“Gluten-Free” has become a new trend, popping up everywhere from the bakery to the grocery aisle. Statistics say one out of every 133 people suffer from celiac disease, an auto-immune gluten-intolerance condition. More and more people everyday are blaming wheat and gluten for their fatigue, digestive upset and allergies, and with good reason – though it may not be what we thought. What seems like breaking news to me and the world (though it is apparently very old news) is a recent book written on the subject of gluten-intolerance by Clive Lawler called: “Whole Don’t Mean Wholesome – Lost & Found: Our Links with Traditional Foods, Remedies, Fermentation Methods & the Sloooow Kitchen”.
And within Clive’s very comprehensive food tome is a chapter titled: “The Umami Masters: The Parallel Creations of Kinukae Ikeda and Auguste Escoffier – The De-mystifying of Gluten-Intolerance and the Celebration of Wheat, Yo!”
It’s quite a title, and quite a precious gem of information to be shared with the world.
What if the wheat and gluten products you so dearly loved, but thought you were allergic to was due to some other factor besides the gluten? What if it isn’t a wheat/gluten allergy you suffer from, but instead from a lack of baker-commitment? What do I mean? Consider the fast-paced world we live in and the way bread used to be made, rising over-night, long and slow. Perhaps it is our quick-breads instead that have rendered wheat intolerable, and not the actual wheat itself? This is the suggestion of Clive’s book – that the real culprit is the preparation and cooking techniques, and not our beloved wheat. If you are still skeptical, read on.
The original process of bread-baking contains the all-important slow fermentation process which creates amazing foods we are all familiar with including sauerkraut, miso, kefir, yogurt, beer, kombucha, aged cheeses, wine, etc. Fermentation is an age-old aging process – which takes foods and turns them into something else…usually a healthier, more digestible version of what was there previously, also adding shelf-life and prize to their value.
Take miso for example. Long created in Japan, and stored in underground cellars, this fermented soy bean product was the main item that helped individuals, not only survive after Hiroshima, but resist radiation infection. Miso is an amazing fermented food product which supports more than the digestive system, but the health of the entire body.
Kefir is another amazing fermented food, helping to restore proper digestive flora and bless any body system with vibrant enzymes for health and longevity. Look at the health benefits of kombucha, a Chinese fermented mushroom beverage used to create a balanced ph in the body as well as detoxifying the system, lending probiotics and enzymes and supporting the healing of conditions such as cancer. Aged cheeses and wines have their own health benefits, not to mention the ‘yum’ factor – which is actually where this story of wheat and gluten really begins.
You see, this guy named Kinukae Ikeda from Japan, just knew there was a fifth taste, back when only four were recognized – sweet, sour, salty and bitter. He was bent on discovering it and presenting it to the world. He finally did find it, isolated from the protein amino acid glutamic acid…this fifth taste was named ‘umami’ and means ‘yummy.’ In order to find this taste he fermented wheat – to get at the glutamic acid. Clive’s book explains how he boo-booed here, by mixing the glutamic acid with a simple salt – creating a ‘monster’ of sorts, MSG (one we are still arguing the negative health reactions from – read below).
The truth is revealed, however, through short explanation, that gluten itself is not the ‘bad guy’, but rather a tough cookie to crack – which must MUST be handled during fermentation, otherwise, this bubbling, rising, gassy, explosive process has to happen in the gut instead of in the rising pan. Can you imagine? Well, the author spells it out quite clearly, from which I do not wish to detract – only to point out with exclamation that our fast-paced world has taken the long and slow ferment aspect out of the bread process, resulting in quick breads with gluten that needs to be broken down inside the gut instead of outside, where it belongs. This, my friends, this being the reason for all the problems with wheat and gluten – which by the way did not occur so much before about the 1950’s when we stopped ‘raising’ our bread the same.
So as to do the content of the book justice, I have included a good chunk of a chapter below, with the author’s permission, so you can get a good feel for the entire book – a great inspiration to order a copy.
And now – quoting from: The De-Mystifying of Gluten-Intolerance and the Celebration of Wheat, Yo!
“Ikeda was by now eagerly inspired to prove the source of this mystery fifth taste,
and he was convinced he would find it amongst protein reactions. Indeed, he would, by 1907, have been able to isolate, from gluten protein, the protein amino acid, glutamic acid, as the central character of this fifth taste.
Ikeda would eventually dub this fifth taste factor ‘umami’, after the Japanese word ‘umai’, meaning delicious, or just plain yummy.
(It took almost 100 more years, but finally, in 2007, scientists discovered the existence of 2 extra taste receptors on the sides of the tongue, receptors that do indeed detect the subtly exceptional umami taste. So the fifth taste is now universally, scientifically accepted, and umami is its official title.)
In his experiments, so as to access the amino acid glutamate, Ikeda fermented wheat. Interesting.
He recognized that the complex gluten protein in wheat contained high levels of glutamic acid.
Wheat (oats and rye) proteins are constructed as a chain of 18 interlocking amines and carboxylic acids – tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, cystine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, valine, arginine, histidine, alanine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, and serine – which are singly, and together in mutual support, a prime source of exquisite health functions.
The chief contributor to the unravelling of the amino acid chains, to the breakdown of proteins into a highly assimilable and non-allergenic form (in a process that the great French master chef Escoffier termed ‘denaturing’), is an enzyme called protease, which, when given its head, as say, in an overnite bread dough, does indeed party, all night long, doing its amazing, intended job of enhancement,
de-linking, de-toxing and pre-digestion. And the longer enzymes are allowed to play, the better it becomes for us.
The amino acid glutamic acid is tasteless in its raw form. However, after long soaking in water, ie, a slooooow fermentation, a process that de-links, or unravels the amino acid chain, the glutamic acid converts, within food, into a richly flavoursome and nutritious form – L-glutamate.
Glutamate is found in most living things, and when they die, when organic matter breaks down, the glutamate molecule breaks apart. This can happen when you hang meat to cure, or cook meat sloooowly, or when you age a parmesan cheese, long-soak beans and oats, use complex fermentation procedures as in tamari or miso production, or under the sun as a tomato ripens or a banana sun-dries.
There’s protein in everything, fruit too.
We encounter L-glutamate in our food when it starts getting delicious, which helps to explain why wheat, being such an abundant source of this umami factor, is such a popular and tasty grain – and, by the way, totally harmless and non-allergenic, but only when timeless, traditional fermentation procedures are observed. Eg., in the making of bread, this simply means that the dough is left overnite and not made quickly!
Some people argue that hybridisation of wheat has changed its structure detrimentally and increased gluten levels too much. This doesn’t hold up in my experience, as I have been using current-grown, organic plain flours for years with amazingly positive results. Even if the claims of increased gluten protein levels are true, it still responds easily to fermentation and more than amply breaks down.
It must be said that these ‘experts’ who make such arguments can not have had any experience with fermentation.
Ikeda had just one more problem to solve: How to extract the L-glutamate from the fermented wheat; how to isolate it in a form suitable for commercial use?
This is the critical moment where Ikeda’s great work turned turtle, where unwittingly, in the formulation of his ‘innocent’ flavour enhancer, he managed to create a monster.
He successfully achieved isolation of the glutamate in a reaction with simple salt (sodium chloride) to create a white powder called monosodium glutamate, or msg.
MSG – Ministry-Sanctioned Gluttony – a synthetic, flavour-enhancing substance that is today bureaucratically, albeit criminally, granted the luxury of being deemed ‘harmless’; food merchants are able to entirely avoid having to nominate it as ‘msg’ on labels, with the further liberty of being able to employ up to 30 different pseudonyms, or disguises on any labelling. One of those many aliases, no doubt stemming from its by-now-far-removed connection with an amino acid, is, absurdly, ‘natural flavouring’.
Raw msg powder, apart from being a little salty, is tasteless, but does its flavour-enhancement trick, its fake-umami impersonation, when mixed with food, especially in combination with heat.
Msg epitomises, but far far more dangerously, the old adage – ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.
Quite apart from its neurotoxic, excitotoxic properties, msg’s umami factor gives virtually any dumb cook, lazy parent, fast food or grocery purveyor the ability to“sex up”, to render the most obnoxious, unhealthy trash food not only tasty, but also apparently satisfying, because of the endorphin hit.
Hence it is added to most fast foods (fried chicken, burgers, pizzas, etc), pre-cooked foods, frozen and canned foods, all types of sauces and stock cubes, vegemite, and many nut pastes, and is added liberally to a high % of normal restaurant fare, especially, but not only, the Asian variety.
And msg is addictive; tolerance is created towards it, hence more and more msg is needed over time to keep achieving the same flavor hit.
In this regard, it is actually a voracity drug – one that encourages gluttony, and ultimately, following that thread, a sickly obesity cum diabetes, a condition rampant today, even amongst children.
Msg is a also proven carcinogen, but it’s the area of the brain and nervous system where most damage is provoked, as it assails the delicately splendid hormone-secreting endocrine system. The major endocrinal glands are the pituitary, the pineal, the thyroid, the parathyroid, the gonads and the pancreas, as well as the hypothalamus, which is a neuroendocrine gland.
In a Jekyll and Hyde scenario, since they are both borne of the same amino acid, MSG, Ikeda’s imposter umami, stimulates and simultaneously assaults the very endorphin-exuding glands that create the happiness chemicals, elements that conversely Escoffier’s naturally-occurring, sloooow-food-based umami splendidly yet harmlessly triggers.
One denigrates, denies and destroys; the other is a grand gift to the human sensory
experience and well-being.
Complex nutrients, such as you find in wheat, oats and soya beans, are brilliant, the best for human health. They satisfy, long and well.
Gluten is one such complex nutrient.
However, by definition alone, they are also the most complicated to prepare for optimum digestivity, good vibes and satisfaction. A demon or a delight.
That’s where fermentation comes in, and excels.
When such multifaceted nutrients have been properly unravelled, denatured, rendered pre-digestible by long, sloooow fermentation procedures, before ingestion, human digestive systems contentedly cruise and the whole body thrives.
The word “fermentation”, as used throughout this story, is not as tricky or smelly as it may sound. It introduces the sour principle in a balanced way. As in sourdough.
Beer and wines are made via fermentation; the simple soaking of beans or oats in water is fermentation; a bread dough left to stand is a fermentation; sauerkraut, miso, tamari and kimchi are the product of fermentation; yoghurts and cheeses are fermented milk, and even a compost heap is a ferment.
EAnd een the baker’s yeast in an overnight bread dough magically and positively transforms.
Many years of feedback from those who eat my bread support this.
It is no coincidence that in the language of the Greeks, who were the ancient masters of various fermentation techniques, their word for this superb traditional art means ‘alchemy’, for all matter within any ferment will convert to nutritional “gold”.
Wheat contains not only gluten, which is a double whammy of the 2 very elastic proteins, glutenin and gliadin, but it also boasts yet another complex nutrient, its starch, which is actually named ‘complex carbohydrate’.
There are also sugars and malts that also require breakdown, plus oils, fibre and high levels of minerals and vitamins. Wheat is almost a total food, and when you throw in its sizeable, yummy L-glutamate dose, it is also extremely tasty and satisfying.
It’s no wonder wheat has been so deservedly and universally popular for aeons – a fabulous gift from nature that is now being unnecessarily and ignorantly spurned, assassinated.
It’s not the plant! It’s the f-f-f-f-f-cooks!”
Is your jaw dropping to the floor yet? Mine is. Though I haven’t been gluten-free, per say, I have leaned heavily in that direction out of care and what I thought, good judgment. After reading this chapter of Clive’s book I am ready to get my apron out and start baking bread from scratch again! The word is out, dear people, the elusive gluten-intolerance suffered by millions of people, demystified here for you today.
If you would like to read the rest of this chapter (which, by the way is not in the original book) please contact Clive directly – as per his direction at his Facebook page. You many also purchase the entire book on Amazon.com.
Written by: Stasia Bliss
Sources: The Umami Masters; Gluten-intolerance school