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TAO Kitchen Notes – Gluten Facts & Fads

TAO Kitchen Food Facts By Miki Iborra

Consumers are constantly being barraged with conflicting information concerning nutrition and healthy eating, so in this article and future ones my goal is to provide education and guidance on food fads and food facts. I will also include the energetic understanding of the culinary arts of the east, to expand and evolve your knowledge and relationship to food. Since gluten free foods are everywhere these days, I thought it would be a good place to start. In researching this article I looked to the wisdom of our ancestors and compared traditional cultivation methods, storage of grains, food preparation and ingestion with present day practices. Here’s what I found.

Gluten is a general name for proteins found in all varieties of wheat (duram, spelt, kamut, emmer, einkorn, farfel, teff, semolina, triticale), rye and barley; and also in many processed products, such as breads, cereals, pasta, beer and even products like toothpaste. Gluten holds things together, like a glue. Anyone that’s ever made bread knows that you knead the bread to incorporate air and develop the gluten, which gives bread its spongy consistency.

Individuals that do not have the ability to digest gluten have celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that damages the lining (villi) of the small intestines. The villi then loose the ability to absorb nutrients into the blood; and this lack of nutrients over time eventually leads to dysfunction in other areas of the body. According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), approximately 1% of the population is presently diagnosed with celiac. Some individuals do have an allergy to wheat or other grains and also need to omit the offending food from their diet. An allergic reaction (different than celiac) can be determined by a blood test to see if there’s a histamine reaction when eating wheat or whatever the offending substance may be. Those that don’t have an allergy or celiac disease, but still experience digestive imbalances like bloating, flatulence etc. have developed a sensitivity to gluten or wheat; but why?

One of the earliest cultivated heirloom wheat grains is einkorn which is thought to be between 9000-12000 years old, while some references on wheat (emmer) go back as far as 17000 BC. Scientists have found that the chromosomal structure of einkorn and other heirloom grains was simpler than present day hybrid varieties; and that the heirloom grains contain more protein and less gluten. Starting, primarily with spelt and more present day varieties, the chromosomal structure of the grains evolved to be more complex and also the gluten to protein ratio has changed to now contain more gluten than protein.

Present day farming practices and industrialization has greatly contributed to producing denatured grain products that are less nutritious. Wheat crops are heavily sprayed with herbicides, like round-up; unless grown organically. Industrialization also introduced huge mills to process grains to make flour. This process removes the bran (outer husk) and heart (kernals) which are the healthiest part of the grain. Commercial yeast, which is added to breads and baked goods reduce nutrients still further. The following is from an article called Sourdough demystified. “Sourdough rises more slowly than commercially leavened bread because the acid from the bacteria and the salt inhibit the growth of yeast. Generally, longer dough fermentation times result in tangier, more complex flavors. Additionally, the bacteria and yeast release digestive enzymes that break down gluten (the bread cement), which is why it typically has a more dense texture than commercial bread. These digestive enzymes apparently liberate minerals and nutrients from the flour, resulting in a more healthful product”

Oh yes, and you know all those cute and different shapes that cold breakfast cereals come in; they‘re created by a process called extrusion. Extrusion destroys vitamin A, denatures proteins, changes starch structure and that’s not all. Look up grain extrusion in wikpedia.

The amount of products on the grocery shelf that are gluten free seem to be increasing, and I’ve seen many articles in health magazines proclaiming gluten’s indigestibility, therefore, many people, myself included, falsely believed that gluten is damaging and should be omitted in our diet. The body has a way of adjusting to change, however, so when you stop eating a particular food for a length of time, the body stops producing enzymes to digest that food.

Whole grains are powerhouses of nutrition; they contain B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, fiber and more. Gluten free products generally contain ingredients like tapioca, rice, almond flour, coconut flour and other processed ingredients that lack the nutrients needed on a daily basis. Some of these products are fine to include like almond flour, but not to the exclusion of healthy nutritious whole grains.

In the Chinese culinary arts, food provides an energetic influence. The environment the food is grown in, the way it’s prepared, the energy of the person preparing the food and the state of mind of the person eating the food is significant. Body, emotions, mind and spirit are equally influenced.

The energetic quality of wheat is cooling and sweet. It’s said to enter the heart, spleen and kidney organ systems. Wheat nourishes the heart, boosts the kidneys, and calms the shen (heart spirit). Wheat also eliminates heat and helps to resolve dampness. Rye is neutral and sweet and is said to strengthen the stomach and fortify Qi. Barley is cool and bland. It strengthens the spleen, benefits the gallbladder, clears heat, detoxifies and regulates the center.

Purchasing – Heirloon grains are becoming more available as the consumer becomes more familiar with the different varieties. Health food stores carry a limited variety, but whole berries or flour are readily available on line . We recently purchased a 10 lb. bag of einkorn wheat berries. We own a vitamix, which grinds whole grains, so I use the grains for breakfast or a side dish and I’m never without flour. Best of all, The breads and baked goods I’ve made with organic einkhorn have been delicious.

Preparation _ Whole grains contain phytic acid. Phytic acid inhibit’s the absorption of certain nutrients into the body, but if grains are soaked, the acid is neutralized and the nutrients contained in the grain become available to the body. Grains made this way also cook faster and are easier to digest. It’s a simple process, but does require a little planning ahead.

**To soak grains, place grains and water in a pan and add a tsp. of yogurt, kefir, whey or apple cider vinegar (use vinegar if allergic to dairy). Cover and soak overnight or a minimum of 2 hours. Water should cover about an inch above the grains because grains expand when soaked. Cook grain or cereal as usual. A crock pot or slow cooker is another great method for preparing grains. You can place all the ingredients (grains, herbs, vegetables etc.) in the pot in the evening; turn on the slow setting before going to bed and you have a nutritious hot breakfast in the morning.

Eating – An important aspect of digestion that is easily overlooked is how attentive we are when eating. In the Chinese culinary arts, food that is chewed till almost liquid becomes like an elixer. Richard Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, reveals that particle size of food affects the bioaccessibility of the food’s energy. “The more you chew, the less is lost and more is retained in the body”. Being aware and mindful while eating increases the absorption of nutrients. In other words, TV, computer work or eating while driving can all compromise the body’s ability to digest and metabolize food. Following are two recipes for including healthy whole grains into your diet. The congee recipe is simple and just requires having the ingredients on hand and a slow cooker. The Rye bread is also simple but requires a sourdough starter (starter recipes on web) and is a great exercise in patience.

Earth Harvest Congee (cereal) Ingredients: 1 – 1 ½ cups grain (I like using 1 cup sweet brown rice, ¼ cup millet, ¼ cup oat groats) ½ winter squash (butternut, acorn etc.) 6-8 organic dates (remove pit if not pitted) 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger or more to taste 7-8 cups water Prepare the squash by cutting in half, cleaning out the seeds and peeling. Leave the halves whole and put one half into the pot. Add the other ingredients to the crockpot. Cover and cook on low overnight or for 7-8 hours. In the morning, break up the squash with a spoon and stir into the congee. Add whatever seasoning, fruit, vegetables or other ingredients you desire, such as toasted sesame seeds, chopped nuts, raisins, sprouts or fresh fruit

Onion-Caraway Rye Bread – (2 loaves) Recipe From Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz Ingredients: 4 onions2 tablespoons olive oil 2 cups sourdough starter 3 cups water 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, whole or crushed 8 cups rye flour 1 tsp. Sea salt

Chop onions and saute in oil till browned. Cool.  Mix a sponge – Combine the browned onion, sourdough starter, water, caraway seeds and half the flour in a bowl and stir well. Cover and leave to ferment in a warm place 8 to 24 hrs. till it is good and bubbly. (remember to replenish the starter)

Next, add more flour and salt. Keep adding rye flour a little at a time, until the dough becomes too thick to stir. Cover with a moist towel and leave 8 to 23 hrs. until the bulk has increased noticeably.

Form into loaves: rye dough is sticky, nowhere near as cohesive and self-contained as wheat dough. Wetting your hands will make it easier to handle and form. Form loaves with your wet hands and place them in lightly oiled loaf pans; alternatively spoon dough into loaf pans, them smooth the top with your wet hands. Leave loaves for another hour or two, until they rise noticeably,

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 1 ½ – 2 hrs. or longer if necessary. Check loaves after 1 ½ hrs.. Test it by removing the loaf from its pan and tapping the bottom. If done, it will sound hollow. If not done, return it to the oven quickly and continue baking.  Cool breads on rack.

Whole grains, even the newer varieties, have much to offer and with few exceptions, as noted, should be a part of a balanced diet on a daily basis for most of us. Not everyone will have the time or desire to make a delicious slowly fermented sourdough bread, but everyone can educate themselves to make better choices. Everyone, as consumers, has the power to influence the market by the choices we make. More recipes, information and a sourdough recipe can be found on the following websites:


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