Monday, April 11, 2011

Dear Sara

Dear Sara,

I started thinking about gluten again after you and I had a really wonderful dinner made by your husband, Jason, the chef at The Tavern restaurant in Garrison, NY.  Aromatic blood sausage made from scratch; we discovered it’s good for both of us because we’re iron deficient. I’ve been endeavoring to wean myself of iron pills; your acupuncturist told you to eat black foods.  Nutrition by color, it’s like painting a diet.  Then we start talking about your husband’s travails, trying to cook from local ingredients and keep the menu items affordable.  Is it off-putting to call blood sausage blood sausage?  Maybe aromatic loaf would be better?

Our conversation then turned to baking.  Jason uses flour milled by the baker at Wild Hive Bakery, which tends toward old grain varieties.  Apparently the old grains perform differently from commodity grains and Jason has a hard time finding people who can work with them successfully.  The Wild Hive guys say the same thing. 

Apparently we’ve intentionally hybridized wheat in a way that has increased the proportion of gluten in the grain.  We did this intentionally because gluten is where the protein lives in grains.  Bread, pizza dough, and bagels all perform better with high gluten flours.  Gluten also shows up in surprising places - on its own is also used to make imitation meat, fish, and as a stabilizer in foods like ketchup and ice cream.  All of this means we’re eating not just more carbohydrates than before but also that there is more gluten in our carbohydrates than ever before.  Could it be that the higher incidences of gluten intolerances is a result of overconsumption of gluten?
Or is it because of changes in processing?  In the old days, people often stored grains whole and milled them as they used them.  This left the bran intact, encircling the starch and the germ inside.  Once grains are milled, the oils in the germ can become rancid.  Commodity flours are milled in huge quantities that are stored as flour.  This means that they are far more likely to have rancidity problems.  Bakers who mill their own flour right before they make bread like the guys at Wild Hive in NY and Cress Spring in WI tell me they have customers that seek them out because they can tolerate their breads even though they are typically “gluten intolerant”.  Of course, true celiacs like my friend Linda cannot eat anyone’s gluten. 

It’s a hard road to eating gluten free in the US where so much of our food is processed and contains gluten – soups, soy sauce, candy, cold cuts, low and no fat engineered foods that do more harm than the fat would have.  I always thought it was odd that people would ask me whether my whey protein products had gluten in them – whey is a dairy product afterall so of course there is none in teraswhey.  Now that I understand how ubiquitous it is as a food processing agent, it makes more sense that people ask.

I’m glad that chef’s like Jason are experimenting with old grain varieties and teaching people to cook with them.  Lets hope that the increased attention doesn’t cause Big Ag and Big Food to start hybridizing the old grains to make them “better”.

Any chance Kamut is black? Oh, and tell Jason that I think it’s fine to call it blood sausage. 


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