I spent all day yesterday in the kitchen. I baked a delicate, slow-rising spelt and einkorn bread; roasted a sheet pan full of beets and sweet potatoes; caramelized a crunchy crust onto some freshly-foraged pecans; tossed together a caper-flecked tuna salad; broke down some raspberries into chia seed jam; blended steel-cut oats with pumpkin and spices; and simmered parmesan rinds to make a flavorful stock. I will use these things for meals throughout the week, and in that sense they’re practical, but making cheese stock and slow-rising bread for twelve hours are not sensible choices, they’re indulgent ones.
I loved cooking before IBS, but I kept my homemade meals simple. If I wanted something extravagant, I’d treat myself to a night out. Now, it’s eating out that’s an exercise in self-restraint. The bread basket, list of pastas, and dessert menu are off limits. I indulge at home. I’m getting better and better at creating meals that approach top-tier-restaurant quality. I experiment with things I would never have attempted when I knew someone else could make them for me. Some things (here’s looking at you, bagels) still fall beyond my abilities, but I’m getting better and better the more I practice and experiment. Making decadent food at home creates a new need for self-restraint. I can’t purchase a single cookie, instead I bake dozens. This has made me pickier about what I chose to make, and mindful of my consumption.
I started this blog with the intention of adding a fresh perspective to the gluten free dialogue, one that understood wheat free diets are essential for many people who don’t have celiac disease, and one that didn’t rely on pre-mixed flour blends. But I’ve discovered that a lot of gluten free baked goods don’t agree with me. I’m not sure if it’s the xanthan gum, a few of the specific flours, or the extra eggs and/or dairy that many gluten free recipes call for, but eating gluten free doesn’t always leave my tummy happy.
Gluten free baking is also really hard. With sweets, it’s not so bad, but most of my baking is more savory: bread, crackers, pizza crust. Gluten free versions of these things are not great, and have very little shelf life.
Recently I’ve been experimenting more with “ancient” hulled wheats, ones that haven’t been hybridized and genetically modified. These forms of wheat: spelt, einkorn, and farro (emmer) don’t cause the symptoms I associate with wheat. In fact, they leave me feeling better than gluten free baked goods do. They also taste better and have a longer shelf life. I’ve been eating small amounts of ancient grains for a while, but despite my lack of symptoms I’ve limited my consumption based on the idea that I tolerate these grains because they were low-gluten, not gluten free. Since I believed my digestive issues were tied to gluten, I thought that my tolerance of these grains was tied to my eating them with restraint. Then, just last week I encountered a new study on non-celiac wheat sensitivity.
I know that eating wheat makes me sick, but not eating it makes me feel privileged and guilty. Like my IBS, my wheat sensitivity is comprised of a number of severe symptoms but for a long time my experience was unsupported by a medical diagnosis. I’d read dozens of articles telling me that I was crazy, unhealthy, and dumb for avoiding wheat. Michael Pollan, my long time local-food guru suggested that it was yeast, not wheat that was the problem, so I tried a locally made sourdough, but it caused all the usual symptoms. I knew that eating wheat made me bloated, tired, dizzy, shaky, and gave me vertigo, but my doctors and friends insisted that, since I don’t have celiac, there should be no reason why I couldn’t eat wheat.
Just a few days ago I encountered a new explanation, a substance known as ATI (amylase-trypsin inhibitor), which may be the real cause of non-celiac wheat intolerance. ATI is a type of protein that only exists in modern, free-threshing, non-hulled forms of wheat. It’s an explanation that makes a lot of sense to me. It explains why some forms of wheat don’t trigger symptoms while others do. Since learning about ATI I’ve been eating more einkorn and spelt and less gluten free food and I’m feeling better than ever.
I’m telling you all of this for two reasons. First, because it hasn’t been that widely publicized and I want to spread the word to other people who might benefit from this information. Second, this is going to change the way I bake here on the blog. There are way more sites exploring gluten free baking than there are using hulled-wheats. I plan to shift my focus toward ancient wheats, though I’m sure I will still use a variety of flours. I look forward to sharing a new stretch of my food journey with you.