Gluten-free in the UK!

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I love American food.  I’ve only travelled there once, but I got the impression eating is a big deal there and it is to me too, so we’ve already got things in common.  Let’s get married! I’ve been so grateful to find all the bloggers out there (worldwide) who are posting recipes, gluten-free or otherwise, for the inspiration they give me on an almost daily basis but the fact is the majority of them are US-based.  I love the different cuisines used due to the diverse nature of the American population, and how that influences fellow bloggers when they create their recipes.  It is a constant source of excitement to me to read what dishes they are making and feeding to their families.  Healthy food that is delicious and nutritious is wonderful – I have a 2-year-old to feed and educate on how to eat so it is natural I’m looking for recipes that help me to do that.  But food can also be fun.  And sociable.  And luxurious.  And cultural.  And contentious.  And occasionally awful!  I’ve got a lot to teach my little girl, so she develops a healthy attitude to food, as well as desire to eat a range of foods and not be afraid to try new things.  So my way of doing that is try my hardest to make as many meals as possible from scratch using fresh ingredients, ethically sourced, with the least ecological impact on the planet.  No pressure there then.  Oh, and in portions of one and a bit, or to be something that we can eat again in a couple of days, or turn into something else, or freeze…  We can’t afford financially or environmentally to do otherwise.  The constraints are not insignificant.

So, let’s start by talking superfine rice flour.  Can you buy that in the UK?  As of today I just don’t know.  What I do know is that is quoted as an essential ingredient in many of the online recipes I read, especially those originating in the US.  The brands discussed just aren’t available in the UK and although they often state that Asian supermarkets will carry it, I have no idea of what brands available here will be superfine.  I’m therefore in the process of buying a series of rice flours from different suppliers in my search for something ‘superfine’ and brown would be good too.  Painstakingly one at a time mind, as I have neither the budget or space to buy one of everything immediately – but I will use it all up eventually so it’s just going to take a while.  My understanding is that I’m looking for something with the texture of powder and not at all like sand.  The flours currently in my cupboard definitely feel a little gritty, and the texture of the finished goods reflects this.  I’ll let you know what I discover.

Next on my list of ‘surely no, this can’t be the case!’ is potato flour.  Here in the UK, and in fact repeatedly out there in online wholefood shops, and blogs, and other recipe sources, it will be stated that potato flour and potato starch are the same thing.  Not so it seems! Many different sources will tell you the difference between the two.  Potato starch is made from rinsing the peeled uncooked potato to wash the starch from it and then drying and powdering that liquid.  Potato flour is whole potato cooked and milled to a flour.  The starch has no potato flavour and is used in baking to give a lightness to the final product.  The flour tastes a little of potato, is heavy, and is used in baking to add chewiness.  These two things couldn’t be more different but I know of at least two brands producing and labelling ‘potato flour’ in the UK that is actually potato starch.  Now, we can get Bob’s Red Mill (infamous, or is that too strong a word, purveyor of fine flours including many suitable for the gluten-free) here and they do produce both starch and flour, clearly labelled as such, and I’m sure they are great.  However, the price point for this brand is high, and I think you’ll probably agree that unless you’re sticking to a pre-made blend of plain and self-raising, you’ve got a (or two, or three!) cupboard full of different flours.  Gluten-free is expensive people, and in these tricky financial times alternatives have got to be sought out.  However, getting information on exactly what is in some brands, especially if they are not UK-based isn’t easy.  And let’s not even talk about air miles – or is it sea miles?  Somehow I doubt all these flours are coming by air, so is it ecologically more sound to get flour that’s been shipped from Hong Kong or the US?  I wish I knew (well almost – it’s just another layer of complexity that makes my head hurt).

My point – (‘Ah’ they all said, ‘She actually HAS a point!) – is that if I see the recipe for something I like the look of then I’ll want to make it.  But I don’t want to buy a bag of whatever, at sometimes extraordinary cost, that I may never use again, that I can only buy from one specific store that sells nothing else I want, so I cannot get it along with other things and benefit from discounts or combined shipping.  Neither do I want something of dubious origin.  Neither do I want to do my bit to grind the planet into oblivion by ignoring the potential environmental impact of making myself a cake from flour that has circumnavigated the planet twice, quite possible in vast range of air and/or sea-going vessels.  So I’m on a mission, which I will hopefully be able to share with you, that will remove some of the mystery, and craziness from being gluten-free in the UK.  Because  this is tough enough people – we deserve it to be a bit more straightforward.

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