Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hot Cross Buns


Easter is fast approaching, which means it's time for hot cross buns! These sweet, spiced buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday in advance of Easter Sunday. Currants or raisins are a popular addition. Here, we've opted for raisins, plus a blend of orange and lemon zest, spices (including a touch of ground ginger), and honey. The dough itself isn't especially sweet in our version, but the icing adds enough touch of sweetness to make the end result wonderfully balanced.

It was fun to make these buns. Our family's Easter traditions include a Polish sweet bread we call mock cake, usually a baked ham, and a few other particulars. But despite the fact that hot cross buns date back centuries, it wasn't until you all prompted us—via Facebook—to come up with a gluten-free version of this beloved classic.


Hot Cross Buns
Makes 20 buns

Ingredients
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup plus 1 tsp honey, divided
4 1/2 tsp yeast (2 packets)
500 g (4 cups) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend*
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest
Olive oil

For the glaze
1 egg
1 tbsp milk

For the icing
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk

Steps
1. In a large bowl, combine the milk, 1 tsp honey, and the yeast and let set for 5 minutes until the yeast is activated.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, allspice, cinnamon, salt, xanthan gum, and ginger. Set aside.
3. In another small bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, raisins, remaining 1/2 cup honey, and orange and lemon zest.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the yeast mixture, stirring to combine. Then add the flour mixture and combine to form a wet dough.
5. Grease a cookie sheet or baking pan.
6. In a small ramekin or similar, pour 2 tbsp or so of olive oil. Lightly coat the fingers and palms of your hands, and pinch off a large-ping-pong-sized ball of dough, and roll between your hands to form a smooth ball.
7. Repeat until you have 20, placing them evenly spaced apart on the sheet. Use a greased knife to cut a cross shape into the surface of each dough ball.
8. Cover and let rise in a warm location for at least 1 hour.
9. Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
10. Whisk together the egg and milk to form the glaze. Brush the buns.
11. Bake for about 15 minutes, until deep golden brown. (The internal temp should read 200 deg F on an instant read thermometer.)
12. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
13. Mix together the powdered sugar and milk to form the icing. Add extra powdered sugar to make it thicker. Use a pastry bag, zip top bag with corner snipped, or similar to pipe the icing into a cross shape.

Notes
* Living here at altitude in Colorado, we made this recipe with 1/4 cup more flour than we're calling for in this recipe to account for the elevation. This is a fairly standard altitude adjustment in our recipes, but we haven't had an opportunity to "down-test" the recipe as written at sea level.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Monday, March 25, 2013

Matzo


Passover, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Freedom, starts today. One of the central aspects of the holiday is unleavened bread known as matzo or matzah. And while you could certainly buy store-bought versions (the classic rectangular, dry, cracker-like sheets so familiar to many), making homemade matzo is simple and easy, including in gluten-free form.

We've made ours circular, though you could easily modify the technique to get right angles, if you so desire. As we told a reader on Facebook, the recipe is up to us; the shape is up to you! =) Oh, and you're also responsible for making sure your kitchen is kosher and your house is free of chametz. No gluten, no chametz, no problem.


Matzo
Makes 12 6-inch matzo

Ingredients
250 g (2 cups) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup warm water
Sea salt

Steps
1. Place a pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven, and preheat to 500 deg F.
2. In a food processor, pulse to combine the flour and salt.
3. Add the olive oil and pulse to incorporate completely.
4. With the food processor running, drizzle in the water until a dough ball forms.
5. Scrape out the food processor and turn the dough onto your work surface. It should be slightly tacky at most.
6. Form the dough into a log and cut into 12 equal pieces. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a towel to prevent from drying out.
7. Roll each piece of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap until 6 inches in diameter. It will be very thin.
8. Dust a pizza paddle or bottom of an inverter cookie sheet with flour.
9. Remove the top piece of plastic, and flip the dough onto the floured surface. Then remove the second piece of plastic wrap (which should now be on top).
10. Dock the dough with a fork and sprinkle with sea salt.
11. Repeat until your pizza paddle or cookie sheet is full. (Ours held three per batch.)
12. Slide the matzo onto the preheated pizza stone. Cook 1:30 per side.
13. Repeat until all matzo are cooked.

Notes
The browning of the matzo is what really brings out the classic flavor. If you leave your matzo too blond, it won't have the characteristic quality.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/lactose/casein-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fried Dough


Growing up on Long Island in New York, I was surrounded by a large Italian Catholic population. Fairs were usually held in church parking lots, and with all those Italians around, fair food included zeppoli (an Italian form of fried dough) and sometimes funnel cakes.

Kelli, on the other hand, grew up in upstate New York's Finger Lakes region, about one hour from Syracuse, home of the Great New York State Fair. Going to the fair each late summer was an eagerly anticipated tradition throughout her childhood. At the NYS Fair, there was nary a zeppoli to be found. Instead, fried dough was the norm.

Hailing as I did from Long Island, I'd never even heard of such fried dough. In fact, when Kelli and I were recently updating our list of foods we want to re-create in gluten-free form, she accused me of purposefully omitting her beloved fried dough, because I'd included both zeppoli and funnel cake but not explicit mention of fried dough. Silly me, I'd simply assumed that her fried dough was redundant with the other two items. But I was wrong.

Kelli gave me a quick crash course in the finer points of proper fried dough. From that point forward, we had a melding of the minds—and a few test batches—to bring you this gluten-free version of her cherished childhood state fair treat.


Fried Dough
Makes 4 pieces

Ingredients
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 cup warm water (~115 deg F)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
175 g Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend (~1 1/3 cups plus 1 tbsp)
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
Frying oil
Powdered sugar

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, water, and yeast. Let set for about 5 minutes until the yeast is frothy and active.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, xanthan gum, and salt.
4. Cut the butter into the flour with your hands or pastry cutter, until you get coarse crumbles.
5. Add the vanilla to the yeast mixture, then mix the liquids into the dry ingredients, stirring to form a wet dough.
6. Divide the dough into quarters.
7. Lightly oil a cookie sheet or baking pan.
8. Lightly coat the palms of your hands with oil, then press each dough quarter onto the cookie sheet, forming flat "pancakes" about 6 inches across. (You may need to re-coat your hands with oil between each dough quarter.)
9. Set in a warm location and let rise for at least 10 minutes.
10. Meanwhile, add enough frying oil to a skillet (or similar) to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Bring the oil to 350 deg F.
11. Bake the dough for 3 minutes, just until the edges are slightly dry. (This "sets" the dough so you can handle it and transfer to the oil.) Release the dough from the baking sheet with a spatula if necessary.
12. Fry in the oil for 1.5 minutes per side until golden brown on each side.
13. Transfer to paper towels or a clean paper bag to let an excess oil drain.
14. Finish with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

This recipe can easily be made dairy-free by substituting a vegan shortening, such as Spectrum.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are You Getting Enough Magnesium, the Forgotten Electrolyte?

Electrolytes are crucial for all sorts of bodily functions. Their ranks include sodium, potassium, chloride, and phosphorous; lists of electrolytes usually also include calcium; and they should also include magnesium. Yet magnesium is often overlooked, which is why one peer-reviewed study called it "the forgotten electrolyte."

It's an ironic designation, given Mg's crucial and central role. Mg is part of more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body; it's important for muscle and nerve function, heart health, immune strength, and bone strength.

Mg has special relevance for those with celiac disease, but is something I don't see talked about a whole lot. So today I want to focus on a series of related topics: Mg and celiac disease, Mg and the immune system, Mg and bones, Mg and athletes, Mg and getting glutened, and dietary sources of Mg.

Mg and Celiac Disease

About half your body's Mg is found in bones. The other half is in body cells and tissues. (Less than 1% is in the blood.) Dietary Mg is absorbed in the small intestine, the same area affected by gluten in those with celiac disease, so it's no surprise that there are implications there. But the impact is big. An early 1960s study found "great magnesium losses" in the stool of a patient with untreated celiac disease. Following a gluten-free diet, "all mineral balances were restored to normal." Studies since then have only backed up those early findings. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a "striking magnesium loss" in the stools of those with untreated celiac disease—up to four times as high as dietary Mg intake. That same study found that "this remarkable loss was reversed by the institution of a gluten-free diet."

Mg and Your Bones

Plenty has been written about Mg and its importance for strong, healthy bones. But two studies from mid-1990s specifically looked at the situation for those with celiac disease.

The first study looked at the effect of a gluten-free diet on mineral and bone metabolism in women with celiac disease. With what we already know from the previous section, the results are not surprising: prior to following a GFD, the women exhibited signs of Mg deficiency and intestinal malabsorption of calcium; one year after following a GFD, "all biochemical variables normalized," although at that stage patients in the study hadn't yet seen actual increases in bone density.

The second study looked more closely at Mg deficiency, and its possible role in osteoporosis in those with celiac disease. Its findings were sobering. The study looked at patients with biopsy-proven celiac disease and followed them on a gluten-free diet and Mg supplementation. Among patients who entered the study with osteoporosis, those who followed a gluten-free diet and Mg supplementation for two years showed "a significant increase in bone mineral density." (Researchers noted that those with celiac disease may have lower levels of intracellular free Mg ions, which has a variety of important implications, even in patients asymptomatic on a gluten-free diet. Thus GFD plus Mg supplementation proved especially important.)

Mg and Immune Health

A number of studies—including from 1975, 19881992, 1996, 2002, 2003, and 2007—all looked at the centrally important role that Mg plays in immune health. It is critical for both innate and acquired immune responses; it plays a role in inflammation (a more generalized, non-specific immune response familiar to those negatively impacted by gluten); it plays a role in anaphylaxis; it interacts with vitamin D (also implicated in celiac disease) to modulate the immune system; and it has implications for potentially immune-compromised individuals, including athletes and the elderly. In other words, Mg is pretty darned important for your immune system.

Mg and Athletes

A variety of studies from the late 1990s (such as herehere, and here) and the 2000s (here) found—not surprisingly—that Mg is very important for athletes. It helps to maintain immune strength, it helps to prevent inflammation, it helps to regulate muscle function (including a likely role in preventing muscle cramps), it helps maintain energy levels, and it improved overall athletic performance. (For more on athletes, gluten, and electrolytes, check out The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life.)

Mg and Getting Glutened

Poke around the Internet, and you'll find lots of advice for how to help your body recover from being glutened. Take probiotics to help restore gut biota. Hydrate to replace water loss in diarrhea. Take glutamine to support gut recovery. And the list continues. But you might also consider adding magnesium to that list—either supplements or focusing on magnesium-rich foods.

Consider the story of a triathlete who contacted me a number of months ago. (I lost his email in a computer crash so some of the particulars are fuzzy, but the central details have stuck with me...) After being diagnosed with celiac disease, he switched to a gluten-free diet and had a notable improvement in performance in triathlons. At some point he was glutened in a restaurant, and despite doing everything "right" to help his recovery, he just couldn't regain his energy levels. One of the culprits turned out to be low Mg levels.

Given high Mg losses in those with celiac disease exposed to gluten, Mg's role in inflammation and immune health, and Mg's role in regulating energy levels and muscle and nerve function, we should all be more aware of maintaining healthy Mg levels in our diets and our bodies. Which leads me to...

Dietary Sources of Mg

Some have cautioned that a gluten-free diet can potentially be Mg-deficient. From my perspective, this is only a concern if your diet is heavily based on gluten-free junk food made from refined, process gluten-free starches. (Mg is contained in the germ and bran of grains, which are removed to make refined starches, hence the concern...)

However, many of the best dietary sources of Mg are also both naturally gluten-free and foods that could be part of a healthy diet anyway: dark green vegetables, some legumes (beans and peas), nuts and seeds, and whole gluten-free grains.

The following foods contain an estimated 10–20% of the average recommended daily value of Mg: almonds, spinach, cashews, soybeans, peanuts, baked potato with skin, blackeye peas, pinto beans, brown rice, millet. Lots of other great gluten-free foods (such as lentils, kidney beans, bananas, and more) are close runners up.

So make a commitment to give your body the Mg it needs. This "forgotten electrolyte" is important for anyone, but especially if you have celiac disease, are an athlete, are immune-compromised, have an intestinal malabsorption issue, or any combination of the above.

–Pete

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shanghai Street Dumplings


Do you ever get hit with a craving out of the blue? We do. Most of the time there's some immediate or otherwise identifiable instigator behind a craving ... a nostalgic memory, a TV show, a restaurant experience. But sometimes, a craving just pops into our heads. Like these Shanghai street dumplings.

We can think of no good reason why we're so compelled to make them right now—close to St. Patrick's Day, during the season of Lent, coming from families with combined Sicilian, Belgian, Polish, and English heritage. Yet here we are. We're tempted to point a finger at P.F. Chang's, which serves Shanghai street dumplings on its menu, but it's literally been years and years (at least 7.5 years, and likely more) since we've had those, so that seems unlikely.

Regardless, these puppies are delicious. The filling and the ponzu sauce are both easy to make gluten-free via tamari wheat-free soy sauce. The real trick here is the dumpling wrappers. Our recipe combines inspiration from traditional wheat-based street dumpling wrapper recipes and the fabulous gluten-free dumpling wrappers from Laura Russell's The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen.

The result is a gluten-free Shangai street dumpling that could go toe-to-toe with its gluten-ous counterpart any day. They're a little bit of work, but trust us, they're worth it.


Shanghai Street Dumplings
Makes 24 dumplings

Ingredients and Steps

For the filling:
1/2 lb pork, minced
5 raw shrimp (26-30 count), minced
2 green onions (scallions), minced
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp tamari wheat-free soy sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp dry sherry
1/4 tsp sesame oil

1. Combine oil ingredients in a small bowl and place in the refrigerator until ready to fill the wrappers.

For the wrappers:
1/2 cup (63 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 cup (60 g) tapioca flour
1/2 cup (60 g) glutinous (sweet) rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 cup boiling water
2 tbsp cold water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

2. Mix the three flours, salt, and xanthan gum, then add the boiling water and mix to combine. The mixture will be dry and crumbly.
3. Add the cold water and olive oil, mixing until a dough forms. Knead with your hands in the bowl to bring the bowl together, adding extra rice flour if the dough is sticky.
4. Divide the dough in half, and roll each half to form a thick snake. Cut each half into 12 pieces and cover with plastic wrap or put in a zip-top bag to prevent from drying out.
5. Roll each gum-ball-sized piece out between two pieces of plastic wrap, to form round wrappers 3 inches in diameter.
6. Place on a cookie sheet dusted with rice flour.
* Make only as many wrappers at a time as will fit in your steamer. For example, we made 8 dumplings per batch.

To make the dumplings:
7. Heat a pot of water with your steamer on top. Cover the bottom of the steamer with a single layer of Napa cabbage leaves.
8. For each dumpling wrapper, dust off any excess rice flour.
9. Place on a plate and put about 1 tbsp filling in the center of the wrapper.
10. Moisten the edge with water, and gather the dumpling at the top, squeezing to seal.
11. Repeat to complete the first batch.
12. Steam each batch of dumplings for 10 minutes.
13. While one batch is steaming, get started on the next batch. Repeat until all batches are done.
* Replace the cabbage leaves as needed.

For the ponzu sauce:
1/4 cup tamari wheat-free soy sauce
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp water
1/4 tsp chili garlic sauce
Green onions (scallions)

14. Combine all ingredients to make the ponzu sauce.
* We used fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice for this recipe. 1/2 lemon yielded the 2 tbsp lemon juice. We didn't have oranges, and so used 2 clementines.

15. Plate the dumplings, drizzle with the ponzu sauce, garnish with chopped scallions, and serve with additional ponzu sauce on the side.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, dairy/casein/lactose-free, fish-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The touch, the feel, of gluten: Can you react through skin contact?

Last week a Missouri state legislator made news when she proposed a new law requiring the declaration of wheat/gluten on labels for shampoo, conditioner, and other so-called hygiene products. The proposal met with praise from some in the gluten-free community, who claim to react strongly to gluten in shampoo and other products. Meanwhile, others in the gluten-free community responded with the equivalent of a furrowed brow, wondering, "Wait a second. I thought you could only react to gluten by ingesting it, so that it reached your small intestine."

So who's right?

The skin is a surprisingly complex and tricky organ. I don't pretend that this blog post will lay it all out neatly for you. There are a lot of avenues to explore, including the distinction between skin manifestations of ingested gluten versus actual skin reactions to surface contact with gluten. But by taking a peek into the peer-reviewed scientific literature, you can open a valuable window into answering the question: Can you react to gluten just through surface contact on your skin?

Spoiler alert: the short answer is yes (for some of you).

But first, we need to get a wee bit of background info and definitions out of the way, so that the discussion of the various studies makes sense.

Antibody responses

Your body has at least five major antibody responses. Two are important here:
  • IGG/IGA - these two are associated with celiac disease, and potentially with non-celiac gluten sensitivity
  • IGE - a true allergy, known as Type I, which has the potential for anaphylactic response
Skin conditions
  • Atopic dermatitis - can involve scaly, itchy rashes; blisters; dry skin
  • Urticaria - hives, itchy red welts
  • Contact dermatitis - a cell-mediated Type IV response to surface exposure to an irritant (such as poison ivy)
Skin tests for gluten
  • Oral challenge - ingested gluten that may cause a skin response
  • Skin prick test, intradermal injections - introduce gluten into the layers of the skin to monitor for response
  • Patch test - surface application of gluten to monitor for contact response over period of time
Okay, with that super basic overview out of the way, let's dive into the details, starting with a subject closest to the MO legislator's proposal: cosmetics.

Reactions to gluten in cosmetics

A number of studies and case studies—including from 2000, 2006, 2007, and 2012—all found identical results: contact urticaria (hives) in response to surface skin contact with a variety of cosmetics products, including lotions. The common culprit was hydrolyzed wheat protein (HWP), even in subjects who otherwise tested negative for skin reactions to regular wheat and gluten. HWP, researchers concluded, was particularly allergenic.

Skin reactions to gluten among bakers and other food preparers

Bakers and other food preparers who come into regular contact with wheat flour have been known to develop protein contact dermatitis, as evidenced—for example—by one study from 1993 and another from 2006, in which one third of study subjects developed atopic contact dermatitis.

Skin reactions among celiac disease patients

Early studies from 1976, 1977, and 1980 all found that intradermal (within the skin) injections of gluten caused skin reactions, including among as many as one third of celiac patients in one study. However, I failed to find studies that more explicitly associated surface contact with wheat/gluten with skin reactions among celiac disease patients.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

This extensively studied condition is sometimes called the skin manifestation of celiac disease. Researchers from a 2006 study failed to produce skin reactions to intradermal injections of gluten fractions. This suggests that DH's skin rashes are associated with ingested gluten, though many other variables may come into play, and the study group was small.

Ingested gluten manifesting in the skin

But to the point of ingested gluten manifesting as skin reactions, a number of studies, including one from 2000, found that ingested gluten initiated an IGE antibody allergic response that manifested as atopic dermatitis. In such cases, a gluten-free diet reciprocally resolved the dermatitis. Thus what may appear to be a surface skin reaction to gluten is actually caused (and resolved) by the presence (or absence) of ingested gluten in the diet.

Skin reactions in wheat allergy

Compared to the IGG/IGA response of conditions such as celiac disease, the IGE pathway of wheat allergy offers additional insight. In a 1999 study of children with confirmed wheat allergy, 86% had a positive patch test. In other words, their skin reacted to surface contact with gluten. Two years later, a 2001 study, again of children with confirmed wheat allergy and atopic dermatitis, found that an atopy patch test (surface skin exposure to wheat) had a 94% positive predictive value. More recently, a 2008 study again confirmed the surface contact skin reaction to gluten among those with wheat-allergic atopic dermatitis.

Finally, in a 2004 study that bridged the worlds of celiac disease and wheat allergy, researchers found that a small percentage of patients with celiac disease also had wheat allergy, including a higher rate of IGE-associated atopic dermatitis. For such patients, they may have skin reactions to surface contact with gluten, but it's not their celiac disease at work, it's the wheat allergy.

Conclusions

As you can see, trying to answer the question of whether you can develop a skin reaction to surface contact with gluten turns up a complex network of conditions, tests, and results. But at the end of the day, some take-home lessons become clear. Whether due to celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, wheat allergy, or another condition, you may develop skin manifestations of ingested gluten, but you may also have the potential for contact-related reactions to wheat/gluten. This latter population appears to be a minority, but their experiences of sometimes severe reactions to skin contact with gluten—such as via the hydrolyzed wheat protein of a shampoo—are very real.

Will you react to skin contact with gluten? I can't say. But it's clearly within the realm of possibility. For some the touch, the feel, of gluten is decidedly unpleasant, to say the least.

–Pete

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


Later this year, Kelli and I celebrate 10 years of marriage. It's amazing to think that a decade has nearly passed since we tied the proverbial knot. In that time, we've almost always been of one mind on a variety of issues. That's especially true of the recipes we write for this blog and our cookbooks. With rare exception, the recipe you get—and the photo that goes along with it—is a collaborative effort that involves both of us.

But when it came time to plan this recipe, I learned something new about Kelli. She likes oatmeal cookies, and she likes raisins, but she does not like raisins in her oatmeal cookies. I, on the other hand, am an oatmeal raisin cookie traditionalist. It does not happen often in our relationship, but in this instance I drew a line in the sand and put my foot down—we were going to make proper oatmeal raising cookies. No oatmeal chocolate chip, like Kelli suggested. No oatmeal Craisin, as she also suggested when I vetoed the chocolate chips.

People would expect a tried and true oatmeal raisin cookie, I reasoned. Besides, I really wanted an oatmeal raisin cookie. Kelli eventually relented, and if I do say so myself, you're better off for it. Here, we offer up a gluten-free version of oatmeal raisin cookies. (Though do feel free to side with Kelli and omit the raisins and/or substitute other options, such as ... ahem ... chocolate chip cookies or Craisins.)

The cookies are delightfully chewy, with just the right amount of raisins, and thanks to a 1:1 gluten-free flour to oats ratio, plenty oat-y.


Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Makes 38 cookies

Ingredients
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp GF pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups* (219 g) Artisan Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1 tsp GF baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp xanthan gum
2 cups certified GF oats
1 cup raisins

Steps
1. Preheat the oven to 375 deg F.
2. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugars, and vanilla, until fluffy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until incorporated.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and xanthan gum. Add to the mixer and mix until incorporated.
5. Add the oats and mix. Then add the raisins and mix.
6. Use a cookie scoop or spoon to drop the dough on an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.
7. Baked 10–12 minutes, until lightly brown and the edges crispy.
8. Let cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely.

Notes
* When we made this recipe, we used 2 cups (250 g) of flour to account for the altitude here in Colorado. We wrote the recipe, however, down-calculating for sea level.
1. This recipe makes a thick dough. If your mixer is working too hard, you may mix the oats and raisins in by hand.

Degrees of Free-dom
This recipe is: gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free, fish-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, vegetarian.

Enjoy!

–Pete and Kelli

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Will the strictest gluten-free standards in the world roll back?

Last week The Hill reported that the FDA's long-awaited (and long overdue) gluten-free labeling standard had headed to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In theory, this will be the standard's last stop before it becomes official. The end might possibly be in sight.

(That said, it may still be months away. According to The Hill, there are 143 rules and proposals in the queue, and 84 of them are already over the White House's 90-day review limit. Other sources, including Jane Anderson at About.com's Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity page, suggest the FDA rule may get fast tracked.)

The U.S.'s likely gluten-free standard has many similarities to the Codex Alimentarius standards prevalent throughout Europe, as well as the GF standard in Canada. Common to them all is the 20 ppm threshold for establishing gluten-free status.

But with the FDA's proposed gluten-free labeling standard once again in the news, members of the gluten-free community have again showed a diversity of opinion on the issue. Some express joy and satisfaction that the standard will finally become official, and that the U.S. will at last deliver on its promise to establish a standard and catch up to the more progressive European and Canadian countries that have had a standard for years. Others, however, have expressed sharp disapproval of the proposed standard, principally stating that the 20 ppm threshold is too lenient, that the law does not go far enough and is not strict enough.

When such criticisms surface, they almost inevitably do so with reference to Australia and New Zealand, which currently have the strictest gluten-free labeling laws on the planet.

Australia and New Zealand's Gluten-Free Standard

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, a bi-national government agency, administers those countries' gluten-free labeling law. As noted by Coeliac Australia, in order for a food to be labeled gluten-free it must contain a) no detectable gluten, and b) no oats or malted gluten-containing cereal grains (because of unreliable test methods for determining gluten content in those foods). It also includes an additional caveat: that certain foods derived from gluten-containing source ingredients are so highly processed that they are rendered gluten-free and permissible. The result is a product's gluten-free label overrides its ingredient listing.

The crucial thing to note here, though, is the "no detectable gluten" limit, because it's the key to Australia and New Zealand's strict standard. Unlike other countries that set a specific threshold (most commonly 20 ppm), Australia and New Zealand's "no detectable gluten" limit is dependent on the best available testing technology. As analytical methods improve, and as gluten detection limits get lower and lower, the gluten-free labeling standard gets stricter and stricter. Currently, 3 ppm is the threshold for gluten-free status (it was 5 ppm when the standard first took effect).

And how is the standard working? According to a 2010 report from the New South Wales Food Authority, quite well. They purchased a broad range of 222 products labeled gluten-free from supermarkets across Sydney. 95% of those samples contained no detectable gluten, less than 3 ppm. However, 8 samples (just under 4%) contained between 3 and 20 ppm, meaning they would have earned gluten-free status in other countries, but not in Australia and New Zealand.

Changes Coming to the World's Strictest Standard?

But as Australian Food News reported last year, changes may be coming to the world's strictest gluten-free labeling standard. Those who hold up Australia and New Zealand as a model to follow may need to find a new example. Those countries are considering rolling back their gluten-free labeling law to match the 20 ppm standard accepted elsewhere around the world. And it's those countries' gluten-free community—including Coeliac Australia—that are leading the push.

Why? Coeliac Australia's official testimony for Australia's National Food Plan holds the answers. First, they agree with others' assessment that 20 ppm is a safe threshold below which those with celiac disease and other forms of gluten intolerance won't have a reaction. Second, they note that as testing methods continue to improve, the standard will get even more strict, possibly to 1 ppm or lower; this could effectively reduce the number of products that qualify for gluten-free status to near zero. And thirdly, they maintain that the challenge of meeting this standard (including more expensive testing, sourcing ingredients, manufacturing protocols) places a substantial and unnecessary burden on the food industry.

Will Australia and New Zealand actually roll back the standard? Time will tell.

Back in the United States, those that maintain that "gluten-free" should mean "zero gluten" will likely see this as a disappointing development. Others may see this as an encouraging sign of growing world consensus. (Remember, Europe's Codex standard once included a 200 ppm standard, which it tightened to 20 ppm.) As the U.S. enters the potential final end stage of its long road to a gluten-free labeling law, it's some good (gluten-free) food for thought.

–Pete