Living Gluten Free
What we love about chapati is its sheer versatility. It brings the meal together; related breads like roti and paratha can be stuffed or fried for pure deliciousness. Often eaten instead of rice, millions and millions of chapatis are eaten everyday around the world and it forms the basis of a staple diet for so many dishes.
It’s just impossible to cut them out of your diet altogether!
And the chapati is just as popular as rice. No meal is complete without a serving of this delicious wholemeal flatbread. Traditionally, chapati is frequently made to be bland, (without salt), providing a background to spicy dishes. But, there are many variations of chapati and roti around the world.
In India chapati is first mentioned in Sanskrit text dated at around 6000 years old. It was also eaten in the Egyptian Indus Valley civilisation 5000 years ago. In Indian agriculture of that time the main crop would have been wheat and other millets, and so by grinding down a mixed crop of wheat and other millet the chapati is born.
It quickly became an essential way to eat the crops they had grown and also doubled up as a bowl! It was healthy and filling and soon no meal was complete with a chapati.
Travellers used chapati to carry food in! A kind of edible lunchbox! But their popularity really took off around the rest of the world as more and more Indian people travelled and settled around the globe.
With the love Indian food around the world, so too came the love of the chapati and roti.
Most people cook chapati and roti at home following their own recipe. But you can also buy them ready made in supermarkets. We love the chapatti and roti that we find in most restaurants.
For a food that traditionally is meant to be bland there are so many variations on texture, colour, brown or white. We also love the stuffed and delicious flavour combinations that many chefs are putting into roti and paratha.
What does gluten do in a chapati?
Gluten is a protein naturally found in some grains including wheat, barley, and rye. It acts like a binder, holding food together and adding a “stretchy” quality—think of a pizza chef in Naples tossing and stretching a ball of dough. Without gluten, that dough would rip easily.
So the very same applies to a chapati. A chapati, roti or any flatbread will have a wide circumference and the gluten, traditionally, will help that process of stretching and spreading that bread out flat. And once it is flat the gluten
will assist in maintaining that shape and ensure that is doesn’t rip while you cook it.
One of the main characteristics of chapati is its strength, even though it is so thin and often very light. You use it as a utensil to scoop up curries, sauces and chutneys so its structure needs to be flexible but strong and certainly reliable.
So removing the gluten from a traditional chapati causes a dilemma at a structural level. It creates a problem in the binding of the bread. Early gluten free flours really suffered from an inability to retain their shape.
Makers of gluten free chapati flour don’t want to add anything to bind, and would rather use the natural binding properties of the ingredients. So, in choosing a flour both home cooks and professional chefs need to be confident that the gluten free chapati flour will have the inherent binding and sticking properties that are required to make great consistent flatbreads.
The good news is that the best gluten free chapati flours will have natural inherent binding properties to ensure that they create a lovely sticky dough, and are able to hold together as they are flattened and retain their shape through cooking and eating!
As a tip many people recommend using more water than in a traditional recipe. This extra water should be added in small amounts during preparation of the dough, and much depends on the cook’s feel as they work the dough. Our gluten free chapati flour works best with cold/tepid water - avoid hot water.