Your diet and your digestive inflammation goes hand in hand. Eating well means that you are eating what your body can handle. Yet for some of us that means turning to alternative ingredients. So, how can we get these substitutions to work for us as well as “normal” recipe ingredients?
Let’s ask SCIENCE!
My first few gluten-free meals were disastrous. Baking was even worse – half the time my batter didn’t even make it to the cookie sheet because it tasted so terrible. What changed my ability to cook, however, was when I started to look at recipes like a science experiment.
In my opinion, the best way to learn to cook gluten-free (abbreviated hereon in as “GF”) or allergy-friendly is to understand how cooking and baking works in non-special circumstances. That way, it’s easier to figure out what adjustments can be made and how it will impact a recipe.
And it all comes down to chemistry.
Chemistry is “the scientific study of the structure, properties, and reactions of the chemical elements and the compounds they form” (“Chemistry”). If I recall high school chem correctly, said properties can be studied in terms of two categories: physical changes and chemical changes. Let’s focus on the chemical changes since it’s those tasty molecular reactions which affects our yummy finished products.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to look at common cooking and baking ingredients so that we can see what reactions are taking place. From there, we can learn how to copy those molecular reactions in order to make food that people with allergies and/or intolerances can actually digest.
Basic Ingredient Chart
- Note 1: This chart has footnotes and a corresponding Works Cited page to give the author(s) full credit. I just wanted to have a non-moneymaking place to see food-related chemical reactions at a glance.
- Note 2: Please note that the “Acceptable Substitutions” reference what will chemically work as a substitution for the original ingredient. Unless specified, actual substitutions are NOT 1-1 ratios. For substitutions and their recipe use, please click here. For GF flour substitutions, please click here.
Type of food energy; chemical change (examples)
|Protein; changes properties (whisking → shape & stability, heat → solidifies)
*Adds a binder/moisture in baked goods1
|For binding: use another protein source (ex., commercial egg-replacement, tofu, flaxseed) 2
For baked goods: applesauce or banana
*Browning occurs when flesh is exposed to oxygen unless exposed to citric acid 3
|For tarts, pies, or other goods that requires fruit (like apples) to keep its color: use a bit of lemon juice|
(the reason why you should always combine dry & wet ingredients separately before mixing everything together)
|Carb; produces CO2 for rising dough
*Baking Powder (cream of tartar and starch, usually cornstarch): activated by moisture
*Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate): reacts quickly with acidic ingredients
*Yeast: re-activates in warm water; assists in gluten development; slower rising agent; adds flavor 4
|For Baking Powder: baking soda and an acid (ex., cream of tartar, buttermilk, vinegar)
For Baking Soda: double-action baking powder (but do not use with acids [ex., lemon, buttermilk, vinegar]) 5
For Yeast: cannot be replicated exactly as is, but can be replaced with baking soda and an acid to produce CO2
|Protein; when heated, surface proteins lose structure and recombine with any sugar present (browning)
*Marinades penetrate proteins with acids (ex., vinegar or orange juice), oils and seasonings
*Brines use osmosis of salt and water 6
|For protein, try:
(Based on my own experience as someone who is lactose-intolerant.)
|Carb; locks in moisture
*Adds flavor if sweetened (ex., vanilla)
|Which milk alternative you use will depend on your taste. Here’s a guide to milk type and its taste.
*Goat milk = tangy
*Soy milk = very sweet
*Almond milk = nutty
*Rice milk = none
*Coconut milk = a little sweet
|Fat; high boiling points allows cooking at a spectrum of temperatures 7
*Prevents food from sticking/burning
*Adds flavor & moisture
*Oils have different smoke points
|For cooking: use a nonstick pan with water or broth (it won’t be as effective as oil but it will help)
For baking: plain (unsweetened) applesauce, apple butter, banana, or pumpkin
|Preservative & flavor enhancer 8||There are salt substitutes on the market, but I’d get medical advice first.
*For more flavor, opt for more seasonings rather than more salt.
*Links proteins together 9
|NOTE: if you are diabetic, consult with your doctor about your sugar intake.Refined sugar alternatives:
|Carb; absorbs liquid and acts as a thickener
*Extracted & refined starches are thickening agents 10
*Gluten: wheat (and wheat-related) proteins which undergo a chemical reaction when gliadin & glutenin molecules meet. They are responsible for:
– Giving dough elasticity
– Adding texture
– Adding protein to meat substitutes
– Acting as a stabilizing agent 11
|Gluten-free flour: you will need extra thickening & rising agents (i.e., starches & xanthan gum or agar agar) to recreate baked goods
*Which type of GF flour you use depends on your personal taste *GF Starches: potato, tapioca, corn, arrowroot (can be used interchangeably)
|Carb; heat breaks down cell walls, dispersing nutrients like vitamins, sugars, and proteins
*Chemical changes increase with heat duration (ex., vitamin C decreases while antioxidants increase). 12
|For cooking: boiling, steaming, and microwaving reduce the effects of heat on vegetables 12 13|
 Peter Barham, “Kitchen Chemicals.” Kitchen Chemistry – Feature – Discovery Channel, 2010, Discovery Channel, 30 Mar. 2012 .
 “Chemistry.” The American Heritage® Science Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin Company, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012 .
 “Why does bruised fruit turn brown?”, Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 21 July 1997, 9 April 2012
 “Science of Bread: Bread Science 101,” Exploratorium.edu., Exploratorium, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012 .
 Anne Marie Helmenstine, “What Is the Difference Between Baking Soda & Baking Powder?” About.com Chemistry, About.com, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012 .
 “Science of Meat: What gives meat its flavor?”, Exploratorium.edu., Exploratorium, n.d., 9 Apr. 2012
 Peter Barham.
 Peter Barham.
 Peter Barham.
 “Starch.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Apr. 2012, 11 Apr. 2012
 “Gluten.”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2012, 11 Apr. 2012
 Sushma Subramanian, “Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies Are Healthier than Cooked Ones: Scientific American,” Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 31 Mar. 2009, 11 Apr. 2012 .
”Is There Any Evidence That Microwaving Food Alters Its Composition or Has Any Detrimental Effects on Humans or Animals?: Scientific American,” Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 2 Aug. 1999, 11 Apr. 2012 .
- Oil smoke points
- Decoding cookbook recipe terms (ex. – what is a “zest” and why do I need it).
- Sugar conversion chart
- List of GF Flours (includes suggested uses & descriptions of taste)
- DIY GF Flour Mixes
- Education: take a free undergraduate course at MIT in Kitchen Chemistry (WARNING: not all recipes are gluten-free or allergy friendly.)
- Fun with SCIENCE!: Cooking experiments (WARNING: not all recipes are gluten-free or allergy friendly)
See you around!
- TL;DR: This post was about the chemistry behind cooking and baking.
PS – Here’s my Works Cited Portion
Barham, Peter. “Kitchen Chemicals.” Kitchen Chemistry – Feature – Discovery Channel. Discovery Channel, 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2012. <http://www.yourdiscovery.com/science/kitchen_chemistry/kitchen_chemicals/index.shtml>.
“Chemistry.” The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. n.d., 9 Apr. 2012..
“Gluten.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten>.
Helmenstine, Anne M. “What Is the Difference Between Baking Soda & Baking Powder?” About.com Chemistry. About.com. n.d., Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://chemistry.about.com/cs/foodchemistry/f/blbaking.htm>.
“Is There Any Evidence That Microwaving Food Alters Its Composition or Has Any Detrimental Effects on Humans or Animals?: Scientific American.” Science News, Articles and Information. Scientific American, 2 Aug. 1999. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-there-any-evidence-tha>.
“Science of Bread: Bread Science 101.” Exploratorium.edu. Exploratorium. n.d., Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/bread/bread_science.html>.
“Science of Meat: What gives meat its flavor?” Exploratorium.edu. Exploratorium. n.d., Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/meat/INT-what-makes-flavor.html>
“Starch.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starch>.
Subramanian, Sushma. “Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies Are Healthier than Cooked Ones: Scientific American.” Scientific American. Scientific American, Inc., 31 Mar. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=raw-veggies-are-healthier>.
“Why does bruised fruit turn brown?” Scientific American, Scientific American, Inc., 21 July 1997. Web. 9 April 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-bruised-fruit-tu>.