Gluten-free flour can be made from various grains, starches and nuts. It’s free of wheat, which is what gives standard flour its gluten. The one downside to that is that gluten provides structure, chewiness and texture to baked goods. When liquid is added to wheat flour, the proteins in the wheat come alive and attach to each other (that’s gluten!). Once the wet flour meets leavening—whether it’s yeast, baking soda or baking powder—the gluten traps the bubbly carbon dioxide that the leavening produces, which is how baked treats rise.
So, how do gluten-free flours do it without the gluten? At the end of the day, none can replicate the texture of standard flour exactly. But the more you bake with it and track your progress, the closer you’ll get to replicating your favorite treats. Gluten-free baked goods tend to be crumblier than their wheat-based predecessors, so many gluten-free flours contain xanthan gum, a binder that helps batters and doughs stay together. Xanthan gum also helps mimic gluten’s signature chew.
Another important note: All flour has some degree of oil it in that will go rancid over time, but gluten-free flours tend to go bad much quicker than wheat flour. So, buy a reasonably sized bag based on how frequently you’ll be using the flour, and be sure to store it according to package instructions—not all GF flours are shelf stable.