If you are in the process of cutting out or simply decreasing gluten from your diet, the best way to do so is by slowly transitioning.
Low-gluten flours are a fantastic way to reduce your intake while still being able to enjoy some of your favorite carb-packed recipes.
The big problem we saw people having when trying to transition is the lack of information surrounding this topic.
There is no clear guide as to what determines the gluten content, the effects of low-gluten flours, how to use them, where to use them, and even which flours have a lower percentage!
So, what are low-gluten flours? Any flour with a protein and gluten percentage below 13% can be considered a low-gluten flour. This includes all-purpose flour, cake flour, spelt flour, barley flour, and all different rye flours.
Today, we have combined everything you need to know about the most popular and most easily accessible low-gluten flours!
We will be discussing their percentages, their structures, how to use them, and their effects on the item you are making.
What is Gluten?
Before discussing the differences between no-gluten and low-gluten flour, you first need to understand what gluten is, what it does, and how it works.
Gluten is a type of protein that is primarily found in cereal grains like wheat, spelt, rye, and barley.
As you may already know, wheat is the most popular and common gluten-containing grain and is used to create a wide variety of gluten-containing products.
Any type of item that is made using grain-based flour will contain gluten. It has a variety of different functions depending on the amount of gluten the flour contains.
What Determines Gluten Content?
The amount of gluten in flour depends on the type of cereal grain used to create it, as well as how much it has been processed.
The process that reduces the gluten content by removing proteins from the flour includes milling and bleaching. The more a grain has been milled and sieved to remove the bran and germ, the more proteins are removed.
Bleaching flour also removes proteins and nutrients, resulting in less gluten.
A fantastic example of this is cake flour and bread flour. Both are made using wheat, but the way they have been processed (ground and bleached for example) is why cake flour is lower in gluten compared to bread flour.
Cake flour only consists of endosperm and has been bleached, whereas bread flour is much less refined and contains more proteins.
Functions of Gluten
Gluten’s main function in baked or cooked products is to create a structure that holds the food together. Different types of products require different structures and therefore different amounts of gluten.
Think about cake and bread; if you look at the crumb (inside) of each you will see that cake has a very dense structure with tiny holes, whereas bread like sourdough and ciabatta has bigger holes and a more open structure.
The open structure is created when yeast expands the dough. In order for the dough to expand it needs to be elastic. To make an elastic dough you need a lot of gluten.
When gluten is combined with water and worked by kneading it for several minutes, it creates strong elastic strands that will form the internal crumb of the loaf.
Once the dough is rested, these strands relax which then enables the yeast to stretch them when baked and expand the structure.
If you have flour that cannot create stretchy strands, then your bread will be dense, heavy, and chewy.
The dense structure of cakes, muffins, biscuits, and other pastries is due to the lack of elasticity in the dough aka the lack of gluten. The less gluten flour contains, the denser the structure will be.
So bottom line; gluten creates different structures in baked goods. The more gluten flour contains, the more open the structure will be. The less gluten flour contains, the denser the final product will be.
Why Use Low-Gluten Flours?
Gluten doesn’t contain any essential nutrients, meaning it won’t benefit you in that way.
The main reason people avoid gluten is that they have either have an intolerance or allergy to it or wheat, or they are trying to cut out carbs and lose weight.
A lot of people have a very serious disease called Celiac disease. This is a type of autoimmune disease that prevents their digestive tract from absorbing nutrients while also causing damage to the lining of their intestines.
Other people can also have milder side effects due to gluten or wheat including abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
If you have an allergy to gluten or wheat you may have allergic reactions like difficulties breathing or abdominal pains.
Many people that don’t have any of these intolerances or allergies simply avoid gluten because of its relation to wheat. Wheat is a type of carb which is very high in calories and virtually no nutritional value.
Especially when they are trying to eat healthier or lose weight, they try to avoid gluten-containing foods.
No-Gluten Vs Low-Gluten Flour
So, now that you have a better understanding of gluten, where it comes from and what it’s used for, let’s look at the difference between no-gluten and low-gluten flour.
The more a flour has been processed, the fewer proteins it will contain and therefore less gluten.
A low-gluten flour is made from gluten-containing cereal grains that have been processed and worked to remove a lot of those proteins, but not all.
It still contains gluten and therefore isn’t safe to consume by people with intolerances and allergies.
A no-gluten or gluten-free flour is a type of flour that doesn’t contain any of those proteins and is not made from wheat.
These are completely safe to consume by people with allergies or intolerances as they don’t contain any gluten at all.
These flours are made from other gluten-free grains and pulses. Some of the most common and popular gluten-free flours include almond flour, buckwheat flour, chickpea flour, coconut flour, cornflour, oat flour, rice flour, and soy flour.
There are many, many other options available that are easy to find and affordable!
How Low-Gluten Flours React in Recipes
As we have already mentioned, the more gluten flour contains and is worked, the more elastic it becomes and the easier the yeast will be able to lift the structure to create an open and airy crumb.
So, this means that a low-gluten flour won’t have that elasticity and therefore create a denser internal structure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
Think about muffins, cakes, and different denser breads – they all NEED low-gluten flours to create their unique dense structures.
For bread (like ciabatta with an open crumb) you won’t use low-gluten flour because it isn’t elastic enough to create such a structure. But for a cookie, you will definitely be able to use a low-gluten flour as it doesn’t have to be airy.
Dense doesn’t mean dry or hard – it only means a finer structure. So, the only thing you need to think about is how to achieve a soft structure by means of sifting the flour or incorporating whipped airy products.
Types of Low Gluten Flour
If you are unsure what the guidelines are for hard (high-gluten) flours and soft (low-gluten) flours, hard flours contain at least 13 % gluten or more, and soft flours contain less than 13%.
All-Purpose Flour or Plain Flour
Most people have already heard of and even used all-purpose or plain flour. These are the same type of flour and also are sometimes referred to as pastry flour.
It is a blend of hard flour (high-gluten flour) and soft flour (low-gluten flour). It’s still considered to be a low-gluten flour despite being a higher percentage than other low-gluten flours.
This blend of gluten makes it an extremely versatile flour that can be used for lots of different things.
All-purpose flour has a protein (gluten) percentage of 8-11%. Bleached all-purpose flour (which can be identified by its snowy white color) is lower in gluten compared to unbleached flour.
These flours are labeled which makes them easier to identify.
All-purpose flour is great for virtually any and all types of pastries, puddings, cakes, and some types of yeast bread (because it still has enough gluten to create some type of elastic gluten structure).
This flour doesn’t have any type of flavor or odor and won’t change that of the baked product.
Bleached flour is very white so will not affect the color of your final product, whereas unbleached flour has a darker color and will make your items darker as well.
This flour is made from barley, another type of cereal grain, but not a wheat product. Barley groats (hulled kernels) are used to create a coarser barley flour whereas barley pearls are used to create a much finer flour.
The courser flour is used for tougher products such as bread, whereas the finer flour is used more often as a substitute for regular flour.
You will also find malted barley flour which is basically the same, it just follows a different production process and has different flavors, odors, and colors than regular barley flour.
This type of flour has a very earthy and nutty flavor that directly translates into the final product you are making. It is a darker flour (light-brown) and will also affect the final color of your product once baked.
Barley flour has a gluten and protein percentage of between 5-8%, considerably lower than all-purpose flour.
This flour is incredibly popular as it is easy to find, easy to use, and is also relatively healthy. When comparing it to all-purpose flour, barley flour has fewer calories and much higher fiber content.
When using barley flour, avoid making yeast recipes (bread). Barley flour doesn’t have a high enough gluten content to expand and create an airy crumb. You do however get a world-famous barley bread that uses barley flour exclusively.
Other fantastic items that can be made with barley flour are cookies, muffins, quick bread, and even cakes!
Cake flour is extremely popular and arguably one of the most used flours ever. It is easy to find, affordable, and is used in virtually every sweet-baked product.
This is a diverse flour that can make cakes, cookies, crackers, pasta, quick bread, and much, much more!
Cake flour, like bread flour, is made from wheat grains. This means it does contain gluten, however only about 8-10%. This flour is almost always bleached specifically because of the ways it is most often used (in light pastries).
Bleached flour, like we’ve mentioned before, removes more proteins and thus gluten. The chlorinated flour allows it to help set cakes faster, helps to distribute fats more evenly, and improves the texture of batter products like pancakes.
It also has the ability to hold a better structure for high-sugar products, which is another reason it is so popular in sweet dishes.
This flour doesn’t affect the flavor, odor, or color of any product, creating a blank surface for you to work on.
You might have heard of pumpernickel bread; well, this is the flour it’s made from. This is flour made from rye berries, a berry that comes from the rye cereal grain.
You will also see that sometimes people refer to it as whole-grain rye flour. The biggest difference between it and traditional rye flour is the parts it contains.
Rye contains only the endosperm of the grain whereas pumpernickel contains the bran, germ, and endosperm (hence the “whole grain rye”).
Pumpernickel flour does contain less gluten compared to wheat flour and is very healthy because of how unprocessed it is.
Bread and other products made from pumpernickel flour tend to be dark, very dense, and have a unique and intense flavor.
A lot of recipes use a combination of pumpernickel flour and another type of low-gluten flour to balance out the flavor and color.
As we’ve just mentioned, pumpernickel flour is a type of rye flour, but you do get versions that have been much more processed. This flour comes in 3 varieties that are classified according to the amount they have been refined.
You get light, medium, and dark varieties that differ in color, flavor, and gluten percentages. The lighter the flour, the more it has been processed (the more bran has been removed), and the less gluten it contains.
Light rye flour creates very light and airy products because it only consists of endosperm and nothing else that makes it heavy.
Spelt comes from the wheat family, but the biggest difference being its fats and nutritional content. Spelt flour is much more nutritious than other wheat flour and also contains more soluble fats.
Even though spelt does contain lots of protein, the type of protein and therefore gluten is different compared to that of wheat. This gluten, despite being higher, has a different composition making it much lower in intensity.
This flour has a very nutty and toasty flavor which translates well into most baked products.
Many people describe the effects of spelt flour when baking as adding more texture and a deeper flavor compared to bleached pastry flours.
You can also use this flour in combination with all-purpose or cake flour to create a different texture. By itself, it will create a very fluffy and tender crumb.
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