What is Gluten?
Gluten is a family of proteins found in certain grains, which include wheat, rye, spelt and barley but of all these grains wheat is the most common. The two main proteins that are in gluten are called glutenin and gliadin, but it is only gliadin. When flour mixes with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network has a glue-like consistency. It is this glue-like property that makes the dough elastic and gives bread the ability to rise during the baking process – it also provides the texture of the bread. The name gluten arrives from the glue-like property of wet dough.
Gluten has become quite a controversial topic nowadays and most sources claim that it is safe for everyone except those who have celiac disease but then again, some other health experts believe that gluten is harmful to most people.
1. Problems with gluten
Most people can tolerate gluten and experience no effects, but it can cause some people certain health problem, this includes individuals with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.
1.1 Celiac disease
Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance and it effects 1% of the total population. Celiac disease (Coeliac disease) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body treats gluten like a foreign invader, and therefore the immune system asks the gluten as well as the lining in the gut. This causes huge damages to the gut wall and will in the long run cause nutrient deficiencies, anaemia and digestive issues. A few of the symptoms of celiac disease are digestive discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, depression and unexplained weight loss. However, some people with celiac disease do not have digestive symptoms but other symptoms such as tiredness and anaemia.
1.2 Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Many people do not test positive for celiac disease but still react negatively to gluten, this is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include: diarrhoea, stomach pain, tiredness, bloating and depression.
2. Foods high in gluten
The most common sources of gluten in the diet are wheat, spelt, rye, barley, bread, pasta, cereals, beer, cakes, cookies, and pastries. Many processed foods contain wheat. Anyone who wants to avoid gluten will need to read labels carefully.
2.1 Gluten-free diet
Some people may find starting a gluten-free diet rather challenging at first. The first thing a person needs to do is read the labels on everything they eat. Gluten, especially wheat, is an ingredient in a surprising number of foods. In this diet, people should eat mainly healthful whole foods, as most whole foods are naturally gluten-free. Avoid processed food, cereals, and grains that contain gluten.
2.2 Gluten-free grains
There are a few grains and seeds that are naturally gluten-free and available to purchase online. These include: rice, oats, quinoa, flax, millet, sorghum, tapioca, buckwheat, arrowroot and amaranth
However, while oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be contaminated by it. Therefore, it is safest only to consume oats with a gluten-free label.
3. Who should avoid gluten?
For the vast majority of people, avoiding gluten is not necessary.
However, for people with certain health conditions, removing gluten from the diet can make a huge difference. Furthermore, it is usually harmless to try a gluten-free diet. There is no nutrient in gluten grains that you cannot get from other foods. If people cut out gluten products and do not properly replace them with other carbs in the diet, they could be at risk for inadequate fibre, calories, and B-vitamin intake. Always consult with a healthcare professional before trying a gluten-free diet. Make sure to choose healthful foods. A gluten-free label does not automatically mean that a food is healthful and gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
4. For this Valentines day, why not try a gluten free baking recipe for your partner.
What are gluten free blondies?
Imagine a gluten free brownie which tastes like vanilla and is packed with white chocolate chunks. Gluten free blondies are a brownie-like bake, with the same fudgy texture and crackled top, but vanilla-flavoured. Instead of being made with melted chocolate and cocoa powder, these gluten free blondies are made with vanilla extract with chunks of white chocolate. A lot of people think blondies are just white chocolate brownies, but they are not at all! They are made in a really similar way to brownies using similar ingredients, and the wet batter creates the delicious fudge-like brownie texture. Over-bake them and they will turn out more cake-like, so it’s really important to follow the recipe!
What do I need to make gluten free blondies?
To make these gluten free blondies you only need a handful of basic ingredients.
- 200g unsalted butter (melted)
- 100g caster sugar
- 150g light brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 225g plain gluten free flour
- 200g white chocolate chips
- 50 white chocolate (for drizzling)
- Preheat the oven to 180’C. Line a 23cm square baking tin with baking paper and set to one side.
- In a large mixing bowl add the melted butter, caster sugar, light brown sugar and vanilla extract. Beat with an electric mixer (or wooden spoon) until combined.
- Add the eggs to the mixture and beat again with the mixer until it starts to thicken. It should go slightly paler and fluffier – after around a minute or so of whisking.
- Add the gluten free flour and white chocolate chips to the mixture and fold in using a spatula or wooden spoon, until there are no pockets of flour visible. It’s important to fold and not beat the mix so you don’t expel the air from it.
- Pour the batter into the lined baking tin and spread out into an even layer using a spatula.
- Bake for around 20-25 minutes until the blondie is golden on top. It should still wobble slightly in the centre.
- Remove the blondie from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin before slicing up into squares. Once sliced up, drizzle with melted white chocolate to finish.
- It’s important to let the blondie cool completely before you cut into it, otherwise the centre will not set. You can speed this up by refrigerating it.
- You want the blondies to be a golden brown on top with a slight wobble when you remove them from the oven. If the mixture is very wobbly you may need to give it slightly longer. If it is too firm it is over-baked and will be more cake-like.
- The blondies can be frozen once baked and cooled completely.