Archive for the ‘Information about Ingredients’ Category

Coconut flour, like all things that come from the coconut, is a wonderful addition to any pantry.  It shares two qualities with the other gluten-free flours: it  imparts a distinct flavour in anything you use it for, and is also absorbs a lot of liquid.  Coconut flour is made from dried, de-fatted coconut meat that has then been ground up.  It is slightly off-white or ivory in colour.

One of the great benefits of coconut flour is that it has high fibre and protein, contents.  It is particularly high in fibre, so it’s an extremely filling flour.  For those of you who are interested in these things, it is low-carb.  Like nut and bean flours, this will help to keep your baked good from being one big crumbly mess.  Use too much, however, and there is a definite coconut flavour to the final product.  Some people are okay with this; others…not so much.

Coconut flour produces a dense, moist crumb, and tends to work best in items like loaves or bars, or in any baked good where a dense final product is desireable.  It can absolutely be used in other items, such as cakes, however it should probably not be used as the primary flour, unless you have a real love for it, and cut it equally with a starch to improve the texture of the cake.


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Not only do they have a simply fabulous name, but they are also one of the best things that you can eat.

The word itself derives from the Spanish and Portuguese word “coco”, which means “monkey face”.  When coconuts were first seen by these explorers, the shape, colour, and the three eyes on the coconut reminded them so much of a monkey’s face, that that’s what they called it.  On a somewhat less interesting note, “nucifera”, the second half of the word, means “nut-bearing”.  Hence “coconut”.

Most people already know that coconuts are not nuts.  They are, in fact, a seed: the seed of the coconut palm.  So the coconut is actually a part of the palm family.

In traditional medicines, there is a long list of ailments that the coconut is said to be capable of healing.  In large part, it is the oil that is thought to be the most valuable for curing ailments.

The oil is in fact the most fascinating part about the coconut.  Coconut oil is comprised of approximately 66% medium chain fatty acid, called lauric acid.  Interestingly enough, human breast milk is also primarily lauric acid.  That lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acit is significant because the bulk of fat that we consume are long chain fatty acids.  Short chain fatty acids are consumed primarily through lactic acid, and do not generally make up a large part of our diet.

This distinction between the lengths of fatty acids is important because it helps to determine how our body will digest them.  Unlike long chain fatty acids, medium chain fatty acids can be digested by the body without breaking them down any further.   

Long chain fatty acids, on the other hand, need to be broken down further by the body.  This process is somewhat complicated, but in short long chain fatty acids affect the amount of triglycerides we have in our body. 

Medium chain fatty acids do not affect our triglycerides.  They are used immediately by the body, and do not require any further breaking down.  This can beneficially affect our cholesterol level. 

There are a number of claims that coconut oil can also help you lose weight.  I am not really qualified to assess these claims, so cannot comment, but it does seem like there is some new claim every 6 months about some food or another that can magically help you lose weight without any effort at all.  Generally speaking, these claims are sponsored by the same people who have a hand in selling you said product.  However, the unique properties of coconut oil does seem to suggest that it might not have the same effects as other fats.

It is important to use virgin coconut oil, rather than any other kind, as virgin coconut oil has been harvested from a fresh coconut.  It therefore is the most beneficial for you, as it has not begun to break down before being harvested.

The obvious and immediate drawback of cooking and baking with coconut is the distinct flavour of coconut.  If you like coconut, it should be absolutely no problem.  However, if you dislike coconut, there really is no way to disguise that taste.  My best advice to you is to slowly try to incorporate a good quality coconut product into your cooking, and go from there.

Coconut milk can easily replace milk in any recipe.  However, sometimes the flavour of the milk really is too strong for the dish.  It does tend to work best in curries, or highly spiced dishes.  The same can be said for coconut oil.  However, small amounts of coconut oil can be used in baking without totally affecting the taste of the final product.  Nevertheless, if you enjoy the flavour of coconuts, than this really should not be an issue for you.

Who knew the coconut was so wonderful?

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Much like quinoa flour, Millet flour is high in protein, and will add moisture to the final product.  Millet flour will impart a subtle nuttiness to any baked good that you use it in.  However, the flavour is much less distinct than some other flours, such as quinoa flour.

Millet flour will add lightness and airiness to your baked goods.  It is therefore a great addition to many recipes, as it helps to give them a lift.  It also helps to give a bit of form to the final product, because of the high protein content.  Millet flour produces a medium sized crumb, so it helps to give a bit of texture to the final product. Nevertheless, if too much millet flour is used in the recipe, the final product will have an overly crumbly texture. 

It is adviseable to use millet flour as you would quinoa: it is a great flour to add when you need to add some moisture or structure to your flour mixture, but is not always an appropriate choice as a main ingredient.  If you do choose to use it as your main flour in a recipe, adding a nut or seed butter to the mix will help to cut back on the crumbly texture that millet flour can produce.

Generally speaking, millet flour works best when it comprises approximately 25% of the total amount of flour added to the recipe. 

But don’t let that discourage you from experimenting – the above is not a hard and fast rule!  I say this mostly because all of the information that you can find on flour seems to say that gluten-free flours must be used with caution.  This is true, but the thing to do is to work with the properties of the flour, rather than try to mask them.  It is not impossible to have millet flour as the main ingredient in a recipe, but it must be tempered by the other ingredients.

If you are using a flour with a distinctive taste, than use it in a recipe where there are other strong flavours present that will complement the taste.  For example, if you are making a banana loaf, than the addition of some millet flour is not going to overpower the entire loaf.

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Quinoa flour is yet another great gluten/wheat-free flour.  Quinoa flour has a slightly nutty taste.  Quinoa itself is high in protein, so the flour is too!  It therefore adds moisture to the final baked good.  Because of this, it is a great flour to use in accompaniment with some of the dryer gluten/wheat-free flours, such as rice flour.  Quinoa flour is also high in fibre. 

Many of people don’t like to use a lot of quinoa flour in their baking because they say that it imparts a rather strong somewhat bitter taste taste.  It is true that the flour gives a heavier texture and flavour to baked goods, but this can be overcome by cutting it with starch (if you absolutely must).  It is a better idea to embrace the qualities of quinoa flour and use it in items where a nutty undertone might be desireable, such as a banana loaf, or where any bitterness can be compensated for with other ingredients.  Quinoa flour works extremely well in seed breads, cookies, waffles, and muffins, to name just only a few products it can work well in.  The final product will have a somewhat course, medium-sized crumb.  If overbaked, it will become dry, so be sure to keep your eye on it in the oven.

Quinoa flour can add a bit of chewiness to the final product, so it might not work well as the primary flour in a cake that you want to be light and airy.  If it was the only flour you had on hand, and you wanted a slightly lighter texture, cut the quinoa flour with starch: 1 cup quinoa to 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cup starch flour.

If you want to replace quinoa flour in a recipe, a good choice would be amaranth, buckwheat, or almond flour.  All three would add approximately the same amount of moisture to the recipe as quinoa flour would, as well as imparting a nuttiness to the final product.  The ratio to use when replacing is 1:1.

Given all the nutrition that can be found in these alternative flours, I have to ask myself why on earth would anyone continue to bake with wheat-flours?

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Nut flours and nut meals are slightly different from one another.  A nut flour is made by pressing the oil out of nuts, and then grinding the nuts.  By removing as much oil as possible from the nuts, nut flour has a finer and lighter texture than a nut meal.  Nut flour therefore more closely resembles the texture of a regular flour.  However, nut flours will add at least a little bit of extra moisture to the final product.

Nut meal, on the other hand, can be more easily made at home.  To make it, you can use either a food processor or a coffee grinder that has been dedicated to grinding spices.  Before grinding the nuts, it can help to freeze the nuts; this will help to prevent the mixture from turning into a nut butter.  There can be a very thin line between a making a nut meal and making a nut butter, as you will soon discover if you grind your own! 

Many people find that it is easier to control the texture of the nut meal by processing only small amounts of nuts at a time.  It is also a good idea to pulse the mixture, rather than just turning the food processor on and letting it run.  Nut meals will add significantly more moisture to the final product, but will give a slightly more coarse texture than nut flour.  Both nut meals and nut flours should be stored in the refrigorator or freezer and used as soon as possible.

Perhaps surprisingly, nut flours are fairly interchangeable with flour, gluten-free or otherwise.  The most commonly used nut flour is almond flour because of it’s more neutral flavour.  Other popular nut meals are hazelnut and pecan.  It is best to blanch the nuts before grinding them for either nut flour or nut meal.

Nut meals are especially popular for people who are on the SCD.  It is a great alternative for people who almost literally can have nothing else, as there are absolutely no grains allowed on the SCD.

In baking, nut flours help to add some “lift” to the finished product.  They also add fat, protein, moisture, and flavour.  It is possible to use only nut flour in a baked good, yet the final result tends to turn out a bit better when it is combined with another flour.  However, nut flours in particular seem to need an increased amount of “binding”, so a bit more xanthan gum or eggs might be necessary when they are used solo.

If replacing another flour with a nut meal, it is adviseable to increase the amount of nut meal by about 1/4 – 1/2 cup.  The same ratio goes if you are replacing nut flour in a recipe with a non-nut flour – decrease the amount of flour used by 1/4 – 1/2 cup.  It is also adviseable to adjust the cooking time by 5 or 10 minutes.  Products using nut flours will typically take a little bit longer to bake, because of the added moisture.

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Xanthan and Guar Gum are two different ingredients that perform the exact same task: they bind ingredients together. As a result, both can be extremely useful in dairy-free cooking, as it can easily replace eggs in just about any recipe.  For those of you on the SCD,  unfortunately neither are permitted on the diet.

xanthan 2Xanthan gum is the product of corn sugar and bacteria; specifically Xanthomonas campestris. Technically, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, however it acts more like a starch, and a very, very, strong starch, at that.  Only a small amount is needed to achieve significant results. People with corn sensitivities should avoid using xanthan gum.

There are no artificial ingredients added to make xanthan gum. There is, however, considerable debate over whether or not xanthan gum can be considered a “natural” ingredient. In reality, xanthan gum is a natural ingredient, albeit one with a funny sounding name, as no chemicals are added during the process, and fermentation is a perfectly natural process.  Nevertheless, there are people who cannot tolerate xanthan gum.

Avoiding xanthan gum can be difficult, because it is used as a stabilizer in many pre-packaged goods, such as salad dressing, or even in make-up. It can be quite a trial avoiding xanthan gum if you have a sensitivity, as it is literally used in thousands of products.  It’s incredible binding ability makes it an exceedingly attractive option to manufacturers.  Furthermore, only a tiny amount of xanthan gum is necessary to fully bind ingredients together, making it cost effective.It’s incredible binding ability makes it an exceedingly attractive option to manufacturers. Furthermore, only a tiny amount of xanthan gum is necessary to fully bind ingredients together, making it a cost effective option.

A suitable substitute for xanthan gum is guar gum. Guar gum is derived from beans rather than sugar, but it is still a polysaccharide.Guar Gum  It is high in fibre, and generally less expensive than xanthan gum.  However, guar gum is used less often than xanthan gum as it causes intestinal distress in a greater number of people. Like xanthan gum, guar gum is a natural product, and can similarily be used in packaged goods as a stabilizer. It is 100%interchangeable with xanthan gum in baking.

The ratio when substituting one for the other is 1:1.  In general, the amount of xanthan or guar gum needed to bind ingredients together in a loaf is 1/2 tsp: 1 cup of flour; in a flatbread (like pizza) it’s closer to 1/4 tsp: 1 cup flour.   If too much xanthan or guar gum is used in a recipe, the final product can end up heavy, gummy, stringy, or even slimy, so take care when baking with either of them!

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Baking is a little slow this week, as we’re having construction done on the house. All the dust makes baking impossible. So for those of you hoping for more recipes, a little patience is required!

Brown Teff grainsTeff (sometimes also spelled as “t’ef”) is a small cereal grain that is used and grown primarily in Ethiopia. Teff is the smallest grain in the world, actually – it takes 3 thousand grains of teff to weigh one gram. Teff can be found in three colours: white/ivory, brown, and red. Regardless of the colour of the grain, the teff grain is never processed, and therefore retains the full nutrients of the grain. Teff is high in protein, calcium, and fibre.

Teff was virtually eradicated in Ethiopia in the ’70s when the military junta in charge demanded that teff farmers switch to growing wheat for export purposes. It only survived largely thanks to the efforts of U.S. citizen Wayne Carlson, who grew interested in the grain while living in Ethiopia.

Some lovely-looking Ethiopian injeraTeff is probably best known in North America as the primary flour used in Ethiopian injera, which is the name of a large flatbread used in Ethiopian cuisine. It is both gluten and wheat free. However, some restaurants use a blend of teff and wheat flour for their injera, so it is therefore adviseable to double-check with the restaurant that their injera is made only with teff before you dine there.

Although it is a very versatile flour, many people dislike teff because of it’s distinct flavour. This obstacle can easily be overcome by either blending teff flour with other flours, or by using it only in recipes where there are other strong flavours present, such as a nut butter or bananas.

Teff’s taste has been described as slightly sour, although this might be a more apt description of injera than of teff itself, as the injera dough is fermented before cooking. Teff flour does have a slight sourness to it, but it also has some sweetness in it, making it resemble the complexity of molasses more than anything. Of the three varieties, white teff has the mildest flavour.

Teff’s small grain size means that less teff is required than other flours when baking. If too much teff flour is used, the dough will become extremely dry. Teff can also become tough if it is overbaked, so keep a close eye on it in the oven! When baked, teff takes on an almost gelatinous quality that helps to bind baked goods together. It is therefore an excellent flour for use in gluten/wheat-free cooking.  In general, if using teff to replace another flour, the ratio is 3/4 -7/8 cup: 1 cup

It is a little bit difficult to substitute teff flour because of it’s gelatinous quality.  It is also difficult to match it’s taste and texture.  A nut meal may be the next best substitute.  If you have worked with quinoa flour before and enjoy the taste, this might also make an adequate substitute, provided it is cut with some starch.

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