I’ve been experimenting with pasta. We don’t eat a lot of pasta in our house. Actually, let me correct that, we don’t eat any pasta in our house. We follow the “if it’s white, don’t eat it” rule.
Pasta, like bread, is made from wheat. Duh. The problem with modern wheat is it has been genetically modified drastically from what our ancestors ate. Ancient strains of wheat (einkorn and emmer) were first domesticated around 7500BC in what is now Turkey. To give you an idea of just how different modern and ancient wheats have become, just look at their genes. Modern durum wheat sports 42 chromosomes. The most ancient form of wheat, einkorn (German for “one kernel”) has only 14. Emmer wheat, also known as farro, has 28 chromosomes.
While wheat has been deliberately mutated dramatically, we humans haven’t. Our digestive system is still relatively the same as those first agricultural pioneers of 7500BC. The protein in modern wheat, gliadin, give humans with coeliac disease fits. Symptoms of this disease include chronic diarrhea and fatigue, and a failure to thrive in children. Yeah, that sounds fun.
This is about to get gross, so skip this next paragraph if you want.
In the lower intestine, the enzymes released during digestion modify the gliadin in the wheat. The immune system reacts to the modified gluten causing an inflammatory reaction, swelling the tissues. The inflammation leads to atrophy of the villi which is where nutrients in our food are absorbed. If the villi atrophy, the nutrients can’t make it to the rest of the body. If the nutrients aren’t absorbed, they pass through. Fast. And in liquid form. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Now, why all that about einkorn and emmer you talked about above, Bunny? I’m glad you asked. The ancient forms of wheat differ not only in their chromosomal composition, but also in the chemical composition of the gliadin which breaks down into gluten. The body does not react as dramatically to the gliadin and gluten from einkorn and emmer as it does to the same compounds in modern wheat. By manipulating ancient strains of wheat to increase yield, make the plant tolerant to more conditions, and everything else done to the plant (think Roundup-ready and pesticide containing seeds), our agricultural scientists have given us food that many humans just can’t eat. The only cure for coeliac disease is a life-long gluten-free diet.
Which brings us back to my experiments with totally gluten-free pastas. Thanks for sticking with me during that ramble.
I’ve been a fan for a while of quinoa and chia seeds. Yes, chia seeds, those things you smear on the ceramic pets. Quinoa and Chia aren’t grains (which means a member of the grass family). Quinoa is more closely related to spinach and beets, and we know how good those plants are. Mom told you to eat your spinach for a reason. Chia is a flowering plant in the mint family. Both of these plants are native to Meso-America. The reason I am such a fan of these seeds is their nutritional composition.
Quinoa was second only to the potato in the diet of Pre-Columbian civilizations of the Andes. This seed has a whopping 18% protein and a balanced set of amino acids. For vegetarians and vegans, this seed is a must. The nutrients contained in quinoa have sparked the interest of NASA as a possible crop in the Controlled Ecological Life Support System for prolonged space flight. Remember the Star Trek episode, The Trouble with Tribbles? Replace the Quadrotricicale from the story with Quinoa and you have the idea.
Chia has 9% protein and a whole range of essential minerals comparable to flax and sesame.
“How to use these nutritious foods?” I thought. hmm, Pasta! Our friend Nancy sent me a recipe for gluten-free pasta. I fiddled around with the recipe until I came up with a batch with which I was satisfied. I made the dough, and rolled it out by hand. If you want a good upper body workout, hand-roll pasta dough. Just sayin’.
I need to interject something here. Bear is not what you would call a frou-frou eater. He’s an amateur body-builder and has been eating whole foods for a long time. Breakfast is an egg casserole, second breakfast is another. Lunch is a can of tuna or a fresh sausage and some frozen veggies with Greek yogurt. Every day. I mean it – every single day! (As an aside to my aside: Body builders are obsessed with protein. They have to be – that’s the component from which muscle is made. Ever heard of the joke that body builders drink tuna milkshakes? Yeah, Bear tried that. Once. It was nasty. Back the the original aside.) If it doesn’t run fast enough, he’ll eat it as long as it is good, basic food. Quinoa and Chia are not his idea of good, basic foods. And pasta is a no-no!
So, when I told him I was making Shiitake mushroom-flavored Quinoa Chia Pasta for dinner, he said, “Good luck with that.” I knew I was in trouble. Dinnertime arrived and I placed a bowl of my frankenpasta before him, with broccoli cream sauce. He looked at it, then looked at me, then looked at the bowl again. He picked up is fork and gingerly tasted my experiment. Then hoovered the rest of it! When he was done, he said, “You can make that again!” O, you can be guaranteed I will, baby!