Gluten-Free Baking: The Essence of the Gluten-Free Diet

People with celiac disease say the thing they miss most is a great bagel. But the new gluten-free flour blends and mixes allow you to have your cake and eat it too.

gluten free diet

Miss bagels? Relax: You can work breads even into a gluten-free diet by baking with the right flours.

Steven Cukrov |

Mike and Mary are young marrieds who share more than a household. Mike has celiac disease and Mary has both gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance.

But they have more in common than just an aversion to gluten and their gluten-free diet regimen.

“We absolutely crave bread,” says Mary from her prim domicile located in a Houston suburb. “That means we have to get creative.”

Gluten-Free Diet: Flour Choice Is Key When it Comes to Baking

In sticking to a gluten-free diet, Mike and Mary rely on the host of alternative flours and flour blends to achieve the tasty—and safe—baked goods they thought they would never enjoy again following Mike’s celiac disease diagnosis.

How do they do it? With these alternative flours, Mike and Mary learned how to make their favorite foods without compromising taste and texture. In fact, you can add essential vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber to your baked goods, fortifying your gluten-free diet in flavorful ways. From beans and grains to tubers and seeds, there’s a rich and wonderful array of delicious and nutritious flours waiting for you.

  • Bean flours: Varieties include chickpea (garbanzo), bean (navy, pinto, and red) and soy. Garfava flour is a blend of flours made from garbanzo, fava beans and Romano beans. High in protein, fiber and calcium, these flours work best with heavier foods, such as breads and spice cakes.
  • Pea flour and green pea flour: Both have benefits similar to bean flours but without the strong aftertaste. High protein content adds structure to baked goods without any distinct flavor.
  • Amaranth: An ancient food used by the Aztecs, the seeds of the broad-leafed amaranth plant are milled into flour or puffed into kernels for breakfast cereals. High in protein, calcium and iron, this mildly nutty-tasting flour adds structure to gluten-free baked goods and helps them brown more quickly.
  • Corn flour: Milled from corn kernels, this is finely ground cornmeal that comes in yellow and white varieties. One form of corn flour is masa harina (milled from hominy) used in making corn tortillas. If corn flour isn’t available, you can make your own by grinding cornmeal into a fine powder in a food processor. High in fiber with a slightly nutty taste, corn flour is a good source of fiber, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, and thiamin.
  • Cornstarch: A flavorless white powder that lightens baked goods to make them more airy. Cornstarch is highly refined and has little nutritive value. Store in a sealed container in a dry location.
  • Cornmeal: With a larger particle size than corn flour, cornmeal lends excellent texture to foods and has a nutty and slightly sweet taste. Cornmeal comes in yellow and white varieties and in fine, medium and coarse grinds. Select finer grinds for baking and for polenta. Use coarse meal for breading. High in fiber, iron, thiamin, niacin, B-6, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
  • Millet: An ancient food, possibly the first cereal grain used for domestic purposes, millet imparts a light beige or yellow color to foods. Millet is easy to digest, and its flour creates light baked goods with a distinctive mildly sweet, nut-like flavor. High in protein and fiber and rich in nutrients, millet adds structure to gluten-free baked items.
  • Oat flour and oats: High in fiber, protein, and nutrition, pure, uncontaminated gluten-free oats add taste, texture and structure to cookies, breads, and other baked goods. If oat flour is not available, you can make it by grinding oats in a clean coffee grinder or food processor. (Quinoa flakes can be substituted for whole oats in most recipes.) Store in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place or freeze to extend the shelf life. (See also our post “Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?“)
  • Rice flour: This is the gluten-free flour that’s used most often by those on a gluten-free diet. It’s available as brown rice (higher in fiber), sweet rice (short grain with a higher starch content), and white rice. Rice flour is easy to digest and blend. The texture varies depending on how it’s milled—fine, medium, or coarse. Fine grind is used for cookies, biscotti, and other delicate baked goods. Medium grind, the most readily available, is suitable for most other baking. Coarsely ground is best for cereal and coatings. White rice flour has a bland taste. Brown rice is slight nutty.
  • Sorghum flour: Some believe this flour, also called milo or jowar flour, tastes similar to wheat. Available in red and white varieties, it has a slightly sweet taste and imparts a whole-wheat appearance to baked goods. Sorghum is high in protein, imparting all-important structure to gluten-free baked goods. It’s also high in fiber, phosphorous, potassium, B vitamins, and protein.
  • Teff flour: Milled from one of the world’s smallest grains, teff is a key source of nutrition in Ethiopia. It’s available in dark and light varieties. High in protein, fiber, and calcium, teff imparts a mild, nutty taste to cookies, cakes, quick breads, pancakes, and waffles.

Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

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Timothy Cole

Timothy Cole has served more than 30 years as chief content officer of Belvoir Media Group, publisher of University Health News. In addition to oversight duties on University Health News, … Read More

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