Prior to the Neolithic period, humans had a steady diet of meat, wild game, seeds, nuts, berries and vegetables, while wheat and other grains containing gluten weren’t cultivated until 9500 B.C. Relative newbies on the evolutionary food block grains were foreign to the cave dweller gut, and anthropologists surmised that the primal intestines did not have time to adapt the mechanism for digesting this new food group. Consequently, some people till this day have difficulty breaking down wheat into individual amino acids, reeking havoc on their compromised intestines.
Let’s continue last week’s baking lesson with some more darlings of the gluten-free flour line-up, not only for Celiacs and those sensitive to the protein found in some common grains and their hybrids, but the rest of us, too, who like to experiment with different flavors, textures, and aromas in our autumn baking repertoires.
Coarse and grainy, hearty cornmeal with a golden hue adds a chewy bite and sweet taste to breads, muffins, polentas, and dumplings. Cook’s tip – dust pizza pans and baking sheets to prevent sticking along with adding an extra layer of flavor and crunch to the dish.
Hemp, the new soy is popping up everywhere from milk drinks to trail mixes, and now in flour form from the mild-mannered, nutty-flavored ground seeds. Perishable, this flour needs to be refrigerated.
When using sweet and hearty flour ground from oats, make sure it is certified non-gluten. Even still the presence of the protein avenin might trigger sensitivities. Oat flour adds a chewy nuttiness to quick breads, cookies, muffins and assorted cakes. Like hemp, oat flour has a short shelf life, so refrigerate to prevent it from turning rancid.
Potato flour is heavy in texture with a strong, distinct spud flavor, which lends itself well to dumplings, biscuits, pot pie crusts, and other savory recipes. While the lighter, finer textured potato starch with a delicate flavor is best suited as a thickener for gravies and sauces, along with a leavening agent for assorted baked goods. The starch has a much longer shelf life than its flour counterpart.
Flour made from seeds of the Incan mother grain quinoa adds a vegetarian protein oomph, and nutty richness to cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pancake batters.
High fiber coconut flour ground from the “meat” of the coconut after the fat has been removed still retains its tropical flavor. Since coconut flour is not grain-based (it’s the chewy white flesh from the seed of the palm tree), it has a low carb content with a load of healthy fats (medium chain saturated fatty acids), and non-inflammatory properties, the latter due to the scarcity of omega-6’s abundant in other seed and nut flours.
So coconut up with everything from fruit and nut muffins and scones with lemon, poppy seed, rhubarb, blueberries, bananas and walnuts to sweet flatbreads, crepes, coconut-crusted coating for fish, chicken or veggies, sweet breakfast pizzas, and other Paleo-inspired treats.
Almond flour or meal, a finely ground powder from raw almonds that makes tasty tender cakes and flaky pastries should be used in moderation for the following reasons:
1) It contains a load of inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acids and enzyme inhibitors that can tinker with digestion, thyroid function, metabolism and hormone production;
2) It has a dense concentration of pure almonds, which makes it difficult to rejigger a recipe when substituting almond flour for baking flour;
3) While protein-packed, it also has a load of fat. Since one cup of ground almond flour contains about 100 almonds (and most recipes call for two or three cups), that’s over 2,000 calories from the flour component alone. So this would not be the best choice for the weight-conscious;
4) Since the fatty acids in almond fat are not heat stable they can easily oxidize and release harmful free radicals. So use low temperatures, and adjust baking times accordingly.
Recipe: Cashew Ginger Laddu
One of my favorite flourless delights is made from gram or chickpea flour (referenced in Lesson 1), and as an added boon doesn’t require baking. This celebratory melt-in-your-mouth treat, known as Laddu from the southern region of India, gives an excuse to celebrate anytime. 1 cup gram (chickpea) flour
1/3 cup powdered (Confectioner’s) sugar
5-6 tablespoons ghee butter (melted)
1/3 cup roasted cashews (crushed)
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
In a large pan, dry roast flour over low heat, stirring for about 10 minutes, until golden and exudes an aromatic fragrance. Add ghee butter and continue stirring for about 3 minutes until well blended. Remove from heat, let cool, blend in sugar, spices and nuts. Roll into walnut-size balls, coat with shredded coconut, chopped nuts or cinnamon. Store in airtight containers.