The Gluten-Free-Bread Baking-with-Psyllium-Husks-Powder Test

If my email box is any indictor, some of you have been wondering if psyllium husk REALLY is the next best thing since sliced gluten-free bread. This bulk laxative, fiber supplement, and colon cleanser is produced from the seed of the Plantago plant (a plant that has a long history of medicinal use here on earth).

I wondered about it, too, especially since several cookbook writers and many bloggers started using it a couple of years ago to replace xanthan gum across a wide range of recipes. I tried it back then in my favorite vanilla cupcake test and didn’t really like it. The cupcakes came out an off-color, denser, gummier, and they had a taste that wasn’t like a normal vanilla cupcake;  i.e. if you didn’t already know by the color and density, then the off-taste gave it away as a gluten-free cupcake. (I had used this same test as when I wrote The Big Gluten-Free Flour Test: Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup versus Authentic Foods GF Classic Blend.)

But just recently, a new gluten-free cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen claiming “revolutionary techniques” and “groundbreaking recipes” said psyllium husks powder was far better than xanthan gum in gluten-free bread. In fact, the cookbook said it “resulted in a more delicate crumb” and “provided a stronger protein network that trapped gas and steam” in their bread recipes. Sounded like I needed to do a little more testing! Trouble was, I didn’t want to make their bread. It had mostly white rice and starch in it (34 ounces out of a total 42.25 ounces, or 80%), with only a little brown rice flour thrown in almost as an after thought (to reduce the “starchiness” of all the starch they added, and to “add flavor notes” to all the flavorless starches they used). I stopped using rice flour in bread back in 2003 and even though I test flour mixes that contain it every now and then, I’ve never returned to it. I not only like the taste and texture of bread made with my millet and sorghum bread flour mix, but I think we need gluten-free flour diversity in our diet. Even though I don’t eat a lot of baked goods, I don’t think it’s a good idea to use rice flour in every baked good we do make (wasn’t that part of the problem with wheat- that it was everywhere?).

Test Considerations

First consideration: I needed to create a test that made sense for my recipes and my bread flour mix which contains millet, sorghum, potato starch, tapioca starch and corn starch. Would psyllium husks powder work with flour blends and recipes that weren’t in the new “groundbreaking” cookbook? Yes, according to the blogosphere where there are hundreds (if not thousands) of permutations of various gluten-free recipes using psyllium husk in place of xanthan gum.

Second consideration: I needed a bread recipe so simple and basic that the nuances of the effect of the psyllium husks powder would be obvious to me. The bread recipe would have to have very few ingredients, so I could see what happened when I took out the xanthan gum and replaced it psyllium husk. Otherwise, why bother adding another new expensive ingredient I didn’t need? I already had a recipe that worked well.

And to those of you who really hate the idea of xanthan gum because it comes the secretions of the Xanthomonas campestris bacteria after a glucose induced fermentation frenzy, well I can’t talk you out of it. But I’m personally ok with helpful bacteria and the science behind how xanthan gum is produced from corn or wheat or cabbage glucose (glucose is sugar- not protein). Anyway, according to microbiologists the world over, especially those who are working at the American Gut project, we are all filled with lots of helpful bacteria – and their excrement. I’m thinking a little more bacterial excrement now and then isn’t going tip the balance in my body.

And to those of you think psyllium husk is healthier than xanthan gum because it gives you added fiber, my thought is this: ideally, we should be getting our soluble and insoluble fiber from natural, whole plant sources because in addition to feeding the healthy flora in our guts, real whole foods offer nutrition to our bodies (plant sources including cruciferous vegetables, leafy green vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, and fruit, especially pears, apples, and berries). 100% pure Psyllium husk is simply empty calories.

And to those of you who are really just looking to be more “regular”, I’ve heard rumors that butternut squash is the “white knight of poop”. Just saying.

The Submarine Sandwich Bread – Psyllium Husks Powder Test

I choose my very basic and easy to make Submarine Sandwich bread from Gluten-Free Baking Classics. It’s so easy that I use it in “introduction” classes to gluten-free baking. The bread contains only 1 1/2 cups of my bread flour mix, 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum, active dry yeast, water, and a tiny bit of salt, sugar, and olive oil. No eggs. No milk. No other funky gluten-free add-ins – other than the xanthan gum. The recipe reads like a wheat submarine sandwich bread recipe, except for the flour and the xanthan gum, and it makes a good tasting, golden brown loaf with a nice soft, airy crumb structure.

I also choose this particular recipe because it has a nice slow rise;  i.e. it isn’t fast rising like a pizza crust or bread sticks. I wanted to take psyllium husk out for a proper test run.

I did a lot looking into just how much psylliun husk to use and I can only say that there doesn’t seem to be any set rule for home bakers. Every cookbook writer or blogger seems to have their own notion about just how much to use. And that notion seems to depend on the flour mix, or lack there of, and the baked good they’re trying to make. The first non-industrial baking recipes to use psyllium husk for came out in cookbooks and on websites for individuals with diabetes and people who were trying to keep their glycemic levels low by adding fiber to their diet. Since then, writers recommend using anywhere from a tiny bit to 5 or 6 tablespoons per loaf.

Even London based food writer, Dan Lepard, who seems to be one of the first food writers to popularize the notion of adding psyllium husk to gluten-free baked goods, did so to add fiber (in May, 2009). Scroll down to the question “What about fiber?”

Of course, he also said it gave his mostly cornstarch bread (“cornflour” in England) a crumb and crust “more like wheat bread”. But he used it with xanthan gum in that first published bread recipe (link above). And he uses a little more than 2 tablespoons of it (25 grams). That’s a lot of colon cleanser.

In a later recipe without xanthan gum, Lepard used 50 grams (there are about 10 grams per tablespoon) and dairy, and another 25 to 50 grams of flax seed in his all cornstarch bread.  Then, some time after Dan Lepard’s column ran in The Guardian, psyllium husk went from being used as a fiber add-in to a texture enhancer to a stand-alone replacement for xanthan gum for home bakers.

In reality, psyllium husk was being studied as a possible substitute for gluten in industrially produced gluten-free breads as far back as the early 1990s (when Bette Hagman introduced the first gluten-free” flour mix”, xanthan gum, and the use of extra eggs, egg whites, and powdered milk to gluten-free home bakers). But again, depending on the proportions, the flours and the other ingredients used (which often included dairy, eggs, bread enzymes, or other highly processed ingredients) the industrial testing results varied widely.

I decided to test three combinations: 1 level tablespoon psyllium husks powder, 2 level tablespoons psyllium husks powder and 1 level teaspoon psyllium husks powder against 1 level teaspoon xanthan gum in my submarine sandwich bread from Gluten-Free Baking Classics.

I shaped the bread a little longer and thinner than a regular submarine sandwich bread and baked it in a 2 1/2-inch wide French bread pan. I used Yerba Primi Psyllium Husks Powder that I purchased at a Whole Foods for $9.49 for a 12 ounce jar (a jar that wouldn’t last too long if I were using the same amounts that Dan Lepard and many others use in their breads).

The Test: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

whole loaves sidebysideGluten-free submarine sandwich bread – shape and size
Top made with 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
Bottom made with 1 tablespoon psyllium husks powder

closeup texture

Gluten-free submarine sandwich bread – surface texture
Top made with 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
Bottom made with 1 tablespoon psyllium husks powder


Gluten-free submarine sandwich bread side by side slice
Left made with 1 tablespoon psyllium husk powder
Right made with 1 teaspoon xanthan gum

bent crustGluten-free submarine sandwich bread – flexibility/softness
Left made with 1 tablespoon psyllium husks powder (it won’t bend!)
Right made with 1 teaspoon xanthan gum

How did the bread made with 2 tablespoons of psyllium husk powder turn out? When it came out of the oven it was really tight and small. Interestingly, so was the bread made with only 1 teaspoon. So how do I explain it all?

The final loaf volume of gluten-free loaves depends on the stability of the gel formed by the hydrocolloids added to the dough. Xanthan gum is a thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier and foaming agent. It provides structure and is stable over a broad range of temperatures. Pyllium husk, however, forms a gel that is stable only up to temperatures of about 176ºF (80ºC) (1), depending on the amount used in the recipe.

So while psyllium husk is very useful for holding in the carbon dioxide based gas bubbles during proofing, once you put the bread into a hot oven and it starts to bake and the internal temperature rises, the loaf will ultimately collapse – IF you are depending only on psyllium husk  to give structure to the bread.

Many of the cookbook writers or bloggers who feel they are successfully creating baked goods using psyllium husk to replace xanthan gum create recipes that contain eggs. For example, all the recipes in the ATK’s new “groundbreaking” cookbook use 2 large eggs and 3 tablespoons of psyllium husk powder to make a bread that is 80% starch and contains a little more than 3 cups of flour.

What is happening in their recipes is this: at the point where the psyllium husk starts to fail as a gel, if the bread contains tapioca starch or even potato starch (which many do), the tapioca starch can act like a bridge until the egg proteins take over to help hold the bread up. The tapioca is able to act like a bridge because it gelatinizes at a higher temperature than psylium husk (or potato starch, for that matter). Then, the proteins in the egg provide some of the structure necessary to hold the bread up. But if you’ve ever made a bread that uses just eggs, and no xantham gum, for extra added support, you already know that the xantham gum does a better job.

Writers whose recipes don’t contain eggs, often contain other seeds, sometimes in large quantities. And some cookbook writers and bloggers create recipes that really just rely on a combination of heavier whole grain or non-grain flours that would produce a pretty solid bread (read: dense) with or without psyllium husk.

The recipes that depend on other seed gels (like flax seed gel) instead of eggs to help the psyllium husks powder provide structure have a similar problem. Although I sometimes use flax seed gel as an egg replacer when I bake for people who have egg allergies, it really is better suited to helping hold things together (as an emulsifier). Flax gels are weak structure builders because they don’t have the relatively strong protein network of eggs to reinforce dough and batters. As a result, fully baked cakes, muffins and breads won’t be as light and airy when using flax seed gels to replace eggs. (Flax seed gel also won’t act as a foaming agent, which you would need to make an angle food cake).

Xanthan gum makes a prettier, better textured, better tasting, lighter and more airy bread than psyllium husk in my simple submarine bread recipe. Perhaps if I had to add eggs or egg whites to it in order to create a decent loaf, the test outcome would be different. But I don’t. The recipe doesn’t contain seed gels, or any other out-of- the-ordinary gluten-free add-ins. In fact, none of my artisan breads contain do: not my Focaccia, French-Italian bread, pizza crust, multigrain artisan bread, or any of the rest. My thinking when I developed these recipes was this: wheat pizza crusts and wheat baguettes don’t contain eggs or gels; I wanted to maintain the integrity of original recipes to the best of my abilities. I won’t be adding eggs or seed gels to any of my artisan breads, so it looks like I’ll be sticking with xanthan gum- at least for now.

The bottom line is this: it is possible to use psyllium husk to replace xanthan gum in gluten-free breads. You just have understand that your end product will look and taste even more like a gluten-free bread.

(1) Haque, A., Richardson, R. K., Morris, E. R., & Dea, I. C. M. (1993). Xanthan-like weak gel rheology from dispersions of ispaghula seed husk. Carbohydrate Polymers, 22(4), 223-232.

Gluten-Free Walnut Sandwich Bread

gfwalnut breadslices
The days have been long and cold and filled with snow and ice here in the northeast. It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to cook low-simmering stews and fragrant soup and fill the house with the scent of delicious food. So early this morning, with another storm heading my way, I hauled out a much-used soup pot, a couple bags of split peas, and a frozen ham bone leftover from the holidays and set to work. I now have a huge cauldron of bay leaf scented pea soup for dinner tonight – and several dinners after that, if we lose power.

And you know what? Even though I swore off baked goods until I lost all my “Christmas pounds”, today I’m throwing caution to the wind: it’s an I-really-want-some-fresh-bread for dinner kind of day. Thank goodness there isn’t a rule about the best kind of bread to eat with pea soup because I’m hungry for walnut bread.

The dough took a long time to rise in my very cold kitchen even though I put it in a warm oven (I preheated the oven to 100ºF, the lowest setting, then it turned off and aired it out for a few seconds to bring the temperature down to about 80ºF). I made a long cut across the top of the dough with a very pointy knife just before I baked it. But you can see the in picture below how it didn’t open evenly.


GFWalnutbread topshot

The side that is wider was on the hotter side of my oven. Even when I try to stick the whole pan there so it’ll bake evenly, it doesn’t work. As some of you may remember in my Babka escapades, the hot spot of an oven can really affect the final look of your bread. You might also notice that my walnut bread isn’t quite as high and round as the Babka; the finely ground walnuts I added to the walnut bread dough make the finished loaf  a little heartier – and a little less high.



But I have to say, even if it is a little crooked, like it smells incredible when it’s baking in the oven and it looks beautiful when it’s comes out..

GFWalnut bread

My recipe makes a large bread that you can bake in a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. It has a rich flavor and a complex, hearty texture from the finely ground nuts that enrich the dough. It’s perfect toasted for breakfast and topped with fruit preserves and nut butters, or served along side cheese or soup, and it makes a great sandwich with leftover roast chicken. Of course, tonight I’ll be enjoying it for dinner with my pea soup, but I know the left overs won’t be around for long.

gfwlanut bread one slice
Gluten-Free Walnut Sandwich Bread

Allow the bread to rise slowly. Don’t put it in a place that is too warm; the ideal temperature is about 80ºF. A fast rise will contribute to an unstable bread that is likely to fall. The xanthan gum needs time to “set” in gluten-free breads. Also, try not to let the bread rise above the pan before you bake it, because this will also contribute to instability. It should be no more than 1 inch below the top of the pan. You can use non-diary milk substitutes. If you don’t want to use the gelatin, add extra egg yolk or leave out entirely.

Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons skim or 1 or 2% milk (or milk substitute) (110º F)
1/4 cup Canola oil
2 large eggs (room temperature
2 2/3 cups Bread Flour Mix*
1/3 cup finely ground walnut
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1- 1/4 oz. packet active dry yeast granules (not quick rise)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Lightly grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and dust with rice flour. Your bread will rise more dependably when baked in a shiny metal pan that isn’t non-stick.
  2. Mix eggs and canola oil together in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients (except chopped walnuts) in large bowl of electric mixer. Quickly add warm milk and egg and oil mixture to the bowl; mix until just blended. Scrape bowl and beaters, and then beat at high speed for 3 minutes. Mix in chopped walnuts. Spoon dough into prepared pan; cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place for 30–40 minutes or until dough just reaches 1/2 inch below top of pan. If you use a warm 80ºF oven to help the bread rise, and you have only one oven, you will have to pull the bread out before it is finished rising in order to preheat the oven to bake it.
  4. Place rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 400ºF while bread is rising (do not use a convection oven; bread will brown too quickly).
  5. Bake bread in center of preheated oven for 10 minutes, cover with aluminum foil (leave a little leave room for bread to rise) and crimp foil tightly around edges so it doesn’t open while bread is baking. Bake another 55 to 60 minutes. Your bread should have a hollow sound when tapped on the sides and bottom, and your instant-read thermometer should register about 200-205°F. Remove bread from oven and turn it onto a rack to cool. You can pre-slice the bread into 16 slices, not including ends. Wrap bread well in plastic wrap and then foil. Store in refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three weeks.

Cook’s Notes: Dry ingredients can be mixed ahead and stored in plastic containers for future use. Do not add yeast until just ready to bake bread.* Find my Bread Flour Mix in the Guide to Flour Mix section of this blog.

©2013 by Annalise Roberts


pumpkin roll

Sub-title: A lesson about xanthan gum in gluten-free baking.

I ‘ve had many requests for a gluten-free pumpkin roll recipe over the years. People typically ask me to help them convert a treasured family recipe for it right around mid-October. I didn’t catch on at first because the requests trickled in a little at a time, but after about six years, I finally noticed a distinct pattern – almost every recipe was the same. The quantity and combination of spices in the cake changed slightly, as did the amount of butter and vanilla in the cream cheese filling , but it was pretty clear that I was helping to convert a basic recipe that had been tweaked by friends and family.

After testing three of the most commonly submitted spice combinations, I choose a pretty classic blend of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; it was universally liked by my tasters. The second place combination was 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon allspice (a cinnamon and clove rendition was nice, but not as popular as the more classic blend).

The hardest part was the xanthan gum; but the lesson clearly illustrates the magic it plays in gluten-free baking and how little is needed to make a difference. I started with 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum, which gave me a tender, delicate crumb, but a surface appearance that was a little unruly (a bit “open-crumbed”). As is my obsessive way, I increased the amount of xanthan gum to 1/2 teaspoon and tried it again. The cake had a smoother surface appearance, but the texture was tighter, more “sponge-like” and bit chewy. The xanthan gum had done its job – a bit too much. And just 1/4 teaspoon had made a huge (to me) difference. (Imagine the large amounts of xanthan gum people innocently and unnecessarily add to their baked goods when they use flour mixes that contain it?) I decided to go with taste and texture and stayed with 1/4 teaspoon. Luckily, I found that after a good long chill in the refrigerator, the cake looked prettier and was easy to slice.

I went middle-of-the-road for the Cream Cheese Filling. Submitted versions varied from 2 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons of butter and no vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons. My recipe has 4 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla. It tastes delicious. Some versions contained chopped nuts, others had pieces of toffee or candied ginger. My recipe specifies chopped nuts as an option, but you can add whatever you think will make those around your table happiest.

So maybe you were thinking about making a pumpkin roll for the holidays? And even if you weren’t, now you can. It’s really easy to make, it looks impressive and it’s tastes really good.

Pumpkin Roll

Serves 6 to 8

3/4 cup Brown Rice Flour Mix*
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar
Cream Cheese Filling (recipe follows)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Position rack in center of oven. Line a 15 1/2-inch x 10 1/2 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly spray parchment paper and sides of pan with cooking spray. Spread a clean, thin cotton dishtowel on a flat surface and sprinkle with about 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (the sugar will help to keep cake from sticking to the towel; you will use the towel to roll up the cake after it is finished baking).
  2. Place flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt in a small bowl; whisk until thoroughly combined.
  3. Beat eggs and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer at high speed for 5 minutes until pale yellow and thick. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla and mix until well combined. Turn mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture; mix until just combined.
  4. Spread batter in prepared pan and bake in center of oven about 18 minutes until puffed and cooked through (toothpick inserted into center should come out clean and cake will spring back when pressed lightly; color will turn a darker golden brown).
  5. Remove cake from oven and immediately invert onto the prepared dishtowel. Peel off parchment paper. With a light touch, roll cake and towel together into a roll (starting at the narrow end) and place on a rack to cool completely.
  6. Gently unroll cake and spread Cream Cheese Filling over the entire surface. If using, sprinkle nuts over Filling and gently pat them into place. Reroll the cake and transfer it to a large cake plate or serving platter. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate at least six hours (this will make it easier to slice). Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Cut cake into slices with a long thin knife.

Serve chilled or at room temperature (I like it better not too “chilled” because the filling is softer that way). Can be made a day ahead. Store in refrigerator for up to four days.


8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  1. Beat butter and cream cheese in large bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat at low speed until well blended.


* Find my Brown Rice Flour Mix in the Guide to Flour Mix section of this blog.

The Wild West Days of Celiac

cowboy hat

Most of you who’ve heard me speak, or taken a class with me, or use the recipes and advice in my cookbooks, my website, or here on this blog, know that I find it difficult to say much of anything in just a few words. Perhaps that is the philosopher in me, but I love the luxury of more leisurely writing. I like to linger over my thoughts and I like having the time to play with my words and rework them with time to spare. I’m a terrible blogger and even worse at Twitter because I find that I have little interest or natural ability in trying to stay in the public eye on the Internet everyday. But I do have a really useful natural inclination to save up all my thoughts and to think about what I’m thinking about; it is then that my best recipes and my most worthwhile thoughts emerge. It takes time. And for the last several years I’ve been watching and reading and thinking about what is going on in the gluten-free world. Last year when my brain got really full of all these gluten-free ponderings, I started to put them down on paper as a chapter for my next book. But timing is everything.

After speaking at a regional gluten-free “expo” this past weekend, I feel provoked to speak out. Food picture lovers and people who need to capture the details in 140 characters or less should leave this page now. My writing here is for readers who are hungry for something to think about.

The following passage is copyrighted ©2013 by Annalise Roberts. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this passage or portions thereof in any form, including any electronic information storage or retrieval system, except for brief quotations or limited reproduction in a review or feature.

cowboyhatand spatula


 The Wild West Days of Celiac

First there were only the pioneers, the ones who bravely traveled into the new uncharted territory of the “wild” west. The pioneers had made the decision to move on and change their world in order to improve their lives. There were few road maps, almost no one to help them on their journey, and very little communication along the way with others who had gone before. In the celiac world, these were the (unlucky) few diagnosed a decade or more ago.

Then very slowly, settlers started down the lightly traveled paths of the pioneers. There were no established towns or cities for them to come to because the pioneer folk who were living in the new uncharted territories lived pretty much by themselves in very small communities. In the celiac world, I was a settler at the time of my diagnosis. No one I knew had ever heard of celiac disease. Doctors, except for a select few, could never be counted on to diagnose their patients correctly or give accurate advice about how to deal with it; nutritionists and dieticians often provided outdated and incorrect food advice (for example, I was incorrectly told not to eat anything made with distilled vinegar); and the leaders of the two largest national support group organizations couldn’t agree on diet protocols. The relatively small number of celiac settlers who existed at this time had to find their own way by searching for the few accurate resources that were available.

Then more people came and started to settle down. There were more day-to-day basics, but few conveniences and no luxuries. The growing, but still small communities, tried to develop a sense of order, ward off unscrupulous gunslingers, and help the new comers. But there was still no one was in charge, no spokesman, and there were few rules or standards. There was also an overall jostling for position among the folks who were there as people started to stake out their claims for leadership, land and commerce. In the celiac world, there was still no main clearing house for guidance and advice in the way the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, or the Lupus Foundation of America are often the first place people go to supplement the information they get from their doctors. In place of gunfights, there were petty rivalries between the national support groups organizations, newly formed independent support groups, and hospital research centers as they competed for the attention and money of people who had been diagnosed. Moreover, the growing number of celiac websites often provided conflicting information from both self-proclaimed experts and the participants in community chat rooms, as patients, who had been left with few authoritative resources to turn to, tried to help themselves.

Here Comes Everybody

Then, that famous golden nugget was discovered and the Gold Rush began as people answered the famous call to “Go West Young Man”. Individuals, families and entrepreneurs poured in, coming from all directions. In many ways, that is the same explosion of awareness, excitement, opportunity, and involvement that we are witnessing now in the celiac world. As more people have been diagnosed with celiac, and medical researchers finally came to admit that gluten-intolerance does in fact exist outside of celiac disease (even though the patient community had been saying this for over eight years), the market has exploded for all things gluten-free: restaurants, large corporations, small and mid-sized food companies, grocery stores, farm markets and cooking schools all jumped into the pot. To flame the fire, this rush to embrace “gluten-free” coincided with the catapultic rise of blogging and social media. These forces have resulted in a huge throng of people shouting for attention and aggressively try to fill the void left painfully empty by culinary professionals and the medical community.

The Consequences

The explosion has led to a better understanding of the spectrum of gluten sensitivity and to more people being correctly diagnosed with celiac and non-celiac gluten intolerance. This is a good thing. All of a sudden, everyone seems to know someone who has celiac or is gluten-sensitive. There is a also a lot more talk about the hundreds of symptoms, most of which are not related to the digestive tract, and the fact that you don’t have to actually have celiac in order to have symptoms. Moreover, the lines of delineation between those with celiac (one percent of the population with zero tolerance for gluten consumption) and those with non-celiac gluten intolerance have become more clearly defined, and as a result, it is easier for people to understand what they need to do to get and stay healthy.

The explosion has also helped, directly and tangentially, to educate doctors and other medical practitioners not to ignore the symptoms. Incredibly, I still meet people every week who complain that it took them seven to ten years to be correctly diagnosed. But now I’m beginning to have hope that people will have the knowledge and confidence to switch to more informed doctors when there own doctor ignores their pleas.

Secondly, the explosion has led to more and better gluten-free prepared food, baking flour and baking mixes in grocery and specialty stores. We’ve also seen more food choice in restaurants, and more cookbooks. This is particularly good for those who are newly diagnosed because it makes it easier for them to embrace their diagnosis. But in reality, it is good for anyone who wants to eat gluten-free food.

There are, however, things that concern me. The explosion has done nothing to deflate the number of competing national support groups and websites all clamoring for attention, support and limited dollars. Instead of one coherent message going out to the media, to food companies, to restaurants, doctors, medical personnel, insurance companies, and Congress, the groups are each sending out their own messages and often diluting the overall impact. There also appears to be a low level of acrimony between many of those working at the national level and there are turf wars over the work to be done. It has led to a duplication of effort and a squandering of resources. How much better it would be if the groups divided up the work and then specialized in an area for which they are best suited?

And my final concern: as the number of cookbooks and food magazines dealing with gluten-sensitivity increases, there are a seemingly endless number of flour mixes. There is, in fact, a general lawlessness among food writers and those who develop recipes. There are no rules or standards, not for home cooks, or for those in business. Although there is no real gluten-free cup-for-cup replacement for wheat flour, not having a universally accepted gluten-free equivalent of an all-purpose-flour isn’t necessarily a good thing. It makes it harder for new comers to develop their technique, become competent and to move up the learning curve. It means that everyone who starts down the path basically has to start from scratch in evaluating which road map to use. It also means the gluten-intolerant are more apt to bite into something dry or dense or grainy or gummy or rubbery or weird tasting or flavorless- or several of the above all at the same time.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

When it comes to baking, it’s probably safe to say that most people who give up gluten simply want to be able to recreate the baked goods they’ve always enjoyed (hopefully in moderation): the pizza, cookies, cake and crusty, chewy breads they left behind. So I’m not convinced it’s worth creating a whole new category of baked goods using gluten-free flours, although some other enterprising baker could possibly do just that. I’m also not convinced about the wisdom of what I call free-style baking, as in just use these guidelines for flour exchange or these ratios and throw in any flour you want or any flour you have in your in your cabinet; this leads to inconsistent, and often compromised results. And while the surprise aspect of never having the same thing twice might please some, the huge disparity in the quality of gluten-free fresh bakery products, shelf-stable bakery products, baking mixes, and recipes really means that there is much work to be done in just being able to dependably reproduce the basics.

The result? One of my goals is to try tame a bit of the wild west aspect of the gluten-free baking community. I want to create a starting place for gluten-free bakers, help them build a solid foundation for tackling recipes, help them to move up the gluten-free baking learning curve so that they can successfully innovate and be creative, and finally, to help them develop consistency. Consistency is a mark of being great in anything, from throwing a curveball, to dancing the tango, to writing good, clean software code. The difference between a great baker and everyone else is having the skill set to produce top quality baked goods over and over on purpose. And while I can’t promise to make you a great baker, I can promise to give you the tool kit to start you on your way.

Finally, my primary goal is and always has been is to provide you with a collection of dependable gluten-free recipes for baked goods that mimic high quality wheat versions. I want to be the cookbook writer you turn to when your baked goods have to be good, when you don’t want to take a chance. I want to be the cookbook writer whose recipes and advice you’ll come to know and trust and return to time again.

The above passage is copyrighted ©2013 by Annalise Roberts . All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this passage or portions thereof in any form, including any electronic information storage or retrieval system, except for brief quotations or limited reproduction in a review or feature.

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