Gluten Free Bread: What Makes it Different, What Flours to Use, and More
Bread is a dietary staple in most cultures, and each region has its own unique take. Unfortunately, being gluten free limits your ability to enjoy bread, at least in its most traditional forms. Gluten free bread does exist, and it can be just as satisfying as its wheat-based cousins, but there are some key differences.
Keep reading to learn more about gluten free bread and how it differs from traditional wheat-based bread.
What Makes Gluten Free Bread Different?
If you were to place a loaf of gluten free bread next to a traditional wheat-based loaf, they may not look significantly different on the outside. It all depends on the type of flour used, of course, which is something we’ll cover later in this article.
Here are some of the key elements to look for that make gluten free bread different:
- The taste is highly variable. The most challenging thing about gluten free bread is also what makes it so unique – the fact that there are many different flours to choose from, each having its own unique flavor. Wheat-based bread is fairly consistent in taste and texture.
- The texture is less spongy. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye is what gives baked goods its characteristic spongy texture. Gluten free bread is often denser than wheat-based bread and some gluten free flours have a gritty texture.
- It has a shorter shelf-life. Not only does reheating gluten free bread cause it to go stale more quickly, but it generally doesn’t last as long as wheat-based bread as a whole. This is why many gluten free breads are sold frozen or in vacuum-sealed packaging. Most breads are better eaten toasted unless they’re in a vacuum sealed pack.
- It may not rise as much. Wheat-based breads have a wonderful rise that contributes to their airy texture, but gluten free breads tend not to rise quite so much. Gluten free breads usually have ingredients that make them heavier (this also contributes to the smaller size).
- It might not brown in the same way. An evenly browned loaf is the signature of a beautiful bake, but gluten free bread doesn’t always brown as consistently as wheat-based loaves. You can help your gluten free bread brown more evenly by brushing it with milk or beaten egg before baking.
Every loaf of gluten free bread is different depending on the type of flour or flours used in the bake. Keep reading to learn about some of the best gluten free flours for baking bread at home.
The Top 10 Gluten Free Flours for Homemade Bread
If you’d like to try your hand at gluten free breadmaking, you’ll need to assemble an assortment of gluten free flours. Certain flours work best for certain purposes, so take the time to learn the basics about each one so you can choose the best option for your recipe.
Here is a quick overview of the top 10 gluten free flours for homemade bread:
- Amaranth Flour – Technically a pseudocereal and not a grain, this type of flour has a nutty, earthy flavor and it has a tendency to take on the flavor of other ingredients. You can use it to replace 25% of wheat flour in a recipe, but it is best mixed with other flours.
- Almond Flour – Consisting entirely of finely ground almonds, almond flour is one of the top gluten free flours for all kinds of baking. In most cases, you can substitute it at a 1:1 ratio for wheat flour, though you should add an extra egg and be prepared for the end product to be a little denser.
- Arrowroot Flour – Technically more of a starch than a flour, arrowroot flour is very versatile – it mixes well with almond flour, coconut flour, and tapioca flour. You can also use it on its own if you want your bread to have a crisp or crunchy texture.
- Buckwheat Flour – This type of flour is derived from a pseudocereal and it has a rich, earthy flavor that works well in bread. It does tend to be a little crumbly, however, so it works best in combination with another gluten free flour.
- Cassava Flour – Made by grating and drying the cassava root, cassava flour is the most similar to wheat flour of all the gluten free flours. It has a very neutral flavor, is easy to digest, and can be substituted at a 1:1 ratio in most recipes.
- Coconut Flour – Derived from dried coconut meat, this type of flour has a mild coconut flavor. In baking, coconut flour yields a similar texture to wheat flour which makes it good for bread, but keep in mind that it absorbs a lot more moisture than other gluten free flours.
- Oat Flour – Made from grinding whole-grain oats, oat flour has a lot of flavor, but it tends to give baked goods a somewhat chewy, crumbly texture. Some recipes may also come out moister than with wheat flour, so you might need to adjust the liquid content of your recipe.
- Sorghum Flour – Unlike some whole grains, sorghum has a very light, mildly sweet flavor. It is fairly heavy, however, so you should mix it with another gluten free flour or only use it in recipes that call for a small amount of flour.
- Tapioca Flour – Made from the starchy liquid extracted from the cassava root, tapioca flour has very little flavor and it blends well with other gluten free flours.
- Teff Flour – Available in a wide range of colors, teff is the world’s smallest grain and it can be used to replace 25% to 50% of wheat flour in combination with other gluten free flours.
Different gluten free flours behave in different ways, especially when you start mixing them together. If you’re new to gluten free baking, you may want to start with a gluten free recipe instead of trying to make substitution. Just remember, practice makes perfect!
Tips for Choosing an All-Purpose Flour Blend
When making gluten free bread at home you have two options. One option is to start with a gluten free bread recipe that features one or more gluten free flours. The other option is to take your favorite wheat-based bread recipe and substitute an all-purpose gluten free flour blend for the wheat flour. If you choose this option, there are some things you should look for in a good all-purpose flour blend:
- Avoid flour blends that list rice flour as the first ingredient. Both white and brown rice flour have a fairly gritty texture which doesn’t always bake up well – the loaf is also more likely to be dry or crumbly in texture.
- Look for a blend that includes psyllium husk or a gluten free gum. A gum is a replacement for gluten in gluten free recipes and it helps bind the ingredients together, giving it a texture similar to that of wheat-based bread. Xanthan gum and guar gum are two good options, as are psyllium husk and unflavored gelatin.
- Don’t choose a blend that includes bean flours. These tend to have a strong flavor that might leave a strange aftertaste. You may also find yourself using extra sugar in the dough to mask the flavor of the flour.
- Be mindful of using whole-grain flours. Some whole-grain flours like quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, and millet have a distinct flavor to them. If you like the flavor, go for it, otherwise you may want to stick with milder options.
- Look for products that include starches. Potato starch, cornstarch, arrowroot powder, and tapioca starch can all combat the grittiness of some gluten free flours, keeping your end result light and airy instead of dense and gritty.
- Double-check for common allergens. Keep in mind that gluten free does not always mean that the product is free from all allergens – many gluten free flour blends contain dairy or other allergens, so double-check if you have certain allergies.
If you can’t find an all-purpose blend that you’re happy with, you can always make your own! A simple recipe for a homemade gluten free all-purpose flour is 2 ½ cups of gluten free starch, 1 ½ cups of gluten free whole-grain flour, and 3 teaspoons of gluten free gum or psyllium husk powder.
Not into baking? You’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of delicious gluten free breads that you can find at your local grocery store. Schär, offers an assortment of artisan-style loaves as well as sandwich rolls, crispbreads, and more. Check your local store or view our list of baked good here.