Glutens: The good, the Bad and the Ugly. And a barley salad

Glutens.  Oh, here it is, grab your bags and jump on the bandwagon.  First and foremost, many people do have legitimate and serious gluten allergies.  Celiac disease can cause an incredible amount of damage, gluten sensitivity can make someone sick or very uncomfortable for the rest of the day.  If you truly have a physiological problem digesting and processing glutens, then my heart goes out to you, and we can be happy that there are so many gluten free choices today.

Then there’s the rest of us.

This blog is in response to the ever-popular ‘gluten free’ trend that seems to be dominating southern California, and the rest of the country right now.

From a health-benefit perspective, there is nothing wrong with glutens.  Glutens are simply the protein chains that help bind starches; wheat, barley and rye to be specific.  They are formed by mixing wheat and liquid together, and agitating.  That’s it.  Gluten strands are born, developed, and gives our bread the wonderful chewy and stretchy properties we love.  Are they bad for us?  No.  The question is, is bread bad for us?  Depends on many things, and each person’s health and opinion is different.  However, gluten free products are not better for us, per se.

Gluten free products can, in fact, be worse.  To mimic the texture, taste and consistency of gluten, many manufacturers will add addition chemicals, sugars and fats (such as added xanthum, agar agar, sorghum and so on).  They aren’t bad, but they dilute what is a traditionally a very simple product, and add additional calories, many of which are refined, to your diet.  In my opinion, anything that unnecessarily adds empty calories, fat and sugar to your diet should be avoided.  So, back to the basics:  be careful and knowledgeable about what you put in your body.  Gluten free does not mean healthier.

Going gluten free will also severely hinder your dietary selection.  Think of all the wonderful and diverse things we make with wheat, barley and rye.  Now remove every one of them from your diet.  Not so fun.  Not a choice I willingly make.

Glutens are not refined carbs.  Keep that in mind.  Whole grain barley salads, wheat berry tabouleh, farroh pilaf… these are nutrient and protein rich foods, complex carbs, whole grains superfoods, all of which contain gluten.  All of which are recommended eating, for every good reason.  Keep your health in mind, and make choices for the right reasons.

Barley Salad with kale, dried cranberries, grape tomatoes and spiced walnuts

Prep time:  20 min
Cook time: 30 min
Inactive cook time: 45 min
Yield:  6 servings


2 cups pearl barley
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 6oz package grape tomatoes, washed
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
juice of 2 lemons
few leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade cut
1/2 red onion, small dice
2 leaves kale, fine chiffonade
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vegetable oil
dash of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin


Put the barley in a sauce pot and add 4 cups cold water.  Bring to a rapid boil, reduce heat to low, cover tightly and cook for 15 minutes.  Turn heat off and let steam for 20 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and let cool to room temp, keeping covered.

While the barley is cooking, prepare the walnuts.  Place the walnuts in a small, heavy bottom sauce pot with the sugar and water.  Cook, over high heat until all the water is gone, and the mixture is thick.  Don’t make caramel.  Turn the walnuts out into a mixing bowl and toss with the veg oil, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin and a pinch of salt.  Keep tossing in the bowl to keep them from sticking.  When slightly cool, place them on parchment paper and let cool to room temp.

Cut the tomatoes in half.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, including the spiced walnuts.  Add enough olive oil to give it a slight shine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve right away.


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