Baking Gluten Free

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In last week’s column I talked about adapting recipes using different types of flours to add variety to baked items and make them more healthful. This week, let’s get more specifically  into gluten-free flours

First a discussion about gluten. Gluten is the protein most often associated with wheat, wheat flour and whole wheat flour. It is also found in other types of wheat flours such as durum, semolina, spelt and triticale. Other grain flours such as rye, barley, emmer and einkorn contain some gluten.

Reasons for avoiding gluten are varied, but the most cited are gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Celiac is a chronic immune disorder that is triggered by eating gluten. It results in damage to the intestinal lining and causes diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. Avoiding gluten eliminates wheat products, wheat flours and some other flours from a person’s diet. 

It’s interesting to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that food which contains wheat declare this on the label. This is because of wheat allergies. But the labeling law says wheat– not gluten. So, other gluten containing grains, like barley and rye may not be labeled regarding gluten. A package that says “wheat free” may not necessarily be “gluten free.”

It’s important to remember when buying or selecting a gluten-free grain that it may not be completely gluten-free. Flours or food products can still have trace amounts of gluten when made in a facility where equipment is shared with gluten grains. This requires some careful label reading.

The FDA has also standardized the use of labeling terms such as “gluten-free”, “free of gluten” and “without gluten.” These products mean that the food contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. 

There are several grain-based gluten-free flours on the market. These include amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oat, quinoa, rice, sorghum and teff. Even if you’re not completely going gluten-free, trying some of these flours can add some flavor and texture changes to the foods you’re eating and baking.

Baking with gluten-free flours can be problematic. It’s not as simple as just replacing the wheat flour with gluten-free flour. Most gluten-free flours don’t do well on their own and are often blended for the best flavor and texture in baked products. Some companies package combined products to make gluten-free baking easier. These products usually contain a blend of flours, binders and starches.

Eggs are often used in gluten-free baking because eggs can replace some of the gluten functions such as binding, enhancing texture and structure. Guar gum and xanthan gum are also used to bind and thicken gluten-free baked products. 

If you want some specifics on this, Colorado State University Extension has a great handout called Gluten-Free Baking, Fact Sheet No. 9.376 by Watson, Stone, Bauer and Bunning.

Gluten-free baked goods tend to lose moisture and quality quickly. Because of this, you’ll need to wrap them tightly and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Gluten free-flours should be stored 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.

More next week on other plant flours.

Sources: Special thanks to Marlene Geiger from Iowa State University Extension for her AnswerLine blog post on “Meet the Flours—Alternative Flours” and Colorado State University Extension for their factsheet on “Gluten-free Baking”. Both provided background and details on this topic.

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu.