Let's try and answer some of the common questions around gluten-free we hear all the time:
- What is gluten?
- Why do people look for gluten-free food products?
- Can anyone eat gluten-free?
- Is gluten-free healthy for you?
What is Gluten-Free Flour?
Most grain and flour contain gluten, whereas most seeds, nuts, pulses/beans and some grains are gluten-free. The gluten in flour is helpful in baking, for making the baked goods light and helping bread, cakes, muffins, and cookies rise. However, the western diet is very high in gluten, as wheat is the most common flour used, and wheat has a high gluten content. Increasing numbers of people find that wheat is hard to digest - they are sensitive to gluten, or even intolerant of it. Some develop celiac disease, which means they react adversely to even the tiniest bit of gluten. But fortunately, there are many gluten-free alternatives available these days.
Who can eat gluten-free?
Gluten-free products can be eaten by anyone, regardless of whether you're sensitive to gluten or not. Gluten-free grains and flours are gaining in popularity today, as more people find wheat difficult to digest, or become sensitive to gluten, or simply realise it is not so healthy to base your diet mainly on wheat. People want to restrict the gluten in their diets and also increase the varieties of healthy grain they eat. Spelt is another great alternative to wheat. Although it does contain gluten, the molecular structure of the gluten is very different, making it quite fragile and water soluble, so that it breaks down easily and is readily digestible. As a result, many people who don't digest wheat well have no problems with spelt. (See our article on spelt.) But coeliacs cannot eat spelt.
What do you look for in gluten-free?
Is it healthy for you?
But there is gluten-free and gluten-free… not all gluten-free products are equally healthy. Many gluten-free products are made with refined grain or flour. Only those made with whole-grain gluten-free flour or grain contain all the original healthy nutriments. Once the bran and germ are stripped from the grain, in the refining process, there is basically only the starch or carbohydrate of the endosperm left. Most of the protein, essential minerals and vitamins are lost. So, at Organic Flour Mills in NZ we use only whole grain that hasn’t been modified in any way, so we produce only healthy whole-grain flour.
Our gluten-free flour and grain
We stock four organic gluten-free grains, buckwheat, millet, sorghum and brown rice, and so we mill four gluten-free flours: buckwheat, millet, sorghum and brown rice flours. The millet we use is the larger foxtail millet, and the rice we use is organic long-grain brown rice, which we may replace with medium-grain if long-grain is unavailable. Our gluten-free flours can be substituted for the gluten ones in most recipes, with sorghum or chickpea flour often added for lightness, and sometimes also ground linseed/flaxseed. We separate our gluten products from our gluten-free ones at Organic Flour Mills NZ, with separate mill rooms for our gluten Zentrofan mills, and our gluten-free Zentrofan mill, in order to prevent cross-contamination.