What is used in gluten-free baked goods?

Gluten-free baking has become increasingly popular, both for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and those simply looking to cut back on gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, so typical gluten-containing baking ingredients like all-purpose flour, bread flour, wheat flour, and even whole wheat flour are off the table for gluten-free baking. Thankfully, there are a number of tasty gluten-free flour alternatives and binders available to recreate many classic baked goods without gluten. This article will explore the most common ingredients used in gluten-free baking recipes.

Gluten-Free Flour Alternatives

When baking without gluten, it is important to use flour alternatives that offer similar flavors, textures, and binding abilities to mimic traditional wheat flour. Here are some of the most popular gluten-free flours:

Almond Flour

Almond flour is made from blanched, skinless almonds ground into a fine meal. It has a mildly nutty flavor that works well in cakes, cookies and quick breads. Since it contains no gluten, almond flour bakes best when combined with a binder or other gluten-free flours. Use a super-fine grind for lighter baked goods.

Brown Rice Flour

Brown rice flour is made by milling whole grain brown rice into a powder. It has a gritty, nutty taste and works well in recipes like pancakes, cookies and snacks. For best results, combine it with other gluten-free flours rather than using on its own. It provides structure and nutritious whole grains.

Buckwheat Flour

Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat at all – it is actually a seed. Buckwheat flour has an earthy, slightly bitter flavor. Because it doesn’t contain gluten, buckwheat flour is often combined with other gluten-free flours and starches. It adds great nutrition like manganese, magnesium, fiber and antioxidants.

Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is made from dried, defatted coconut meat that is ground into a fine powder. It has a mild coconut flavor and is naturally sweet. Coconut flour is very high in fiber and absorbs a lot of moisture, so a little goes a long way. Use small amounts combined with other gluten-free flours.

Oat Flour

Oat flour provides heartiness and fiber. It has a mild oat flavor and must be certified gluten-free, as some oat products contain traces of gluten. The flour made from gluten-free oats works great for cookies, muffins and breads when combined with other gluten-free flours.

Quinoa Flour

Quinoa flour comes from milling quinoa grains into a fine powder. It has a slightly grassy, bitter taste. Quinoa flour works well blended with other gluten-free flours and is high in nutrients like magnesium, iron and fiber. Just like rice flour, quinoa flour cannot be used on its own in baking.

Sorghum Flour

Sorghum flour is made from ground whole sorghum grains. It has a neutral flavor and can often be used as a stand-in for all-purpose flour by combining it with ground flaxseeds, xanthan gum or guar gum to add structure in the absence of gluten. Sorghum flour is high in nutrients like iron and fiber.

Tapioca Flour

Also sometimes called tapioca starch, tapioca flour provides chewiness and structure to gluten-free baking. On its own, tapioca flour can yield a gummy texture, so it is best combined with other flours and starches. Use it to improve the texture of baked goods like breads, pizza doughs, cookies and muffins.

Gluten-Free Starches

In addition to alternative flours, starches are an important ingredient in gluten-free baking. Starches help mimic the binding abilities of gluten to create lighter, fluffier baked goods that hold together well. Here are some starches often used:


Arrowroot is a starch made from the roots of the arrowroot plant. It helps lighten up dense gluten-free baked goods and provides easily digestible carbohydrates. Arrowroot works best combined with other gluten-free flours.


A common pantry staple, cornstarch adds structure to gluten-free baking. It has twice the thickening power of flour and creates moisture and tenderness in baked goods. Cornstarch should be combined with other flours and starches for best results.

Potato Starch

Potato starch, sometimes called potato flour, lends lightness and binding abilities to gluten-free baked goods. It provides a creamy, smooth texture. Potato starch works well in combination with nut flours and other starches. Do not confuse potato starch with potato flour, which contains the potato’s entire contents.

Tapioca Starch

Also called tapioca flour, tapioca starch has similarities with cornstarch in its thickening and binding abilities. It improves the chewiness and elasticity of baked goods. Use it along with other gluten-free flours and leaveners.

Rice Starch

Rice starch, sometimes labeled rice flour, is extracted from rice grains. It adds crispness and structure to gluten-free baked goods. Pair rice starch with other flours and starches for best results. It can also improve a recipe’s digestive tolerance.


To replicate the elastic structure that gluten provides in traditional baking, gluten-free bakers often rely on binder ingredients to help hold their baked goods together. Here are some common binders:


Eggs provide moisture, structure and binding abilities in the absence of gluten. Many gluten-free recipes call for extra eggs or egg whites to help achieve the proper texture. Eggs work especially well in cakes, cookies and quick breads.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a popular additive that mimics gluten’s stretchy abilities to help bind gluten-free baked goods. A little xanthan gum goes a long way – usually about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of flour. Excess xanthan gum can yield gummy, sticky results.

Guar Gum

Like xanthan gum, guar gum is added to gluten-free recipes to improve elasticity and moisture retention. It works as a thickener and binder. As with xanthan gum, it is important not to use too much guar gum or the baked good can become unpleasantly gummy.


Unflavored gelatin acts as a binder in gluten-free baking, helping add chewiness and structure in the absence of gluten. Gelatin is especially useful in recipes like brownies, cakes and quick breads. Sprinkle the gelatin over liquids when blooming it for baking.

Chia Seeds

When chia seeds are mixed with water, they form a gel-like substance that works similarly to an egg in providing binding and moisture retention. The chia gel can be substituted for about 1 egg in baking recipes. Whole chia seeds also add fiber and nutrients.


Like chia seeds, flaxseeds have thickening power that mimics gluten’s stretchiness and moisture retention. Use milled flaxseeds or flaxseed meal. Or make a flax egg by mixing 1 tablespoon flax meal with 2.5 tablespoons water and letting it thicken for a few minutes before baking.

Psyllium Husk

Psyllium is a gluten-free soluble fiber that turns into a gel-like substance when mixed with liquids. Just 1 teaspoon of psyllium whisked into gluten-free flour blends can help baked goods hold together better and improve moisture retention.


Leaveners like baking powder, baking soda and yeast help baked goods rise properly. Gluten-free baked goods benefit from extra leavening power to achieve airy textures in the absence of gluten. Here are the main leaveners used:

Baking Powder

Gluten-free baked goods often use a higher amount of baking powder than typical recipes. Baking powder helps batters rise through a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide when liquid is added. Make sure baking powder is fresh and well distributed in the batter.

Baking Soda

Using an acidic ingredient like buttermilk, yogurt or lemon juice activates baking soda to produce more lift and rise. Baking soda paired with an acid produces air bubbles and more volume in gluten-free baked goods. Too much can yield a soapy taste.


Active yeast helps breads and pizza crusts rise in gluten-free baking. Letting dough proof longer gives yeast more time to generate gas bubbles and rise properly despite the lack of gluten structure. Rapid rise and bread machine yeasts also aid rise.

Cream of Tartar

Cream of tartar provides more acidity to activate gluten-free recipes’ baking soda and baking powder for extra lift. It can help muffins, cakes and breads expand more easily without gluten present. Too much cream of tartar can impart a tart flavor.


Since gluten-free flours and starches produce much thinner batters and doughs than typical wheat flours, thickeners help add body and structure to achieve the proper consistency for baked goods. Here are useful thickeners:


The thickening power of cornstarch makes it useful for gluten-free gravies, sauces, soups and baked goods that need more structure. It thickens at much lower temperatures than flour does. Mix it with other dry ingredients when baking.

Tapioca Starch

In baking, tapioca starch helps thicken up gluten-free batters and doughs that would otherwise be too thin without gluten. This improves the texture of breads, cakes, cookies and more. Use it sparingly to avoid gumminess.

Xanthan Gum

Just a small amount of xanthan gum thickens up gluten-free doughs and batters to a more workable consistency for baking. It also replicates the elasticity of gluten so baked goods hold together better. Use too much and it can become slimy.

Guar Gum

Like xanthan gum, guar gum slightly thickens gluten-free recipes and provides more structure, which is especially helpful for delicate baked goods that need to hold their shape like cakes. As little as 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour helps.


Fats help keep gluten-free baked goods tender and moist, since the lack of gluten structure can often yield drier results. Here are the best fats to use:


Butter imparts rich flavor and tenderness to gluten-free baked goods. When creaming butter and sugar, beat until very light and fluffy to incorporate as much air as possible. This helps cakes and cookies rise better without gluten.


Neutral oils like canola, vegetable and grapeseed oil help keep gluten-free baked goods like cakes and muffins incredibly moist. Oil’s liquid properties make baked goods more dense but also more tender. Over-mixing can make them greasy.


Eggs provide moisture and fat when used whole or just the yolks. Many gluten-free recipes call for several eggs or extra yolks to achieve proper richness and moisture without gluten present. The lecithin in eggs also helps bind.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but provides the tenderizing effects of a liquid fat once baked. Substitute it for up to half the butter or oil in recipes for great moisture and rich coconut flavor.

Dairy and Dairy Alternatives

Milk, milk substitutes and dairy products help bind and add moisture along with flavor in gluten-free baked goods:


Dairy milk or non-dairy milks provide hydration and mild flavor in gluten-free baked goods. Since gluten-free flours absorb more liquid, many recipes increase milk amounts. Any milk works, from dairy to almond to coconut milk.


The natural thickening abilities of yogurt help add moisture and rise to gluten-free baked goods. Plain yogurt works well, or use Greek yogurt for an even thicker consistency. Yogurt keeps baked goods tender.

Sour Cream

Sour cream gives moisture, tanginess and a tender crumb to gluten-free baked goods like cakes, muffins and breads. Its acidity helps activate leaveners like baking soda for better rise. Use full or reduced fat.

Cream Cheese

Cream cheese provides moisture, richness and structure to gluten-free baked goods, making it perfect for recipes like cheesecakes and frostings. Full fat cream cheese makes the richest results. Let it come to room temperature before baking.


Buttermilk provides a moist, tender and fluffy texture to gluten-free baked goods thanks to its acidity and thick consistency. The tangy flavor also complements sweeter baked goods. Use full fat buttermilk if possible.


While optional, sweeteners like sugar help add moisture, texture, browning and flavor in gluten free baked goods:

Granulated Sugar

White sugar helps retain moisture and allows gluten-free doughs and batters to hold together better through the hygroscopic properties. Sugar also encourages caramelization and browning for great flavor and appearance.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar provides moistness and chewiness to gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, muffins and quick breads. The molasses notes pair especially nicely with coconut, banana and pumpkin baked recipes.


Honey is naturally hygroscopic like sugar so it helps retain moisture in gluten-free baked goods for a tender crumb. Its sugars also promote browning and caramelization for flavor development. Use a mild honey like clover.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup gives great flavor and moisture-retaining abilities similar to honey in gluten-free recipes. Grade B syrup has the strongest maple flavor. Use sparingly to avoid muffins or breads becoming gummy.


Blackstrap molasses provides a rich flavor as well as hygroscopic properties to retain moisture in gluten-free baked goods. A little goes a long way due to the strong flavor. Pair it with ginger, cinnamon and brown sugar.


Don’t be afraid to add flavors like spices, extracts and zests to gluten-free baked goods:

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is a must for enhancing sweet gluten-free baked goods like cakes, cookies, muffins and more. Real vanilla extract has the best flavor. Use imitation extract sparingly as the flavor is not as robust.

Almond Extract

Almond extract pairs perfectly with almond flour and almond meal in gluten-free recipes. Just a teaspoon or less provides lovely, punchy almond flavor. It’s especially good in shortbread cookies.


Warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice add flavor complexity and interest to otherwise bland gluten-free flours and starches. Maximize flavor by blooming spices in fats. Start with 1 teaspoon per cup of flour.

Citrus Zest

Bright citrus zests like orange, lemon and lime provide fresh flavor and moisture to gluten-free baked goods. Finely mince the zest before mixing into batter for the best distribution of flavor.


A pinch of salt, even in sweet baked goods, helps balance flavors and enhances overall taste perception. Don’t skip this important seasoning in gluten-free recipes!


Gluten-free baking often requires clever substitutions and combinations to produce great results, but with the right ingredients, you can make amazing gluten-free baked treats! Alternative flours, starches, binders, leaveners, fats and flavorings all play an important role in mimicking the texture, moisture, rise and taste of traditional baked goods without gluten. With some practice, your gluten-free cakes, cookies, breads and more can impress any guest, gluten-free or not. Now go enjoy baking up some gluten-free goodness!

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