Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you've noticed the absolute explosion of "GF", or gluten-free.
The gluten-free trend is now an everyday thing. My neighbour eats gluten-free bread, not because she has coeliac disease, but just because she thinks it's better for her. She complains that it tastes like cardboard and when I tell her that regular bread is fine when eaten in moderation, she just shrugs. "Gluten-free" is now synonymous with "healthy". However, that's not true.
The problem I have with gluten-free is that it is being used for people with a severe and medically diagnosed disease and for people for which it is a preference. There's lots of people out there that have self-diagnosed themselves with a "gluten intolerance" because they feel that a diet without gluten makes them feel better due to IBS or some other gastrointestinal problems. But how can they be sure that it is gluten and not the hundreds of other things that may also be present in commercial pasta, bread, and cakes?
But I recently read this little article written by a nutritionist on Jamie Oliver's website when I was looking for curry recipes. A few lines really stuck out for me.
"If you don't have one of the above conditions, removing gluten from your diet has no direct effect on your health at all. Sometimes gluten-free products can even be higher in fat, sugar, and salt to improve their flavour or texture."
"...But a gluten-free equivalent cake or biscuit, with nothing different other than the removal of gluten, will be no healthier than their gluten-containing equivalents."
"The danger now is that the trend aspect of a gluten-free diet will start to overshadow the 1 in 100 people who have coeliac disease - a very serious disease that requires gluten avoidance for life."
The last quote hit on something that really frustrates me, as someone who works in a kitchen. As with most restaurants, we have a "gluten-free" dessert option. It is made without gluten, yes, but it is made in a gluten environment.
In the kitchen, we also make about 16 to 20 kilograms of bread dough every single day. We don't have a special room when we make just the gluten-free items. If you've ever worked with flour, you know that it's like dust, it gets everywhere. Yes, we scrub down the entire station and switch our aprons when we work on the gluten-free items, but I have a hard time saying that it is 100% gluten free.
When you work with kilos and kilos of flour, anything you touch can become contaminated, such as a can of non-stick spray. And then someone else can touch the contaminated can, then touch something else like the fridge door handle. Someone else can touch the fridge door handle, then touch the food processor. And you use the food processor for your gluten-free item. It's not as simple as "clean your station" when it comes to someone with coeliac disease. Even though it might say "gluten-free", for someone with coeliac disease, it's still made in a potentially dangerous environment. Or, they might trust what the label says and then become sick.
In the kitchen, servers or other staff suggest that I make more gluten-free things like cookies, muffins, or scones. Yes, I could easily make those things without gluten. But it would not be suitable for the people who actually need it without gluten. To me, it makes no sense to make an item that says "gluten free" yet is still not safe for a coeliac. It's like making a dish without shellfish, but someone with a shellfish allergy still may not eat it. It's ridiculous.
Most kitchens treat allergies very seriously. You have a shellfish allergy? Switch out everything - cutting board, knives, cleaning rag, everything - and get new and clean equipment and utensils. Wash your hands up to your elbows. Wipe down your station.
This gluten-free trend for those who are not truly gluten-free has now trivialized the gluten allergy. Now, it's "Oh, I have a gluten intolerance..." which is very different from a life-threatening allergy. A little bit of flour won't kill them. When the majority of people have an intolerance instead of a serious allergy, you're going to stop going to all the lengths you would usually go to for someone with a serious allergy. If most people had a shellfish "intolerance" instead of a life-threatening allergy, the whole thing would be taken a lot less seriously.
I'm sure I've ruffled a few feathers with this post, knowing that many bloggers have "gluten intolerances". It's not my intention to attack anyone or claim that anyone is lying or just jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe you really do feel loads better by cutting gluten out of your daily diet. Good for you.
My beef is with the entire movement. The fallacy of the label "gluten free". The misinformation that people have about gluten and gluten-free products. The blind following of the notion that it is healthier, when really, it isn't.
Do your own research, look up articles on gluten and it's effects (or lack thereof) in the body, and make your own conclusions. Don't just rely on what everyone else is doing.
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Recipe from Elements of Dessert
120 g eggs
50 g sugar
160 g good quality dark chocolate (70-73%), finely chopped
263 g heavy cream
Graham Cracker Streusel
20 graham crackers
15 g all-purpose flour
15 g brown sugar
42 g melted butter
100 g egg whites
150 g sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
For the chocolate mousse, select the glasses you wish to use and place them in the fridge. Whip the heavy cream to medium peaks and set aside in the fridge.
Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over a hot water bath while whisking constantly until it reaches 60 C/ 140 F.
Remove the mixture from the heat and place it in the stand mixer. Whip on high speed until it cools to about 35 C/ 95 F and creates ribbons, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate over the hot water bath. Let it cool to 35 C/ 95 F.
Once both the egg mixture and the chocolate are at the correct temperatures, whisk the egg into the chocolate until evenly combined. Fold half of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remaining half.
Pipe the mousse into your glasses and place in the fridge to set, about 1 hour. You can make the mousse the day ahead if you wish.
For the graham cracker streusel, preheat the oven 350 F. Crush the graham crackers into small pieces (but not a powder). Add the flour and brown sugar and mix to combine. Mix in the melted butter.
Spread out the streusel evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring the streusel every few minutes to make sure it browns evenly. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
When you are ready to serve, make the meringue. Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over a hot water bath while whisking constantly until the mixture is no longer gritty and the sugar has dissolved.
Place the bowl in the stand mixer and whip on medium-high until the meringue has formed stiff, glossy peaks and has cooled to room temperature, about 7 to 10 minutes. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the meringue, whipping for 30 seconds to evenly distribute the seeds. Transfer the meringue to a piping bag.
To assemble, generously sprinkle the mousses with the graham cracker streusel, and pipe your meringue into the glass, starting on the outside and working your way in. Using a hand torch, torch the top of the meringue to golden brown. Serve immediately.