By Naomi Devlin
When I grab my bags of flour from the shelf to bake something gluten free, my first thought is to make something flavoursome and my second, to ensure it is nourishing. What I rarely consider is how similar to wheaten bread, pastry or crumpets my bake will be.
Wheat, spelt, barley and rye are only a fraction of the many grains that grow around the world, the possibilities from my well stocked flour larder often seem infinite. Each grain has its own character; brown teff is rich, malty and silky while millet is delicate, crumbly and corn scented. What gives each grain such a strong identity is the germ around the outside; a flavoursome, fibrous, nutrient packed covering for a starchy interior.
Many commercial gluten free products are based largely on an empty puff of starch, which is why they can look impressive, but often taste bland. So for flavour and nourishment I choose wholegrains and keep the starch in my baking to a minimum for stable energy levels.
The only issue with eating wholegrain flour is that mixed up with the good stuff in the germ are anti-nutrients; elements within the grain that interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients and can sometimes harm the gut lining.
In order to fully benefit from wholegrains, we need to reduce the amount of anti-nutrients they contain and traditionally this was done by sprouting or fermenting in some way.
The process of fermenting encourages beneficial bacteria to munch away on the anti-nutrients, reducing or transforming them into beneficial substances. For example; phytates which bind to minerals in the gut are changed into myo-inositol, a substance that helps to emulsify fats in the body and keep them from building up in the arteries, while lectins that may cause auto-immune reactions are greatly reduced by the beneficial bacteria. Starch in grains is also partially digested, making it slightly less likely to give you a blood sugar spike.
Many people imagine that fermenting is too technical or they are scared to poison themselves with spoiled food. I urge you not to worry about either of those things, because fermenting can be as simple as mixing flour and water together and leaving it to do its thing.
If it smells foul then don’t use it – your nose is a wonderful gauge of whether a ferment is fresh and edible or not. It is easy to make a sourdough starter to ferment your bread naturally using any gluten free wholegrain flour (I like a mixture of teff and brown rice) – some people react to baker’s yeast in the same way they do gluten, so the wild yeasts in a sourdough culture can be better tolerated.
A sourdough starter can also be used to make pancakes, crumpets and even cakes, giving them a rounder flavour that is very satisfying.
If you’re not ready to welcome another pet into your life, then try soaking porridges, doughs, batters with a little live yogurt, milk kefir or water kefir to allow the lactic bacteria to nibble the anti-nutrients and the flours to hydrate and fluff up. There is very little extra work involved in fermenting grains, just a little more patience, which will be amply rewarded with delicious bakes and a comfortable tum.
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We're delighted to feature a guest article by Naomi Devlin, whose inspired approach to blending gluten-free flours for flavour, texture and nutritional content provides something for everyone who takes an interest in successful and creative gluten-free baking. We've invited her to write about why fermenting our grains and flours is better for us, and she's responded with an up-to-the-minute article, together with a buckwheat pasta recipe from her book 'River Cottage gluten free' for you to try.
Naomi’s next book Food for a Happy Gut will be out in 2017; It’s a book for omnivores, with a focus on eating lots of plant foods and a richly diverse diet. All the recipes are either inherently gluten free or have gluten free options, but this really is a book for everyone who would like to nourish their gut, whether or not they have food intolerance.