Will gluten free flour thicken a white sauce?

Gluten free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people opting to avoid gluten for medical reasons or simply as a lifestyle choice. For those following a gluten free diet, gluten free flours are essential for baking and cooking. But how do these flours perform when it comes to making sauces? Specifically, will gluten free flour thicken a white sauce in the same way that all-purpose flour does? This article will examine this question in detail.

What is a White Sauce?

A white sauce, also known as a béchamel sauce, is made by cooking butter and flour together to form a roux, then gradually whisking in milk. This creates a smooth, creamy sauce that can be flavored in endless ways. Classic white sauces often use all-purpose wheat flour to thicken them. The gluten in the flour helps give the sauce its characteristic thickness.

Some key features of a properly made white sauce are:

– Smooth, creamy texture without lumps

– Ability to coat the back of a spoon

– Pours slowly and coats food well

– Thick enough to graciously coat food without being overly thick

So when we ask if gluten free flour will thicken a white sauce, we want to know if it can create these same desirable properties that regular wheat flour produces.

Why Wheat Flour Thickens Sauce

To understand if gluten free flours can thicken a sauce, it helps to first examine why regular wheat flour is effective. There are two key reasons:

Gluten Formation

When wheat flour is heated and mixed with a liquid like milk, the gluten proteins in the flour start to unwind and link together. This creates an elastic gluten network that provides structure and viscosity to the sauce.

Starch Gelatinization

Heating also causes the starch granules in wheat flour to swell up and absorb water. This gelatinization allows the starch to thicken the surrounding liquid.

So in summary, the gluten provides stretchiness and body, while the starch offers thickening power. This produces a beautifully thick and rich sauce.

Will Gluten Free Flours Thicken Similarly?

Now we arrive at the core question – can gluten free flours mimic the thickening power of wheat flour, even though they lack gluten proteins? Let’s look at some different options:

Rice Flour

Rice flour is made by finely grinding rice grains. While it contains starch, it does not have gluten. For this reason, rice flour on its own will thicken a sauce to some degree through starch gelatinization. However, the lack of gluten means it cannot create as thick and robust a sauce as wheat flour. Using rice flour alone may result in a sauce that is comparatively thin and watery.


Cornstarch is purely starch, without any gluten. It can be used to thicken sauces through gelatinization. However, cornstarch on its own makes a sauce that is more translucent and less opaque than flour. It also results in a sauce with a shorter texture rather than being stretchy.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a thickener made from fermented sugars. It is commonly used in gluten free cooking. Xanthan gum thickens by forming a network that traps water. When combined with starch, it can mimic some of the thickening achieved with gluten. However, xanthan alone makes a sauce somewhat slimy. A blend is needed.

Gluten Free Flour Blends

The best approach is to use a blend of flours, starches and gums to thicken a gluten free white sauce. Combining rice flour for grain flavor, cornstarch for thickening power, and a small amount of xanthan gum to add binding can produce a smooth, thick sauce quite similar to a classic béchamel. It may take some trial and error to get the proportions exactly right. But with the right blend, gluten free flours can absolutely thicken a white sauce effectively.

Tips for Making a Thick Gluten Free White Sauce

Follow these tips for successfully using gluten free flours to make a thick white sauce:

  • Use a flour blend – Combining rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum can mimic the thickness of wheat flour.
  • Whisk the flour thoroughly – Properly whisking the flour into the butter roux prevents lumps.
  • Add liquids slowly – Gradually whisking in milk prevents the sauce from getting too thin.
  • Simmer – Gently simmering allows the starches to fully gelatinize.
  • Check consistency frequently – Taste and adjust as needed for the desired thickness.
  • Add cheese (optional) – Stirring in cheese enhances creaminess and thickness.

Following these simple steps can lead to beautiful gluten free white sauces for all your cooking needs. The key lies in using the right combination of ingredients.

Sample Recipes

To demonstrate gluten free flours thickening white sauces, here are a couple sample recipes to try:

Basic Gluten Free Béchamel Sauce


– 2 tbsp butter
– 2 tbsp gluten free flour blend (rice flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum)
– 1 cup milk
– Salt and pepper to taste


1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the gluten free flour blend until smooth. Cook for 2 minutes stirring continuously.
2. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer, continuing to whisk regularly.
3. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, until sauce reaches desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper.

Cheesy Mushroom Sauce


– 2 tbsp butter
– 3 tbsp gluten free flour blend
– 1 cup milk
– 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
– 1 cup sliced mushrooms
– 1 tsp dried thyme
– Salt and pepper


1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the gluten free flour blend until smooth. Cook for 2 minutes stirring continuously.
2. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer, continuing to whisk regularly.
3. Add in the mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Turn heat to low and stir in the grated cheese until melted and sauce thickens.

The Verdict

While gluten free flours lack the natural thickening power of wheat flour, the right blend of alternative flours, starches and gums can produce a smooth, thick white sauce quite competently. Using ingredients like rice flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum or guar gum paired with proper technique allows you to thicken sauces for gluten free cooking success. With some trial and error to get proportions just right, you can make delicious gluten free white sauces that coat beautifully without being overly thick or pasty. So don’t shy away from white sauce recipes just because you are avoiding gluten. With a good flour blend, you can absolutely make a stellar gluten free béchamel or cheese sauce to elevate your gluten free cooking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make a roux with gluten free flour?

Yes, you can make a roux by cooking gluten free flour blends in butter. This roux can then be used to thicken sauces. Use rice flour, cornstarch, and xanthan gum blended in the right proportions.

Do I have to use xanthan gum?

Xanthan gum is not mandatory, but it helps replicate the thickness and binding abilities of gluten. You can try using just rice flour and cornstarch, but xanthan gum improves the consistency.

How thin will the sauce be with only rice flour?

Rice flour on its own will make a thinner sauce than wheat flour. For a properly thick sauce, combine rice flour with cornstarch and xanthan gum. Vary the ratios to achieve the desired consistency.

Can I use gluten free flour for a cheese sauce?

Definitely! Gluten free flour blends can nicely thicken cheese sauces. Just remember to add the cheese once the sauce has thickened to prevent lumps. Melting the cheese into the hot sauce will also thicken it.

Should I use all-purpose or whole grain gluten free flour?

Either all-purpose or whole grain blends will work. All-purpose may be slightly thicker. Whole grains offer added nutrition. Use whatever blend you prefer for flavor.


Gluten free flours can absolutely be used to make smooth, thick white sauces when the right combinations are used. While they lack the gluten of wheat flour, pairing gluten free flours with starches, gums, and proper cooking techniques compensates for this deficit. Follow the tips outlined and use the sample recipes to guide you in making delicious béchamels, cheese sauces, and gravies to make your gluten free cooking hassle-free. With the abundance of gluten free products now available, there’s no need to miss out on your favorite wheat-based recipes.

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