Sunday, March 30, 2014

Isn't Kimchee Naturally Gluten-free?

It’s time to restock! 50 lbs of Napa cabbage kimchee will be ready in five to six weeks. Pogi gimchi is made with quartered or halved heads that are rubbed with Korean chili paste and stuffed with julienned radish, ginger and peppers. My kimchee is vegan and gluten-free. But isn’t kimchee naturally gluten-free?—this questions comes up often. If you’re a label-reader, as I am, you’ll find that wheat is often used as a filler in some Asian products. I’ve found it in miso, fermented black bean, soy sauce and Korean chili paste (gochuchang). For those who have celiac disease or choose to exclude wheat from their diet, this is an important matter to note.

Rice and millet were first cultivated in China as far back as 7,700 BC. Wheat traveled the Silk Road to Western China around 2500-2000 BC along with other occidental influence. Prized for it’s gluten component, wheat is commonly used for making pasta (a Chinese invention); other Asian noodles are made from root starches and bean flours. But what is gluten? It’s a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, barley and rye grains. Gluten is composed of two molecules, gliadin and glutenin, which when activated with liquid form a simple protein. On its own it is not bad thing; this protein is used to make a meat substitute known as seitan (mein chin in Chinese) after all the starch is removed.

For those who have celiac disease (an auto immune disease) purity is crucial; eating foods with gluten triggers a reaction in which the body attacks and destroy the small intestine’s villi and microvilli, which leads to malnutrition and painful gastric symptoms. The consequences are much more dire than a wheat allergy. The common wisdom is to avoid gluten-based foods and test regularly for antibodies.

Although some grains are naturally free of gluten, they might be cross-contaminated in a shared kitchen, whether it be yours or a commercial facility. All surfaces and non-reactive tools need a thorough cleaning with bleach or vinegar and hot soapy water. Tools and equipment made of porous materials (plastic, wire mesh, wood, aluminum, etc.) should be designated for non-gluten use only.

When you make your own Korean chili paste (gochuchang) it’s not an issue. Click here for pictorial instructions from my blog that show you how to make a batch of gochuchang, and mak kimchee. Be sure to use coarse Korean chili flake (gochucaru), there is not substitute for this ingredient. It’s sweet, mildly spicy with a smoked grassy fragrance. Make it a fun afternoon with a group friends.

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