Ancient Grains, Eating Gluten Wisely and Cookies

There’s been a lot of talk about flour lately. Words like “wheat” “gluten” and “grain” have become blasphemous, their descriptors banned from kitchens across the country. Taking their place on the shelves are brown rice bread, quinoa pasta, flaxseed crackers, and the list goes on.

I am all for flour variety. As someone who has struggled with digestive distress, changing up the grains in my diet has been key in understanding what my triggers are. It was incredibly helpful to experiment with a gluten free diet as part of my healing journey.

Although I was substituting my pastas, breads and crackers for gluten free versions, my belly was still feeling unease. I felt so confused. I knew didn’t have celiac disease, which is a true allergy to gluten. Why did it seem the world of grain was against me?  It was in speaking to a local grain farmer at a farmers market that I truly understood how to heal my gut, and it didn’t mean I was doomed to live a life eating tapioca bread.

My friendly informant told me about the rancidity of flour products we normally buy in markets. Commercial breads are made with flour which is often milled a few years before the bread is made, leaving the oils that naturally exist within the grain to putrefy as the flour sits. Those rancid flours are typically made with genetically modified wheat, which has been linked to a sea of health issues including leaky gut, celiac disease, and autism. If it’s not organic bread and has an abnormally long shelf life, you can guess it’s made as described above.

Grains also contain phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor which makes digestion difficult. The way to neutralize the phytic acid is to soak the grain with a little acid in it (apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, whey, yogurt) to slightly sour the grain, making it more digestible and bio-available. Grains can also be sprouted to make them even more nutritious. Sprouted grains can then be dried and processed into flour. You can find sprouted grain bread in the freezer section of health food stores, which ensure they are incredibly fresh when you eat them. You can also find organic sprouted grain flour in most health food stores. Many of the recipes on this blog will be made with either sprouted grain, fresh milled, or a mixed variety of whole grain flours.

Variety is key in grain and flour consumption. Brown rice pasta, quinoa pasta, brown rice bread, quinoa crackers… there is a lot of brown rice and quinoa being consumed. In terms of sustainability, these grains are not locally grown, so it puts a stress on the areas of production which normally feed that local region only. And considering most packaged foods are not prepared using soaked or sprouted grain, they can cause GI upset just like any gluten containing version. Anything taken in in excess can cause gut distress. Too much brown rice, too much quinoa, too much wheat is just too much. Sprouted wheat crackers one day, quinoa pilaf another, brown rice sushi the third day, spelt bread the fourth… maintain variety and high quality. Soak your flours, sprout your grain, make your flours from scratch. Your belly will thank you.

To make my own flour, I use a grain mill, shown above, but a food processor would do just fine. Simply add your grain of choice in their most whole form (spelt berries, oat groats, wheat berries, brown rice, millet, the list goes on and on) to your food processor, blender, or grain mill if you have access to one, and let it rip. The result will be fresh flour, ready to use for recipes to come. Use immediately, or store it in the freezer to maintain it’s freshness.

 Some different forms of grains:

Groats of Berries (whole kernel of the grain, minus the indigestible hull, with bran and outer germ intact. Can be used to prepare fresh milled flour. Example is Rye or Spelt Berries)

Polished Grains (Some important bran layer is rubbed off. Less time to cook, but also less nutritious. Example is barley)

Grits (Chopped groats. Examples are steel cut oats and polenta)

Bran (Layer lost when grains are processed. Add to cereals and baked goods to increase fiber content. Examples are oat and wheat bran)

Whole Grain Flours (Milled from whole grains. Germ is present so fat content is higher, making the flour prone to rancidity. Best to refrigerate.)

Refined Flour (Lack nutritious outer bran and germ. Also has less fiber. Use very rarely or not at all.)

Recipe: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everyone can use a cookie now and again. These cookies have been a hit throughout my world for years. I make them any time I want to wow someone!

2 cups flour of choice, preferably freshly milled or sprouted (I often use oat)

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix dry ingredients, except chocolate chips, in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry, being careful not to over mix. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop heaping tablespoons onto 2 baking trays, lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12 minutes, switching the trays positions in the oven after 6 minutes of baking. Let cool several minutes before eating to set the cookie. Makes 20.

This blog entry’s talented photographer Julianna enjoying the best cookie ever made.

All photos within this post taken by Julianna Blizzard.

Elizabeth Gross