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.
Buzzz… - My work event last night went well. Unfortunately I hit the caffeine beast a bit too hard yesterday with all of the hustle and bustle of setting up and man...
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