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Special ingredients and food science

February 11, 2010

My dorkiness is not confined to the realm of food. I was also a major geek at school and uni and have always loved learning new things. High school chemistry was always a challenge for me but, as it was such an ongoing struggle, I loved those moments of clarity when I understood what was going on. It didn’t last long though. Chemical reactions was one of the topics I actually got when my teacher explained that it was just like baking a cake! 

To bake a cake you need different ingredients that will react together when heat is added. Some ingredients are liquids, some are solids, and some gas is produced during the reaction. Baking powder is added in some recipes to increase the amount of gas in the cake batter so the cake is lighter and fluffier. 

I got to thinking of chemistry when considering what happens to food when you take gluten out of the equation. The gluten doesn’t just affect your stomach, it is fundamental to the structure of the cake. When the gluten in the flour becomes wet it becomes stretchy. The gluten forms a protective layer around the air bubbles in the cake batter and when the cake reaches the right temperature in the oven, the gluten stops being stretchy and the cake holds its fluffy form. So, unfortunately for people with coeliacs, without gluten you don’t get fluffy light cakes or breads. If you’ve tried most of the gluten-free baked goods on the market over the past five years then you know what I mean. A lot of gluten-free products have been like bricks; heavy, leaden dough with little air inside.

So, I’ve decided to look at special ingredients for a gluten-free kitchen that help to make food taste and feel the way it’s supposed to. Ingredients like ground almonds, rice paper, tamari, and xanthan gum can expand your options for meals and treats.

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