: It’s an Evolution

Written by wise mama Crystal of Owl Heart

There are many benefits of eliminating gluten from your diet, but it can be hard to know where to begin.  Time and time again I am told, “Oh I could never go gluten-free, it would be so hard.” To which my response is always, “It takes time to get used to but as you go it gets really easy.” The next thing I receive often is the question of which gluten-free products I like, or ways to replace different glutenous options. Going gluten-free was definitely an evolution for me, as most things are. So, here I want to share the products I like, as well as pieces of my evolution to hopefully save some time and tinkering for others.

When beginning a gluten-free journey, it can be easiest to first simply replace your favorite glutenous items. So, search out gluten-free bread, pasta, cookies, and the list goes on. Once a person is living a gluten-free lifestyle for some, time they often evolve to eating fewer grain-type foods in general, so the replacements aren’t as important.

Let’s start there: my favorite replacement brands.

For pasta, my favorite brand is Tinkyada. This pasta fools those who say they would never be gluten-free. It is easy to make. I suggest following the instructions to get the best results (this is important with gluten-free products because they don’t hold up well when overcooked). Tinkyada is simply brown rice and water, except for their vegetable spirals. I have tried probably about 5 different brands and this is the one that comes away as the winner. It is not super awesome cold, if you like cold pasta leftovers, but it usually reheats well with just a little oil in a pan.  This brand makes spaghetti, lasagna, noodles for homemade macaroni n cheese, and the list goes on.

Next, bread. My two favorite brands are Rudi’s and Udi’s. I like the ingredients of Rudi’s better because they do not use corn syrup, only molasses. What I do not like about Rudi’s is that it can be really hard to break apart when frozen and wanting to quickly make a piece of toast. However, it does have good bread quality and can be used for sandwiches or toast without seeming like a complete gluten imposter. Udi’s breaks apart better when frozen and is a little bit more like ‘normal’ bread than Rudy’s, though comparable. What I do not like about Udi’s is that there is a tiny amount of corn syrup. Another bread option is to check out if you have some paleo bread options in your area. They are often made from almond and coconut flour, with some other goodies like flax and eggs. I love the ingredients in these breads, and have made one from scratch. I like these for things like toast with butter or nut butter, but I do not like them for sandwiches; I find them to be too dense. However, some people love them and they rise above the others based on their ingredients. There are other companies that make good gluten-free brands, like The French Meadow Bakery, but these types of things are only going to be accessible in certain areas so I won’t list all of them here.

Bagels, Baguettes and Pizza.  The winner is Against the Grain.  My favorite is their Pesto Pizza and their bagels. Yummy! The pizza crust is thin and gets crispy when cooked on the rack. I make the pizza in the toaster oven sometimes and the crust is more doughy than in the oven and still so delicious. Everyone who I have known to try the pizza likes it. The bagels are similar to the pizza crust, so if you like one you will most likely like the other. They get kind of buttery when toasted and are so very good with just butter or with a favorite topping. The baguettes are also similar to the other bread products, and are a good replacement to make little baguette snacks or to have along side an Italian dish.

Crackers. I have found a few that are good for me, based on taste and ingredients. I also have made one recipe that I really liked. These Brown Rice Snaps are my favorite for a dipping cracker that is not too flavorful. Some may find them to be too bland. However, I love them for eating with sardines, or dipping into hummus. I also don’t mind them plain, and they have other yummy flavors. I like that they are simply brown rice; no worries about crazy ingredients. Mary’s Gone Crackers is another brand which has more of an earthy flavor. Some may like that while others may think it’s too ‘health food’ tasting. Personally I really like them. They are good plain, as well as dipped in things like hummus or with cheese or avocado slices.

As I transition from specific products to flour options for baking our own goodies, I want to remind everyone that just because it says Gluten Free it does not mean that it is Good For You. There are many products that have miscellaneous ingredients or fillers that one who is seeking health would want to avoid. So, read your labels. Also, there are numerous products that are made from corn, which is a highly genetically modified food, so check for non-GMO labels, especially the non-GMO project labels!

OK, as we step into baking our own goodies, I want to share how I began. I went on different gluten-free mommy blogs and other pages and found numerous recipes, all of which required flour blending and most often, xanthan gum. The main flour blend I have used and found to be good was the combination of white rice flour, tapioca, and sorghum. There is an amazing recipe for black bottom cupcakes where I’ve stuck with this blend. However, as I have reached for optimal health, I have wanted to veer away from grains and felt a bit weird using not-so-nutrient-dense flours for my baking, while at the same time I stumbled upon Almond Flour. If I were to do it again, I would go straight to using almond flour, and on occasion add another flour like coconut.

Almond flour does not require the addition of xanthan gum to create nummy textures. It can often be used as a 1:1 conversion for ‘normal’ glutenous recipes, though this is not the case with every recipe. It is also protein-rich so it’s a great substitute so a person can make snacks that are good for you. My favorite is making almond muffins. These are a great option for those who like a ‘bread thing’ for breakfast. Almond flour, and coconut, can also be used to create some tasty pancakes. Again, these pancakes would be rich in protein and something you can feel good about eating to start your day. Elana’s Pantry is a great blog for nourishing, whole food gluten-free recipes.

There are other flours out there. Arrowroot is one which I hear goes well with almond and coconut and I plan on experimenting with it in the near future. I have used garbanzo bean flour, which I think would be good in small quantities, mixed with a nut flour, but is not a good option for 1:1 conversion. I also have really liked using hazelnut flour for things like cookies. It is a strong flavor though so needs to be used accordingly. For instance, I used a half hazelnut, half almond blend for some chocolate chip cookies. The cookies tasted like nutella because of the hazelnut and chocolate blend. I have also made those cookies with only the hazelnut which enhanced that nutella taste. I like both.

Also, when it comes to flours, I have had success with using white rice flour or a non-GMO corn starch to thicken things, such as gravies. Or for instance, I have a macaroni and cheese recipe that calls for a small amount of flour to thicken the cheese sauce.  In situations like this I reach for white rice flour, because it doesn’t have a strong flavor.

Overall it is still a taste and try situation, because we all have different tastebuds. But it is my hope that this will help some of you find some tasty things, before you go through brand after brand and get discouraged about being gluten-free.  Going gluten-free is an evolution, and with this in mind, you can do it!

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