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Focus on Gluten-Free Baking Ingredients

For those who are sensitive to wheat, gluten, and other grains, try out these gluten-free baking ingredients from potato starch to almond flour.

| October 2019

Photo by Pixabay/ponce_photography

Sensitivities to wheat, gluten and other grains present a challenge for many people. Fortunately, a number of whole grains and legumes can be ground into delicious gluten-free flours. These include amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and numerous legumes. However, transforming these flours into successful baked goods can be challenging. Gluten-free baking takes a little more effort than simply substituting one ingredient for another.

To make up for the loss of stretch and structure provided by gluten, a starch or thickening substance must be added when yeast is used as the leavening agent. In gluten-free quick breads, starches, though not always necessary, are often added to improve texture. This is especially important when eggs are also being avoided. Some gluten-free grains, even when freshly milled, tend to produce a slightly grainy texture; the addition of starches helps in this case.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a natural carbohydrate with incredible thickening power. It is produced by the microorganism Xanthomonas campestris. In gluten-free baking, xanthan gum is used to mimic the stretch and strengthening properties of the missing gluten. If you are making yeast breads with gluten-free flours, some type of gum is typically needed. You can substitute an equal amount of psyllium husk, ground chia seeds or ground flax seeds (flaxseed meal) for the xanthan gum. Xanthan, though generally recognized as safe, does cause digestive upsets in some people.

With xanthan gum, a little goes a long way, in both yeast and quick breads. To give good structure to gluten-free yeast bread and pizza dough, you need 1 to 2 tsp (5 to 10 mL) per 1 cup (250 mL) of flour. However, for gluten-free cakes and cookies, only about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp (1 to 2 mL) is needed for every 1 cup (250 mL) of flour. For best results, xanthan gum should be added as the last ingredient and mixed just until incorporated. Gluten-free quick breads with added xanthan gum are best eaten soon after baking, because it tends to break down and cause the texture to get dense and gummy.

Arrowroot Powder

Arrowroot powder, which is made from the roots of several species of tropical plants, is almost entirely starch. It doesn’t mix well with milk or other dairy products but it is not affected by acidic ingredients such as vinegar and lemon juice. In other words, you would not use arrowroot to thicken a milk pudding, but it would be fine in a lemon pie filling.

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