Does Italian bread have less gluten?

Italian bread, with its chewy texture and crusty exterior, is a staple of Italian cuisine and a beloved carb around the world. Many people assume Italian bread is naturally lower in gluten than other types of bread. But is this really true? Let’s take a deeper look at the gluten content of traditional Italian bread.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. When flour and water are mixed together and kneaded, the gluten forms an elastic network that gives bread its chewy texture. Gluten helps bread rise and keep its shape.

People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity experience negative health effects when they consume gluten. For these individuals, maintaining a gluten-free diet is essential.

Quick Answers:

– Traditional Italian bread is not gluten-free and contains gluten from wheat flour. However, the gluten content may be slightly lower compared to other breads.

– Sourdough fermentation can break down some gluten in Italian bread, but not enough to make it gluten-free.

– There are gluten-free Italian bread options made with alternate flours for people who cannot tolerate gluten.

– Unless certified gluten-free, Italian bread should be avoided by those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Gluten Content of Italian Bread

Italian bread is traditionally made from wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. Since it contains wheat flour, it is not gluten-free. However, there are a few reasons why Italian bread may have slightly less gluten than other types of bread:

Use of “00” Flour

Most authentic Italian bread is made with Italian “00” flour, also called Tipo 00. This finely milled soft wheat flour has a lower protein content (around 10-12%) compared to bread flour or all-purpose flour (11-13%). Since gluten is formed from wheat proteins, the lower protein content of “00” flour can result in less gluten development.

Long Fermentation

Many Italian breads like ciabatta and focaccia use a preferment starter and undergo a long fermentation of 8 hours or more. The enzymes activated during this extended fermentation help break down some of the gluten.

Sourdough Fermentation

Sourdough is commonly used in Italian bread recipes. The acids produced by sourdough fermentation help break down gluten proteins over time. Breads like sourdough ciabatta may have reduced gluten due to the prolonged sourdough fermentation.

However, it’s important to note that the reduction in gluten from using 00 flour, long fermentation, and sourdough is relatively small. There is no standardized amount of gluten reduction from these traditional methods. Italian bread still contains gluten and is not considered gluten-free.

Gluten Thresholds for Celiac Disease

For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten can damage the small intestine and cause adverse health effects. While many celiacs can tolerate small traces of gluten, there is an upper limit:

20 ppm Gluten Threshold

Most people with celiac disease can tolerate foods under 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. This is the threshold used in the FDA definition of gluten-free foods. However, 20 ppm is still a tiny amount of gluten. Italian bread exceeds this limit.

10 ppm Gluten Threshold

More sensitive celiacs may require a stricter threshold of 10 ppm or less. While Italian bread may have slightly less gluten than other breads, it still far exceeds 10 ppm.

Zero Tolerance

A small percentage of celiacs have complete gluten intolerance and must follow a zero-tolerance gluten-free diet with no traces of gluten. For these individuals, even breads with reduced gluten are not considered safe.

Gluten-Free Italian Bread Options

For those who need to avoid all gluten, it is possible to recreate the taste and texture of Italian bread using gluten-free alternative flours:

Gluten-Free Flour Blends

Many store-bought gluten-free flour blends can be substituted for wheat flour in Italian bread recipes. These blends combine flours like rice flour, tapioca flour, chickpea flour and xanthan gum to mimic the properties of gluten. Popular brands include Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Cup4Cup.

Naturally Gluten-Free Flours

Grains like millet, sorghum, teff, buckwheat, and oats can be ground into gluten-free flours. Combining several gluten-free flours helps compensate for the lack of gluten. Adding xanthan or guar gum improves elasticity.

Almond Flour and Chickpea Flour

Nut flours like almond flour combined with chickpea flour make great substitutes in gluten-free Italian breads, creating a tasty flavor and tender crumb. The high protein content mimics the structure absent from gluten.

Gluten-Free Flour Properties
Sorghum Mild flavor, adds texture
Millet Sweet flavor, don’t use too much
Teff Grainy texture, nice flavor
Oat Soft texture, only use certified GF oats
Chickpea Savory flavor, higher protein
Almond Tender, moist crumb but dense

When baking with gluten-free flours, some adjustments are needed like using more liquids, adding binding agents, and paying close attention to cooking times and temperatures. Even with these adjustments, achieving the same chewy texture as gluten-containing Italian bread can be challenging. Combining various gluten-free flours and experimenting with recipes leads to the best results.


While traditional Italian bread may have slightly reduced gluten content from wheat flour characteristics, sourdough fermentation, and longer rising times, it still contains gluten and is unsuitable for gluten-free diets. Individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should choose certified gluten-free Italian breads made with alternative flours or gluten-free flour blends. When prepared carefully, these gluten-free options can provide the iconic flavors and textures of classic Italian bread. However, unless verified as gluten-free, traditional Italian bread should be avoided by those requiring a gluten-free diet.

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