Wheat, a cereal grain, is the third most produced and consumed grain worldwide (after maize and rice). Originally from the near East and Ethiopian Highlands, this grain has transformed society as a whole for its high protein content, nutrition, ease of growth, capability to last during long cold months and ability to make beer (many believe without the accidental discovery of beer, civilization as it is today would not exist – nomads wouldn’t have found a reason to settle down and farm wheat to create the brew).
However, within this little grain that binds bread together is the gliadin or gluten protein and the amount it has is nothing like it was 50 or 100 years ago. Wheat has been hybridized, or bred over several generations to produce desirable characteristics which include resistance to cold weather, requiring less fertilizer, less time to fully grow, and to contain more gluten. Is this why the rate of those affected is increasing? Scientists aren’t completely sure, but it is a possibility. In any case, it’s always important for those with gluten intolerance, wheat allergies and celiac disease to recognize symptoms and to always check labels.
So how does this relate to people with autism? Well, it has been found in a study that children with autism have much higher levels of the anti-gliadin antibody, sparking an autoimmune reaction when they are exposed to wheat. The wheat breaks down into peptides that are similar in structure to opiates. They escape through the compromised intestinal tract (also known as leaky gut) into the blood. With their opiate-like structure, they naturally attach to the opiate receptors causing addictive behaviors around wheat (or dairy). When the anti-gliandin anti-bodies are created because of the new presence of gluten, it is theorized that they cross react within the nervous system and create what is known as molecular mimicry. This breakdown of immunological self-tolerance and damaged receptors can contribute to wide range of neurological problems and degeneration. Many auto-immune diseases can be improved when gluten is removed (gluten ataxia, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, anyone?). This asks the question whether autism is an autoimmune disease because many parents have seen HUGE improvements in their child once gluten is removed.
There are other alternatives to bread that don’t need wheat, but much like adjusting to a gluten-free diet, baking gluten free also requires adjusting. Gone are the days of kneading smooth dough and fermenting overnight. Instead, gluten free dough is sticky – like a thick cake batter and doesn’t need kneading (since there’s no gluten to knead – more on that later). One particular recipe that comes to mind that requires an entire adjustment of expectations is a bread recipe found onhttp://simplysugarandglutenfree.com/perfect-bread/.
The ingredients might be strange (xanthan what?) and the methods weird (who owns a dough hook?), but it creates a fluffy, tasty bread that is perfect from sandwiches to toast.
In a large container that has a lid, combine:
1 cup sorghum flour
½ cup garbanzo bean flour
½ cup fava bean flour
½ cup potato starch (not flour!)
1/3 cup tapioca starch
Shake until mixed thoroughly and store in the fridge.
3 cups flour mix
2 ¼ tsp xanthan gum
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 packet of instant yeast or 2 ¼ tsp
1 ¼ cup warm water
2 large eggs, room temperature
¼ cup oil, olive or your favorite neutral tasting oil is fine
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ salt (kosher or sea)
1. Prepare a 9x5” loaf pan with cooking spray. If you have trouble getting your loaf out of the pan, line the sides with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Whisk the flour blend, xanthan gum, palm sugar and instant yeast. Set aside.
3. Put the water, eggs, oil, and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with eh paddle attachment and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients except the salt and mix on low until incorporated. Increase to medium high and mix for a minute. Turn off, add the salt, and mix for two more minutes.
4. Turn the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Place in a warm place for an hour to rise, or until the loaf just about doubles in size. (Don’t let it rise more than double its original size or it might collapse in the oven.)
5. Score the bread dough with a sharp, serrated knife if desired. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Let it cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the loaf pan on its side and scoot the loaf forward so the steam can escape – but leave it in the pan. Let it cool for another 10-15 minutes then move to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To store, wrap with plastic and keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Freeze any leftovers for toast or gluten-free bread crumbs.
Reasons why we’re doing this:
For one, bean flour is high in protein which gives bread its structure.
Sorghum tastes a lot like wheat flour and is high in nutrients, protein and fiber.
Potato starch makes baked goods tender while tapioca flour makes baked goods chewier (since it gelatinizes at a lower temperature).
Xanthan gum is a gluten replacement and is found off of bacteria that can be found on corn. No go on the corn? There are corn-free xanthan gums on the market and guar gum, made from the endosperm of guar beans, is a handy alternative. How does either work? When in the presence of liquid, the gum stretches by hundreds of times its original tiny size and increases in volume enough that it holds everything together effectively – much like gluten.
Mixing by stand mixer is necessary – never use a hand beater – it will ruin the beater since it’s too thick.
Never use the dough hook – you aren’t making gluten bread and it will never come to a dough like that unless you’re using specialized ingredients.
Give the stand mixer time to beat the dough for several minutes – this gives the xanthan gum a chance to do its sticky magic and hold everything together.
If it looks too wet, add a tablespoon of sweet rice flour at a time. If it looks too dry, add a tablespoon of water.
If you are egg free or vegan, a tablespoon of ground flax seed in 3 tablespoons of hot water left to gel for 10 minutes is a great alternative for one egg.
Why do I not need to knead the dough and why is it so sticky?
This is the number one question I am asked every time when beginners start baking gluten free. The answer to both questions is – because you’re baking gluten free. Gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye reacts to water much like xanthan gum does – by getting stretchy and sticky. Unlike our gums though, gluten can make bread tough and hard if it isn’t kneaded into a uniform and even shape. It also soaks in a lot more liquid than gluten free doughs. Many bakers will snip off a bit of wheat dough they have worked and hold it to the light to see if: 1. The dough is see through and holds its shape and 2. If the dough looks smooth and even (like a window pane) when looking through the thinnest part in the center.
Xanthan gum and guar gum do not need to be massaged over a period of time to be uniform – a quick mix in the mixer will distribute it just fine.
Where can I find such ingredients?
All flours can be found at major health food stores and I have seen a growing amount in regular grocery stores in the gluten free/health food section. Many starches and flours, like potato, tapioca and flour can also be found in international and ethnic grocery stores as well – many Asian marts will carry the aforementioned flours and usually for very cheap. I actually prefer to buy my rice flour from such marts, as the mill is finer and leads to a less gritty bread. Some flours might be more exotic (and expensive) such as the garbanzo/fava bean flour. Whole beans are cheap in many grocery bulk sections and if you have a decent food processor or blender, it can be made into flour in just minutes.
My Vega (2013) Food Allergies Vs. Food Intolerances. Accessed 6/27/2013 from
Health Canada (2012) Food Allergies and Food Intolerances. Accessed 6/28/2013 from
History Channel. How Beer Saved The World. Accessed 6/26/2013.
WebMD. Going Gluten Free. Accessed 6/26/2013.