Saturday, January 12, 2013

What is Gluten-free Flour?

I've been baking since I was a kid.  I created my first recipe when I was in elementary school because I hated raisins, but I loved oatmeal cookies.  If only oatmeal cookies didn't have raisins, I figured, they would be perfect.  It was just so hard to find raisinless oatmeal cookies that I decided to take matters into my own hands, and I created a band-new recipe, one that didn't appear in Betty Crocker.  I made oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips.

I was really ahead of my time.  Watch out, Betty Crocker!

Now, to be fair my Mom must have helped me out with this quite a bit - Betty Crocker should watch out for my mom, too! - but I was always the kind of kid who asked a lot of question.  Why?  How was that invented?  Where does this come from?
My mom and me after going gluten-free.  The mother-daughter team from Joy of Cooking may now step aside!
I always had the exotic notion that everything came from medieval Europe.  Maybe I read the Hobbit when I was too young.

It's because of my inquisitive nature that I know where a lot of things come from.  Oranges? The orient.  Tomatoes? The new world (not old Italy).

When I turned gluten-free I was very surprised that lots of people don't know where flour comes from.  It's not a surprise that people don't know the term "gluten."  That term is something I had to learn as an adult too.  But people - even people who cook regularly - often don't know that flour is typically made from wheat. They must have been significantly less annoying than I was as a child!

I find myself explaining flour to a lot of people when I tell them I can't eat wheat.  Now I say, "I can't eat any wheat or flour."  Then the conversation gets even weirder when I tell them that I sell gluten-free flour and bake my own bread.  Well how do you make bread if you can't eat flour?

What is gluten-free flour exactly?

The place most people jump to is that gluten-free flour is flour that has been specially treated to remove the gluten - sort of like decaffeinated coffee.  I try to dispel this thought as soon as it occurs!  I realized that I needed a gluten-free flour definition.

Gluten-free flour is flour that is ground from grains other than wheat, barley, or rye.

Or, to be more all-encompassing, you could define gluten-free flour this way:

Gluten-free flour is flour that is ground from plants or grains that don't contain gluten.  Potato flour is one example of gluten-free flour.

However, these short definitions aren't always enough to encompass the whole scope of what it means for a flour to be gluten-free.  Here's a more comprehensive definition:

Gluten-free flour is flour that is ground from seeds, grains, or any other part of a plant that is not in the wheat family, and is processed in a separate facility than any gluten-containing plant such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, or triticale.  Gluten-free flour often refers to a blend of different types of flour that can be used to bake with.

To be fair, I have to define wheat-free flour too:

Wheat-free flour is flour that is ground from plants or grains other than wheat.  Gluten-free flour is always wheat free, but wheat-free flour is not always gluten-free - for instance, rye flour is wheat-free but not gluten-free.

How did you learn what flour was made of?  Was it when you went gluten-free or when you started cooking?  Do you have a good definition of gluten-free flour?  Tell us in the comments!


Jessica Grant said...

thank you for sharing this... it's something that had been on my mind recently but not annoying me enough for me to have to find out, and know I know! cheers =)

Gina said...

Jessica - Thanks for the comment! I'm glad I could help out :) I love writing definitions!