The Gluten Problem and Bread, As I Understand It
The problem with gluten-free bread, or baking in general, is that you don’t have gluten. Gluten provides structure, and non-wheat flours don’t have this.
These days, the replacement is typically xanthan gum, which does a great job—but a large enough amount of it is needed in baking that it makes me sick. I can put up with xanthan gum in minute amounts, like what’s in a teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon concentrate, or a few tablespoons of SAN-J wheat-free cooking sauces, but breads can use up to 1/3 tsp or more per slice.
Guar gum was used before xanthan gum, and it also does a great job—but it’s also a laxative. This was seriously banned by the FDA from diet pills. And that’s America’s FDA, which is rather lax. ((Pun not that intended.)) I can tell you that the amount needed for baking is a great laxative for me, but not what I want to go through whenever I eat a sandwich.
(Funnily enough, though guar gum shows up in corn tortilla ingredient lists towards the end, it’s in tolerable quantities there for me; thus far I can eat three corn tortillas in a meal without incident. Though I don’t want to find out what happens on tortilla #4 (I’m usually pretty full by #3). However, the amount of guar gum present in a can of coconut milk spread out over 12 servings of stew is enough to make me sick. I’ve got a very fine tolerance going on here.)
Anyways, people have used pectin and gelatin as alternate binders for structure. And some have used ground-up chia seeds.
What makes xanthan gum work so, so well in baking is apparent if you try mixing some of it raw with water: the resulting slime is so adherent that it takes some very diligent scrubbing to get it off of a ceramic surface. Guar gum has similar properties.
Pectin and gelatin likewise can bind and provide structure, but it takes more of both (and I think it’s the case that neither makes me ill, but we’ll see in future weeks).
And some seeds, when ground up and mixed with water, can actually produce a mixture with slime/gel properties.
Flax seed is somewhat known as a good replacement for egg whites when ground up and mixed with water. Apparently, ground chia seeds do something similarly gloppy.
The above glop was created via one heaping tablespoon of chia seeds that were then ground (producing way more than one tablespoon of ground chia seeds), and then one cup of hot (not boiling) water was added.
As I learned in the experiments that follow, however, you need way more chia seed gel than you’d need either xanthan gum, guar gum, pectin, and probably gelatin. Which is problematic, since it’s also partly a liquid, which led to some further disaster.
A couple friends of mine are being supportive :) and investigating gluten-free recipes. They came up with a recipe using pectin, and I think it’s a 3/4 pound loaf recipe; I should have multiplied the ingredient amounts by 1.5 for my 1lb loaf bread machine. I replaced the pectin with chia gel, 1:1, and it wasn’t enough.
The resulting bread is too short and thus baked a bit too much by the machine. The crumb is good, but it doesn’t have as good a structure as the pectin would have given it. The dough was more batter-like than putty-like because of the added liquid from the chia seed gel. So I doomed this poor bread…
It was decent the first day, although strongly flavored due to the chickpea flour; on subsequent days it dried out, even in a bread bin.
The second bread was made with an altered version of an earlier, successful recipe that had been wonderful with xanthan gum but made me very sick. With this one, the 1:1 exchange of chia seed gel to xanthan gum made the liquid increase obvious and sad. The batter was far more soupy, and the bread top is still sticky days later.
The crumb was good, but the bread fell apart easily at the top. However, it remains moist days later, which is several stripes of amazing. O.o I’m thinking the eggs or flours or oil made a real difference. Or… something.
This bread is very good with honey. Very, very good with honey. Did I mention how good with honey this bread is? But it crumbles….
You can see (if you were here in person and looking at the bread and had something better than an iPhone camera) the grains of chia seed, but it’s not objectionable, nor does it seem to affect the taste in any way. I got a real spice grinder this week so hopefully we can get more finely ground chia.
Anyways: more chia gel next time!