Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gluten Free: First impressions and a comment on sugar

I've now passed my first week going gluten-free.  I've gradually realized that there really isn't such a thing as "substitute" when you're talking about such a complete change in diet.  While there are "flour substitutes," the magical formula with the same taste, texture and cooking behaviour as wheat flour is still out there, somewhere, beckoning me forth.  What I've realized is that I can't think of things as substitutes for foods I've eaten in the past if I want to learn to appreciate them for their own flavor and texture.  I have to think of them as what they are: new foods. 

Otherwise it feels way too much like a weight-loss diet, which means the change won't be sustainable.  Deprivation almost never is.  It also means it's triggering all kinds of weird psychological deprivation/binge issues that I know so well from my weight-watchers days.  Sorghum "substitutes" for the flavor of wheat in the same way fat-free carob "substitutes" for chocolate.  It doesn't, which means the craving isn't satisfied and neither am I.  In this case, I don't have the choice to satisfy my bread craving at home because of the risk of cross-contamination from crumbs, etc.  I can eat bread away from home (i.e. keep crackers in my desk at work) or I can keep practicing some gluten-free alchemy in search of the magic formula. 

A lot of the mixes and recipes I've tried so far have been poor substitutes, but it has taken me a week to pin down the reason; sugar.  White bread is sweet.  So are other things generally made from wheat flour.  So I make gluten-free pancakes from a mix expecting the light, fluffy, sweet taste of buttermilk and am disappointed when I get the heavy, semi-bitter, nutty whole-grain flavor of sorghum.  On the other hand, if I had come to the table expecting the flavor of whole-grain high-fiber pancakes I would have been fully satisfied and ecstatic over the results.   The gluten-free brownies aren't that good when I'm expecting the sweet milk-chocolate taste I'm used to, but are fantastic if I'm expecting the new, richer flavor of very dark chocolate. 

So going gluten-free seems so far to require a re-training of the taste buds and expectations similar to a change to whole foods.  Whole grain wheat products tend to have the same complex, semi-bitter flavor as what I've tried so far; probably because the flour "substitutes" are generally whole-grain.  Gluten-free foods also tend to be brands that omit super-sweeteners, like HFCS or artificial sweeteners (which we try to avoid anyway) to appeal to a whole-foods market.  People with Gluten intolerance also seem to tend to have multiple sensitivities so GF foods tend to keep it simple. 

Whether it's training or nature, my taste-buds are sensitive to bitterness.  One of the reasons I hate tomatoes is that I can taste a nasty, bitter flavor in even the sweetest hothouse grape tomato. Ditto with many whole-grain products, rye bread, etc.  This new gluten-free change is either going to require me to retrain my taste buds or work that much harder to find recipes that satisfy my taste cravings.


KellyK said...

You're right--different things don't substitute for each other well at all, and whether you like something has an awful lot to do with what you're expecting.

Good luck with the change. I seem to vaguely recall reading that your taste buds can change in about two weeks, so hopefully the adjustment won't be too long and hard.

I wonder if adding a bit of sugar (or honey or your preferred sweetener) to the pancakes or breads would counter the bitterness of the sorghum a little.

alice said...

You know, I found out I couldn't eat gluten after doing one of those food-allergy diets for 10 or so days, and I think it *really* avoided some of these issues, even though I'd never thought of it that way. I could have sugar, dairy and nuts again, so my taste buds were exuberant; the lack of bread sucked, but the deprivation feeling was lessened. For me, knowing that I'll be sick for ~3 days if I eat gluten removes a lot of the deprivation issues, too - there's no 'I'm being good' message that muddies the waters, but I can imagine that it's harder when you're doing it for your partner.

I definitely agree with trying out multiple substitutions, and figuring out what works best for you - I think that a lot of the GF market now is where the vegetarian market was 15-20 years ago - everything was super healthy, and that's not always what you want. (I personally can't foresee a time when bean-flavored cake will appeal to me.) I'm a fan of rice/potato/tapioca, which is FAR from whole grain, but it makes lovely cookies.

(and I'm not sure if you were mentioning rye as a wheat substitute, or just mentioning it as a separate flavor, but in case it's the former, I wanted to make sure you knew that rye flour isn't GF in general - if you have a hookup for GF rye, though, I'm super excited!)

Meowser said...

Actually, I made GFCF red velvet cupcakes a couple of weeks ago for the first time (I make red velvet cake every December), and it was great! My wheat-eating partner said he liked it BETTER than the versions I made with wheat and dairy, and he wasn't just blowing smoke up my nethers; he ate a lot more of the stuff than he did my prior recipe. The recipe came from the Gluten Free Cooking School blog.

I also made a GFCF chocolate chip cookie this week from a recipe on Gluten Free Girl that was terrific, and would have been even better if I'd actually followed her directions and used amaranth flour as part of the mix, instead of subbing in my GF flour mix of brown rice/ cornstarch/ harina de maiz/ soy. I do want to get a finer grade of the maiz and brown rice flours, though, they can be on the gritty side. And GF recipes do tend to use more sugar and/or fat (plus have longer bake time) because the taste and absorption of the GF flour is different.

(Not to mention that having eight different GF flours on hand, plus xanthan gum, is frigging expensive. Looks like I have a trip to the Bob's Red Mill outlet in my near future.)

It's true, though, that there are some things for which there is no substitute. No GFCF pizza is ever going to match a great one made with wheat and real cheese. (On the other hand, there's plenty of crappy pizza out there, too, and I never did get to have the good stuff that often once I left New York.) So it looks like my go-to cheap ethnic food now is pho, rather than pizza. Well, now I have an excuse to eat more pho!

Notblueatall said...

Yes! It takes a lot of experimentation and commitment to find out what works and tastes best for you. Before offering GF waffles in my cafe, I tested about 6 different mixes. I was surprised to find that Bob's Redmill pancake mix was the sure winner in taste and texture. Some were not even palatable! So I feel for ya, I do. But I also love reading the updates.