Gluten-Free Flour and a Pumpkin Muffin Recipe
Gluten is a protein complex that is present in wheat, spelt, kamut, triticale, rye, and barley. In Latin, the word gluten means “glue”. Gluten acts as a binder in baked goods, preventing the final product from falling part. Flours containing gluten also provide a light, elastic, and springy texture to breads, which is very popular with consumers. Some people are intolerant to gluten, though. This intolerance can produce some very unpleasant and even dangerous effects in the body.
One of the most serious results of gluten intolerance is celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder. In people with celiac disease, components of gluten cause the body’s immune system to damage and destroy the intestinal villi. These are tiny projections on the inner wall of the small intestine that absorb digested food. People with celiac disease must completely avoid gluten in their diet, thereby allowing the villi to regrow. Continued ingestion of gluten increases the risk of other diseases.
The incidence of gluten intolerance is increasing in many countries. This increase may be due to better methods of diagnosis or to the increasing amount of gluten in the average person’s diet. Gluten is found in most baked foods and is frequently used as a food or cosmetic additive. Someone with gluten intolerance can still follow a healthy and delicious diet, but they need to be very careful when choosing their foods and drinks as well as their medicines, toothpastes, and cosmetics.
Is a Gluten-Free Diet Necessary?
More and more people are turning to a gluten-free diet. Most nutritionists regard this change as a fad, but a few suspect that gluten—or at least the relatively large amount of gluten found in some of today's grains or in some people's diet—may be responsible for more health problems than we realize. In the case of celiac disease and some other health problems, gluten has been medically acknowledged as a problem and must be avoided. In other people, the avoidance of gluten is controversial.
Some people decide to avoid gluten without a diagnosis of gluten intolerance and experience renewed health, which Is a great reason for avoiding the substance. The grains that contain gluten are otherwise healthy and nutritious, however, so it's a shame to avoid them unnecessarily. A person may find that they can tolerate one of the gluten-containing grains and not another. Wheat may be troublesome while rye may not be, for example.
Some people choose to eliminate a food or substance from their diet temporarily to see if a health problem improves. If it does, they may then eat the food again as a challenge to see if the health problem returns. If the problem returns, they conclude that they are intolerant to the food and eliminate it from their diet permanently. Someone with a medically diagnosed intolerance to gluten must never follow a food challenge, however. Gluten ingestion will further damage the villi in a person with celiac disease, for example, and will also increase the risk of other diseases, including osteoporosis and intestinal cancer.
Following an elimination diet to discover whether a substance is a problem can be a lengthy process, since it may take time for all traces of a food chemical to disappear from the body. It's very important to eliminate only one substance or food at a time in order to get clear results from a test and to eat a nutritious diet to make up for the missing food.
Meats, fish, vegetables, legumes or pulses, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, and milk (if a person isn’t dairy intolerant in addition to being gluten intolerant) are good foods for a gluten-free diet. As soon as these foods are processed, packaged, canned or preserved, though, gluten may be introduced as an additive. The ingredients in packaged and processed products should always be checked carefully. Even non-dairy milks may contain small quantities of gluten.
A person with an intolerance to gluten can still eat grains, as long as the grains don't contain gluten. Luckily, more and more gluten-free grains, flours, and baked products are being sold in stores. A few years ago only specialized stores like health food markets sold gluten-free baked foods such as breads, cakes, cookies, and breakfast cereals; now even my local supermarkets are selling them. The problem is that most of these foods contain refined grains, such as white rice, as well as a lot of sugar or fat and artificial additives. They also tend to be more expensive than their gluten-containing counterparts. Making baked grain products at home can produce nutritious, less expensive, and often delicious results.
How to Blend Gluten-Free Flours
Guidelines for Gluten-Free Baking
If you buy a flour from a manufacturer that also makes products that contain gluten, check that the gluten-free products are made in a separate facility to avoid gluten contamination. When you buy gluten-free flours in stores, make sure that they are packaged instead of being located in bins, where the scoop may have been in contact with a grain that contains gluten.
In gluten-free baking a combination of flours works best, since there in no one flour that is completely suitable as a replacement for wheat or other gluten-containing grains. There are a number of gluten-free flours that you can experiment with, depending on what is available and affordable in your area. Different flour combinations will give a different taste in the final product. Some companies sell flour mixes that are already prepared.
Flours from rice (preferably brown rice, since it is a whole grain and contains fiber), sorghum, quinoa (pronounced “keenwa”), buckwheat, teff, amaranth, millet, and tapioca are all gluten-free. Corn flour is gluten-free too. Oat flour is good, but it must be made from oats that are certified to be free of gluten. This is very important, since oats are often contaminated by gluten-containing grains as they grow or in the grain storage facility. People with celiac disease are sometimes sensitive to corn or even gluten-free oats, though.
Almond flour or meal and other nut and seed meals can be added to a flour mix to add nutrition and taste. Bean and pea flours, such as garbanzo, fava bean, and chickpea flours, are becoming popular in gluten-free foods. Potato flour and arrowroot are sometimes used in gluten-free recipes, too. They help to produce a light texture.
If you have celiac disease, even when you're using a flour made from a grain that doesn't contain gluten you should make sure that the flour is certified to be free of gluten by an independent laboratory. Grains can be contaminated with other grains in the field, during storage, or during processing.
A Recipe for Gluten-Free Baking Powder
In gluten-free baking, xanthan gum or guar gum is often added to the flour mix to act as a binder. These work well, but some people experience digestive problems when they eat xanthan gum, and guar gum acts as a laxative when eaten in large quantities. Eggs will also bind ingredients together in a muffin recipe.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins
I don’t have celiac disease, but I do have food intolerances and digestive tract problems. I often find that my body handles gluten-free or low gluten foods better than foods containing wheat or rye. I do eat wheat muffins, but too much wheat gives me heartburn and a sore stomach. My body “likes” gluten-free muffins.
Muffins are my favorite cake-like products to bake because they’re quick to make and can be produced in many different variations. Gluten-free foods need to be baked at a lower temperature than foods containing gluten. The recipe below makes about 16 medium sized, moist and tasty muffins.
- 2 cups of a finely ground flour mix that is certified gluten free (I like to use sorghum flour and millet flour in my mix)
- 2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup brown rice syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup of unsweetened pumpkin puree
- 1/4 cup of buttermilk
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger together in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, apple sauce, buttermilk (or regular milk or gluten-free non-dairy milk), vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla extract together.
- Mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients together until just combined. Be careful not to overmix.
- Spoon the batter into paper cups in a muffin pan, filling each cup about three quarters full.
- Bake for about twenty five minutes (but check the muffins at twenty minutes).
- If the muffins are done they will spring back into shape when their tops are lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin will come out clean.
- Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for about five minutes, then remove the muffins to cool on a wire tray.
- Store in a small, airtight container, since gluten-free muffins can lose moisture quite quickly.