You may be skeptical. How can gluten free flour be better than wheat flour? But Let’s think about this. You feel like you know all the different things about baking. How to make bread; you’re very comfortable in the kitchen, and then… you go gluten-free. And you realize you know nothing. Gluten-free baking is a science all its own. A fundamental base of cooking is gluten. But what happens when that is the very thing that you need to avoid like it’s your Kryptonite? First things first, go to the store, get the flour right? If you go to the store for gluten-free flour you will find all sorts of options. Rice flours, bean flours, nut flours, even soy flour! Ok what now, what do I use? When talking about gluten-free flour, it refers typically to flour blends. The flour blends you will find are ones that are attempting to mimic wheat flour. Yet, I have found that in some instances for both cooking and baking that gluten-free flour has an edge. Gluten Free flour is better than Wheat Flour!
6 Reasons Why Gluten Free Flour is Better Than Wheat Flour
What is Gluten?
So, before we get into why gluten free flour is better than wheat flour, we need to understand exactly what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in wheat (and derivatives), barley, and rye. It is made up of different proteins bound together, mainly gliadin and glutenin. So that’s nice, but what does it do with our food? Gluten is what binds your ingredients together. In practical terms, this means that it’s a lot easier to work with than flours without it. Think of pizza dough being formed and tossed. They toss it into the air to create a round shape. The gluten holds everything together while allowing it to stretch. During baking, this gluten keeps holding it together allowing it to rise, but not fall. It allows for that crisp outside and soft inside with an airy structure. It’s what creates that pull you get when you pull a soft pretzel apart. This is what is absent in gluten free baking. Gluten-free cooking and baking are more difficult. But over the years I’ve found that it has some very distinct benefits as well! There are some applications where I wish I could replicate gluten more closely. But, I appreciate the products I’m working with for what they are.
1. Gluten = Glue
When you look up “what is gluten” it’s almost impossible to miss the comparisons to glue. This glue-like substance allows for bread to rise and keep its shape.
During the process of making bread with wheat flour, you need to work with the dough to activate the gluten. This allows the gluten to form bonds and act as we expect it to.
When We Don’t Want Gluten to be Glue
So, when you are not making bread you need to be careful with the gluten activation. We need to be careful not to activate gluten when baking things like cakes and cookies – no one wants a chewy cake. Since gluten-free flour does not have gluten (who knew), it’s not something to worry about. This means we can mix that cake batter until the ingredients are combined how we want them to be. And no risk of the dreaded flour pockets from undermixing batters. So my #1 reason why gluten free flour is better than wheat flour is: it doesn’t have gluten.
2. Crispy, Crunchy, Flaky, and Delicious
Are you hungry yet? My second favorite reason gluten free flour is better than wheat flour: frying it! Who doesn’t love some fried chicken, crispy mozzarella sticks, or churros? I see these mentioned as off-limits after going gluten-free. Not only do I strongly disagree, but they’re even better gluten-free! Let’s go back to the science of gluten to figure this out. We talked about the property of gluten where it makes things stretchy and soft. When we want to do the opposite and make them crunchy, that gluten actually works against you. Flours like rice that do not contain gluten also don’t have that property to work against you. Think about crispy rice cereal or the crispy rice in candy bars. You already know the crunchy crispiness rice has to offer. So when frying, I enjoy using rice breadcrumbs or rice flour. Rice also takes longer to brown than wheat flour. So you can fry it for longer to get that crispy texture you are craving. When dredging in flour before frying, I haven’t noticed a significant difference. The gluten-free flour blends get gooey, sticky, and thick on the outside of your item as you’d expect. At least with the rice flour bases. They will also give you the puffy crispiness that you are looking for when you fry it. Especially when matched up with eggs or gluten-free beer. Have you been craving fried foods you thought you couldn’t have again? I challenge you to try frying with rice flour. There aren’t even any new skills to learn if you already know how to dredge and fry with wheat flour. This is a delicious reason gluten free flour is better than wheat flour!
I hinted at this above when talking about what gluten is. I wanted to go into this a little further – it really is one of my favorite things about gluten-free baking. And let’s be honest: there are plenty of downsides to gluten-free baking. As well as things we need to compensate for. So let’s celebrate where we can. Let’s go back and remind ourselves about gluten a little bit. It wants to make the long strands of gluten and bind together. To create the delightful pull of wheat-based bread. When baking cupcakes, scones, or almost any baked good besides bread, it works against us! I don’t know about you, but I do not like my cakes to have a chewy texture. Look up almost any recipe for gluten-containing cupcakes or muffins. You will find “be careful to not overmix”. The reason for this instruction is simple: don’t activate the gluten. Avoiding those strands of gluten binding together is the goal. Because if they do you will have a cupcake the texture of bread: chewy and a bit tough. Gluten-free flour blends, on the other hand, do not need to worry about this. So we can mix everything up till it is well-combined without possible pockets of flour. In fact, it’s usually best to mix well beyond where you might mix a gluten-containing flour. You want to make sure that the liquid fully absorbs the dry ingredients. So mix that batter! I just love being able to break the rules I’ve been taught to follow. Are you starting to see how gluten free flour is better than wheat flour?
This might not be on the list for everyone, but kneading has just never been my favorite thing. So not having to knead bread is a big ol’ plus in my book (or blog). The purpose of kneading: to get those gluten strands to form long chains. This creates that glue-like substance to hold everything together. In gluten-free baking, you can mostly do away with that. I say mostly because some recipes do call for it. The purpose in gluten-free baking is for those ingredients to be incorporated. As well as evenly distributed. Kneading gluten-free bread is more about making the texture nice and smooth. And excellent incorporation of ingredients. Many gluten-free flours are slow to absorb liquids. So you may find yourself needing to mix them many times. And when bread has so little liquid so you can knead it, that absorption will be even more important. So now, when I do knead bread, it’s for a shorter time, and it’s more enjoyable. Absolutely. Gluten free flour is better than wheat flour.
5. Baking Science
You may have noticed this theme throughout this post, but I really love baking science. Baking science made the list because the intricacies of gluten-free baking lend to learning. Without needing to learn the different properties of gluten-free flours, I’d know less. When I had to learn how to make my own flour blend, I had to learn how ingredients interacted. How starches are different from flours. And in general, how baking science works. I fully believe that the necessity of learning the science of baking also made me a much better cook. I enjoyed cooking before and learned to cook from my mom who is not gluten-free. Baking science brought on growth. I learned how everything I’ve used for years actually works. And when you know how something works and you aren’t just following arbitrary rules, you can learn the “why”. The process of learning how all the ingredients interact is a long-term project. It’s not something you can do without many trials and errors over the years. And failures. In fact, I find that as much as gluten-free science is fascinating, I need to pay attention to my intuition. That was something I was taught by my mom in the kitchen. Sometimes there is no way to pinpoint it other than to say I just “know” it’s ready now. And without gluten-free baking, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have into food science. So Baking Science is one reason I love baking gluten-free. 5 reasons why gluten free flour is better than wheat flour, what’s the last one?
6. Flour Blends
I want to touch on flour blends very briefly here. The flour blend I use is a rice-based blend with potato starch, tapioca starch, and sorghum flour.
My blend does not contain gums and needs no addition of gums to work properly in most applications. Everything I’ve discussed here is based on using this specific recipe. Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 Gluten-Free Flour Blend or Pamela’s flours also work well and are similar.
If you use a flour that is not rice-based you may not end up with the same results I’m discussing here. For example, if you used almond flour it does not have anything in it that would allow it to get “gummy”.
So it’s much more difficult to use as breading. And it burns faster than wheat flour.
I’m firmly in the camp that flour-blends are a benefit of gluten-free baking.
Flour Blends are Vehicles
While I use my flour-blend for almost everything, I know what the ingredients do. I’ll use a different blend if they conflict with what I’m trying to do. This makes gluten-free flour versatile and has an advantage over wheat flour. Wheat flours do have a few versions (whole wheat, all-purpose, 00) but it’s all from wheat. Because it’s all made from the same product, it has most of the same advantages and disadvantages. The differences are including more or less of some parts of the wheat. Gluten-free flours are made of just about anything. It’s even more than premade blends. There are almost unlimited possibilities for ingredients to use. As long as they don’t contain wheat, rye, or barley. Or derivatives of them. Different flours have different qualities. And they each bring different benefits to each bake. You’ll need to investigate them, but you also need to jump in and try things out. This is the only way you’ll become familiar with what your flours do. So – start researching all the different options, but don’t forget to experiment too. I’ve even seen (but not used) cricket flour! The possibilities of different blends are exciting and the possibilities are endless. Endless possibilities…just another reason gluten free flour is better than wheat flour!
Gluten Free Isn’t All Bad
The most important take-away that I want you to have here is this: gluten-free isn’t all, or even mostly, bad. Something I used to say when I ran my food cart was “gluten doesn’t have a flavor, but this does!” Whole ingredients that add flavor are by and large gluten-free. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it has to taste bad to be gluten-free. Every single ingredient that we use to cook and bake has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, baking soda. It is a lovely ingredient, we couldn’t imagine doing without it. But only when used in the proper ways and quantities. If you use too much you are going to end up with something salty. And an awful aftertaste. Take this as the opportunity it is: to learn more about your ingredients and how they interact. So rice flour makes things crispy and crunchy. Find your favorite flours and their benefits. Remember, a huge benefit of gluten-free baking is being pushed to explore other ingredients. So gluten-free actually does have some advantages. Are you as shocked as I was when I realized this? It may have started out trying to mimic wheat flour. But we can celebrate having some advantages even while admitting its failures. Gluten-free is not always about achieving what wheat flour can. These ingredients can and do shine in their own right! Embrace this and celebrate gluten-free cooking! I hope you have been able to see how gluten free flour is better than wheat flour. If you’re looking for ideas on how to start your gluten free diet check this out. Let me know in the comments below if you agree with me or if you really miss wheat flour still. Do you think gluten free flour is better than wheat flour?