Lots of people are now making an effort to exclude gluten from their diets. Amazingly, some people even do so without knowing what gluten is. In order to prevent that, let’s distill the definition: Gluten is protein formed when glutenin and gliadin, molecules found in things like wheat and many whole grains, combine, such as when bakers kneed dough.

What’s the Deal With Gluten Anyway?

This protein is definitely a problem for people with celiac disease, which compose about one to two percent of the population. However, gluten’s recently tarnished reputation has linked it to everything from asthma to schizophrenia to insomnia to nausea. Consequently, in true fear-based bandwagoning fashion, marketers and supermarkets have piled on the onslaught of gluten-free products.

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Truth be told, be it psychological or not, many people claim to feel better having cut back on breads and pasta, which may be as much a credit to a more whole food diet as it is largely leaving gluten behind. That said, it hasn’t changed most of our appreciation of bread and pasta, which is where gluten-free flour blends come in.

Unfortunately, gluten-free flours are much more expensive than your standard all-purpose white flour, or even whole wheat. So, to keep the costs down, perhaps it’s worth considering a little DIY mission.

If Not Wheat, Then What?

Actually, many whole grains we think of as really healthy—barley, rye, and bulgur—are not gluten-free. So, then, what can we use for our DIY flour? The easy answer is loads of stuff. Gluten-free grains like rice, corn and oats. (Be careful: Oats are naturally gluten-free but often contaminated through agricultural and production practices.) You can buy gluten-free oats on the market, however, which are specially packaged away from any wheat to prevent cross-contamination. There are also many grain-like seeds you can use, such as amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa, that make dandy flours with a spin in the food processor or high speed blender. You can also use either nuts or legumes as a base flour by simply grinding them pre-baking.

How to Make a Basic Gluten-free Flour

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It’s the same for all of the alternatives really: Whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds all undergo the same simple process.

Step one: Buy the dry version of these products. (Obviously, going bulk with these purchases will save you even more money.)

Step two: Put them in a blender, food processor or grinder that can handle dried goods.

Step three: Blend them until the flour is as fine as you like. Then, store the flour in an airtight container (best kept in the freezer).

Don’t Expect Wheat Flour

Tips-on-How-to-Make-Gluten-Free-Sandwich-Bread

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The rough part is that gluten is the exact thing that causes the chewy, elastic consistency that makes wheat flour so appealing. Without it, baked goods tend to be dense and like bricks. The challenge is finding the right balance, learning to combine our gluten-free flours and other components, like gums and starches, into delicious appropriate treats with an appreciative texture.

Luckily, a lot of this legwork has been done for us. Gluten-free gurus the world over have been happy to share their secrets to keep us dabblers in our old favorites. Plus, there are lots of great recipes to use for exciting new gluten-free breads and pastas.

How to Make a DIY Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour

A gluten-free all purpose flour has both a flour base and leavening agents that help it rise. To create this leavening effect, you’ll need a starch such as arrowroot or tapioca (some people also use rice starch), along with some aluminum-free, gluten-free baking soda or powder.

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The trick is to find the right ratios and learn to find the right one for what you are doing.

Ratio for Success: The best ration to start is with a ratio of about one part flour to one part starch (I’ve seen people go as far as two to one in either direction) with a half-teaspoon of a useful gluten-free gum for gluten-free goods. One choice is xanthan and the other is guar gum (xanthan is better for cooking but worse for allergies). Then, move on from there. The starches (arrowroot, tapioca, rice, etc.) will help with make things less dense, and  gum will help with creating a more elastic effect. Each flour will behave a little differently thus will require some experimentation, and mixing the flours helps with preventing any one flavor from being overbearing.

chickpea pancake

After that, common sense and a sense of humor need apply: Hazelnut flour or coconut flour might not be the best choice for pizza dough, whereas the flavor of chickpea flour might ruin a cookie recipe, but make an amazing breakfast pancake. Use what seems appropriate for what you are trying to make. Be prepared to get out a spoon to eat your cookie and go back to the drawing board for next time. Such is the gluten-free life.

Check out The Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Flour! for all your gluten-free baking needs!

Lead Image Source: Andrea Nguyen/Flickr