by F. Watson, M. Stone and M. Bunning* (11/17)
- Baking without gluten can be challenging because gluten contributes important properties to baked goods.
- A wide variety of gluten-free flours, starches and baking aids can be used to produce high quality baked products.
- Using combinations of various gluten-free products can enhance nutritional content.
- Gluten-free baking can be a trial-and-error process.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein most often associated with wheat and wheat flour but can also be found in barley, rye, and other types of wheat, including triticale, spelt, einkorn, farina, kamut, farro, durum, bulgar, and semolina. Gluten proteins in wheat flours make dough elastic and stretchy, and trap gas within baked goods, providing a light, airy structure. Additionally, gluten can be found in products made with these grains like salad dressing, sauces and even cosmetics.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all foods containing the eight major food allergens be clearly labeled on the packaging. This labeling law includes wheat but not gluten. Therefore, other gluten-containing grains, like barley and rye, are not required to be labeled. A package stating “wheat-free” is not the same as “gluten-free.” The FDA has also standardized the voluntary use of the labeling terms “gluten-free,” “free of gluten,” “no gluten,” and “without gluten” as containing less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. Unlike allergen labeling, producers do not need to label for gluten-free, yet producers can choose to use the term for consumer ease of label reading. As product ingredients may change, the best advice is to read the label carefully and contact the manufacturer if you are unsure about the gluten status of a food product.
Baking without Gluten
Baking without gluten (as found primarily in wheat-based flours) can be challenging because gluten contributes important properties to various types of baked products like cookies, cakes, pastries and breads.
- Cookies: Gluten development is not as important for cookies as it is for cakes, so gluten-free flours can be substituted with similar results.
pancakes, quick breads, other batter-based products: Batter-based products need gluten for its
gas-retaining ability that produces a well-developed interior structure and a
tender crumb. Replacing wheat flour with a combination of gluten-free flours
and gums can help retain gas to
- Bread: Bread is perhaps the most challenging gluten-free baked product to make because gluten provides structure, creates a tender crumb, and retains gas. With experimentation and practice, a combination of gluten-free flours and gums can be used to create a loaf with good volume, softness and texture.
- Pasta: Although it is not a baked product, pasta is
usually made from hard wheat flour. The gluten component not only gives
to the noodles, but also keeps the starch in the flour from leaching into the cooking water or becoming too sticky. When making pasta or similar products, these properties can be approximated with the use of gluten-free flours in combination with eggs and xanthan gum.
Gluten Replacement Products
|The most common binder in gluten-free baking is eggs. Eggs can replace many of the functions that gluten provides, such as binding, enhancing texture and helping set the structure of the final product.|
A wide variety of gluten-free flours, starches and baking aids can be used in combination to produce high-quality baked goods and pasta. Recipes calling for 2 cups of flour or less are more easily adapted, especially those that use cake flour because it contains less gluten. Many of the alternative grains and pseudo-cereals commonly found in the marketplace are listed in Table 1. Pseudo-cereals are “false cereals” that are not derived from grasses (as are true cereals), but come from other plants that have seeds that can be used in the same manner as cereal-based grains. Several of these flours, including almond, can be made at home with a coffee grinder.
White rice flour and starches usually can be stored in the pantry, but because of higher fat and protein content, purchase whole grain flours and meals in smaller quantities and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Due to the relatively short shelf-life, you should check for any off or disagreeable odors before using to determine if the flour has become rancid.
Regardless of gluten-free status, consumers should not eat raw products, including batter or dough, made with flour. Flour is usually a raw agricultural product with increased risk of harboring bacteria that can be killed by cooking. Follow safe handling procedures after contact with raw products or flour: wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact.
Gluten-free flours rarely replace well cup for cup of wheat-based flours. A blend of gluten-free flours is recommended to replicate the protein, fiber, and starch components as well as flavor and texture of the particular wheat flour being replaced. Baking books and online resources frequently offer gluten-free flour blend formulations for use in making cookies, cakes, quick breads and yeast breads. The formula might include three or four different types of flours and starches and make 2 to 12 cups of blended flour. Flours with stronger flavors typically make up no more than 25 to 30 percent of the total blend and are balanced by neutral flours and starches. Stronger tasting flours (such as bean flours) generally are used in small quantities in recipes that feature delicate flavors. A higher percentage of these flours can be used in baked goods that include nuts, chocolate, or a high level of spice. Flour blends for quick breads often contain 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of flour while yeast breads contain 3/4 teaspoon per cup of flour blend.
Gums and Binders
The most common binder in gluten-free baking is eggs. Eggs can replace many of the functions that gluten provides, such as binding, enhancing texture and helping set the structure of the final product. Besides eggs, which are protein-based, two starch-based products often used to bind and thicken gluten-free baked products are guar gum and xanthan gum. These products are largely interchangeable and are used in small amounts (1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of flour) to add volume and texture to baked goods. In addition, water absorptive properties in fiber-rich seeds such as chia, flax, or psyllium can produce a gel to aid in binding and structure development. Seeds can be used ground or whole, depending on the desired product outcome. Gums and binders are commonly carried in large grocery chains, either in the baking aisle or natural foods section of the store.
Table 1: Profiles of Alternative Grains and Pseudo-cereals.
|Gluten-free Flours & Starches|
Pseudo-cereal native to South America|
Higher in protein, fiber and iron than most grains
Provides structure and binding capability
Pleasant, peppery flavor
Best used in combination with other gluten-free flours
|Arrowroot||Used as thickener and in baking similarly to cornstarch|
Legume flours include fava beans,
garbanzo beans, soybeans|
Good source of protein and fiber
Best used in combination with other gluten-free flours to balance taste and texture
Bean flours complement sorghum flour
Nutritious grain rich in B-vitamins,
magnesium, dietary fiber and antioxidants|
Strong, somewhat bitter flavor
Best used in pancakes or yeast breads in combination with neutral gluten-free flours
Like flax, ground chia seeds can
add nutritional value to baked goods|
Neutral in flavor
High in soluble fiber which allows gel formation
Ground from coconut meat|
High in fiber, low in carbohydrates
Extremely absorbent. Best used in small amounts, in combination with other flours, with additional liquids
|Corn flour||Used in breads, waffles, and tortillas|
|Corn meal||Used in spoon breads and baking powder-leavened breads|
Neutral in flavor|
Used as thickener and in baking for structure and tender texture
Ground flax seeds increase
High in soluble fiber which allows gel formation; retains moisture and gives spongy texture to baked goods
Nutty, bold flavor
Adds color to baked goods
Powdery consistency, color similar
Delicate, sweet flavor
Suitable for use in flatbreads and muffins
(Indian rice grass)
Milled from a grass native to
High in fiber and protein
Nut flours include almond, pecan,
walnut, hazelnut, filbert, and chestnut|
Contribute flavor and nutrition to baked products
Best used in combination with other gluten-free flours to balance taste and texture
Pseudo-cereal native to South
Good source of protein, folate, copper and iron
Mild, slightly nutty flavor
Suitable for cookies, cakes and breads
Blends well with stronger flavored flours
Provides a light consistency to
Helps retain moisture, combines well with eggs
Bland flavor, low in fiber and nutrients
|Rice, Rice bran||
Comes in brown, white and sweet
Best used when combined with other gluten-free flours and binders or gums
Sweet rice flour is used in pie crusts and as a thickener
Tropical cereal grass native to
Sweet, nutty flavor
Best when used with other neutral gluten-free flours and gums
Starchy, sweet flavor|
Adds chewy texture to breads
Used in blends to improve color and crispiness of crusts
Small cereal grain native to
Taste similar to hazelnuts
Very high in nutrients
Ability to gel makes it a good thickener
High Elevation Gluten-free Baking
Baking at higher elevation (greater than 3000 feet above sea level) can be challenging when using traditional wheat flour recipes. Liquids evaporate faster and gases in cakes and breads expand quicker, requiring adjustments to ensure a good final product. When wheat flour is replaced with gluten-free flour(s) these same challenges remain, although there are no set guidelines on how to successfully compensate for the elevation change. The home cook is advised to experiment with recipes, first making any necessary adjustments for the elevation change and then altering the recipe further as needed to adjust for the properties of the gluten-free flours. For assistance with high elevation baking, see the Colorado State University Extension brochure, High Altitude Food Preparation Guide, available at extension.colostate.edu.
Gluten-free baking can be a trial-and-error process. Here are some tips that can help achieve successful results.
To Increase Nutrition
- Use a variety of gluten-free flours in combination to maximize nutrition (Table 1).
- Use whole grain or enriched gluten-free flours. Enriched means that vitamins and minerals have been added.
- Substitute up to 1/4 cup ground flaxseeds plus 1/4 cup water for 1/4 cup flour in a recipe (flax will absorb more moisture).
To Increase Moisture
- Add gelatin, extra egg or oil to the recipe.
- Honey or rice malt syrup can help retain moisture.
- Brown sugar often works better than white.
- Dough enhancers or vinegar improve tenderness and delay staling.
To Enhance Flavor
- Add chocolate chips, nuts, or dried fruits.
- Double the amount of spices.
To Enhance Structure
- Use a combination of gluten-free flours and mix together thoroughly before adding to other ingredients.
- Add dry milk solids or cottage cheese into recipe.
- Use evaporated milk in place of regular milk.
- Add extra egg or egg white if product is too crumbly.
- Do not over beat; kneading time is shorter since there is no gluten to develop.
- When using a bread machine, use only one kneading cycle.
- Starch flours need more leavening than wheat flours.
- Rule-of-thumb: start with 2 teaspoons baking powder per cup of gluten-free flour and adjust downward as need for elevation.
- If baking soda and buttermilk are used to leaven, add 1 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar for each 1/2 teaspoon baking soda used to neutralize acid.
- For better rise, dissolve leavening in liquid before adding to other ingredients or add a little extra baking powder.
- SPrior to measuring, aerate flours and starches with a sifter that is used only for gluten-free flours or using a wire whisk. Combine and sift again (together) after measuring to improve the texture of the product.
- Hold gluten-free dough at least 1/2 hour (up to overnight) in the refrigerator to soften and improve the final texture of the product.
- In products made with rice flour or corn meal, mix with the liquid called for in the recipe. Bring to a boil and cool before adding to recipe to help reduce grainy texture.
Baking Pans and Utensils
- Bake in smaller-than-usual portions at a lower temperature for a longer time (small loaf pans instead of standard size; use mini-muffins or English muffin tins instead of large muffin tins).
- Use dull or dark pans for better browning.
- Keep a separate, or dedicated, sifter to use only with gluten-free flours, to prevent cross-contact with gluten.
- Gluten-free baked goods can lose moisture and quality quickly. Wrap them tightly and store in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container to prevent dryness and staling.
- Store all gluten-free flours and starches in airtight containers to reduce moisture absorption.
- Refrigerate or freeze whole grain, nut, and bean flours and flour blends for freshness and quality, but bring to room temperature before measuring.
Belton, P. and Taylor J. 2002. Pseudocereals and Less Common Cereals. Springer-Verlag, New York.
Case, S. 2006. Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide. Case Nutritional Consulting. Regina, Canada.
Fenster, C. 2007. Gluten-Free Quick and Easy. Penguin, East Rutherford, NJ.
Hagman, B. 2000. The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread. Holt & Co., New York.
US Food and Drug Administration. Gluten-Free Labeling of Foods, http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/Allergens/ucm362510.htm
Washburn, D. and Butt, H. 2003. 125 Best Gluten-Free Recipes. Robert Rose Inc., Toronto, Canada.
Wenniger, MA. 2005. The Best-Ever Wheat and Gluten-Free Baking Book. Fair Winds Press, Beverly, MA.
For information following a gluten-free diet, see CSU Extension Fact sheet 9.375, Gluten-free diet guide for People with Celiac Disease, J. Li.
*Former Colorado State University graduate student; professor; Colorado State University Extension food safety specialist and assistant professor; food science and human nutrition. 4/09. Revised 11/17.
Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.