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Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat. In baking, it serves to hold the particles of dough together, giving wheat products their familiar texture. For those unable to eat anything containing this protein, gluten-free flour was developed as a substitute for traditional flour. Instead of being made from wheat, gluten-free flour is made from other kinds of seeds, grains and plants.
Those with celiac disease, a condition that interferes with digestion in the small intestine, are not able to eat foods containing gluten. There are other kinds of gluten sensitivities as well, though not all are as extreme. For those suffering from these types of conditions, gluten-free flour is the only way to can enjoy baked goods.
Not every alternative flour is gluten-free, even if it is made without wheat. For those sensitive to wheat but not to the gluten it contains, flours made from such key ingredients as barley and rye can be good alternatives. These can be used alone or in combination with other types of flour to produce delicious breads and other bakery items without the inclusion of any wheat.
True gluten-free flour is completely free from grains that have gluten as part of their makeup. This results in a flour that can sometimes be difficult to work with, since gluten is essential to the elasticity and structure of many baked goods. It is possible, however, to make substitutions that can approximate some of the characteristics of wheat flour. Doing so allows people who must avoid gluten continue to enjoy many of the foods they may otherwise be missing.
When baking with gluten-free flour, it is extremely important to follow the recipe exactly as it has been written. The characteristics of this type of flour are very different from wheat flour, so recipes are usually created with much trial and error. Once the desired characteristics are achieved, there is little room for deviation without the need to develop the recipe from scratch once again.
There are several types of gluten-free flour that can work well in different recipes. Sorghum flour, arrowroot flour, and rice flour are all good choices. In addition, amaranth flour and buckwheat flour are often used. Each has its own particular characteristics and adds a unique flavor to food. Some of the alternative flours also require special handling, and must be stored in the refrigerator rather than inside the cupboard.