The Fresh Loaf

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Philosophy of bread with no gluten

scottfsmith's picture

Philosophy of bread with no gluten

I have been recently been baking breads with no gluten.  I have not been super impressed with most of the recipes which call for lots of starch and xantham or guar gum which can lead to odd consistency and flavor (the oddnesss is caused by the gums, the starches seem OK).  I did find some good recipes eventually and can make pretty good bread now, but I am trying to understand on a deeper level the philosophy of bread without gluten, which is quite different than bread with gluten.  Here are some of my current rough opinions.

  • There is no need for gums to be added, a combination of chia seeds and flax seeds ground up works just as well to get a good rise.  I don't know the best subsitution for gum, I have been doing 4-1 or thereabouts seeds to gum, in other words a recipe calling for 10g of gum turns into 40g ground seeds.  These seeds have gelatinous stuff on the hulls and serve a similar effect as the gums.
  • In terms of rise time, something like 3 hours (x 2) seems to be the best for me so far.  Too long and there is not much rise, too short and the water isn't fully absorbed.
  • It may seem odd to add so much starch as many recipes call for, but white flour is nearly all starch and if you are using whole grain flour plus starch at 50-50 you are still at less % starch than with pure white flour.
  • That said, it is still possible to get a good rise with very little starch; currently I am using 5-1 grains and seeds to starches.
  • A combo of mainly rice and sorghum flours works well; I am now using that plus smaller amounts of other grains.  I need to experiment more to see what the best combination is.  Too much rice and the loaf is rather bland tasting, I have been slowly reducing the amount of rice.
  • The flour should be ground as fine as possible; with more coarse flour it seems like the rise is less and the taste can be more gritty.
  • Most recipes call for oil, vinegar, and sugar of some form.   I have no firm opinion on how important adding oil and vinegar is.  I have found I can leave out the sugar and still get  great loaf.  I have not tested leaving out the oil and vinegar yet.  I definitely prefer without all the sugar, I don't like sweetness in my everyday bread.
  • Most recipes call for eggs.  I am currently using egg whites only, not whole eggs, and beating them and folding them in (like a quiche).  I don't know if this helps much, I need to do a side by side test.
  • The hydration should be high compared to bread with gluten.  I'm not sure how high but I am using 110% or so now (including the egg whites as hydration).  The dough is "looser" with more hydration and so will more easily rise than a stiff loaf.  With gluten you can get away with a lot less water.
  • Baking times need to be a lot longer given the high hydration.  I am now baking around 60 minutes, to an internal temperature of 210F.

Here is a current recipe I have been using which includes the above ideas.  It evolved from various recipes I found online, including some here.

  1. brown rice 70g
  2. sorghum 60g
  3. buckwheat 25g
  4. amaranth 25g
  5. teff 30g
  6. quinoa 10g
  7. tapioca flour 25g
  8. cornstarch 25g
  9. flax seed 30g
  10. chia seed 30g 
  11. active dry yeast 1/2 tsp
  12. salt 6g
  13. 2 egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks
  14. water 310g
  15. olive oil 23g
  16. apple cider vinegar 8g

All of the grains are ground as fine as possible.  If you don't have a mill the Bobs Red Mill brand flours seem to be finest grind.  I have a hand coffee grinder I can grind the chia seeds in, they are hard to do in a mill.  The seeds also need to be ground, but don't have to be as fine a grind.   Ground flax seed is available locally for me but chia seed I can only find whole.

The recipe is simple, mix the dry, mix in the wet minus egg whites, then fold in egg whites until all mixed.  Let rise three or so hours til doubled.  Gently mix again and put in a loaf pan (I line mine with parchment to avoid sticking) and proof for another 2-3 hours.  Bake 60 minutes or when internal temp is 210F in a 425F oven.

 Here are some pictures of today's bread:


This bread tastes less whole-grainy than you might think given all the whole grains and seeds, but by adding more starches it can be made more white-like.  This rise is perfectly fine to me, its not a baguette but its not a brick, either.

I'm hoping some others have thought about the philosophy behind gluten-free bread and have worked on their own recipes and can offer their own opinions on the above points and others.  Gluten-free bread is quite different than glutenous bread and I had to abandon some of my long-held bread making beliefs to get things to work.



spsq's picture

I'm going to bookmark this for reference.  I have a friend who's gf, and I like your list of natural ingredients.  I also like the idea of using chia instead of gums, b/c someone just gave me a HUGE bag. :)

Doc.Dough's picture


Thanks for summarizing your view.  I have been avoiding the experimental complexity of gluten-free breads since I don't eat them, and my wife can find commercial products that are satisfactory.  But you raise some interesting questions and I want to hang around and see what kind of answers show up.

I was of the opinion that gluten free bread depended mostly on a starch foam for stability and to contain the CO2 during fermentation and baking, so I would expect there to be a lot of carry over from 100% rye bread practices.  The gums are there (I assme) to reduce syneresis during the early phases of mix, ferment and proof.  This is similar to the use of methi seed in idli where the wives tales give it a role in accelerating bacterial growth with health side effects while the food science community substitutes guar gum or xanthan to avoid the flavor of fennugreek.  Your observation that chia and flax seed provide the same function is sort of going the other way - so it is OK if you like the flavor that they bring.  I have seen potato starch and tapioca starch in most if not all of the breads that seem to make it into my kitchen.  With your observation about fine grinding as a desirable quality for the grains, I suspect that it has something to do with the Reynolds number of the flour particles suspended in the high hydration dough and the result of imparting a very high effective viscosity to the dough (as seen by the individual flour particles).  Combined with the thixotropic properties that the gums or seeds bring, the net effects is probably a sufficiently stable foam to last through the process.

If these principles hold true, then there may be alternate materials/ingredients and process variations that might augment/improve/substitute for the current baseline.

Good luck!


Syd's picture

That is a very respectable looking  loaf of bread and a very interesting write up. It is definitely something I will refer to in the future should I want to make this kind of bread. Thanks for the post.


scottfsmith's picture

Thanks for the comments.  

I just updated the first picture of the cross-section, the previous one was taken before it had fully cooled and you couldn't see the crumb as well.

Doc, you make some interesting observations I will have to look into.  The idli don't have any wheat in them I don't think, so I will have to look at their recipes in more detail.  I was eating some recently and they are delicious.  My chemistry is a bit rusty (got a BS degree 30 or so years ago) but your comments make a lot of sense.  Do you have a food chemistry book to recommend that I could learn more about these processes?  One of my goals is to make a 100% whole grains and seeds gluten-free bread (only salt and yeast added) and it would help to have a better understanding of what is going on in the dough.  I did make one "OK" gluten-free bread with whole grains and seeds only, but it was too brick-ish.




scottfsmith's picture

I made a version of the above recipe identical except I replaced the starches (tapioca and corn) with more flour (spread evenly amongst the different kinds in the above recipe).  Here is how it came out:

You can see the rise is quite a bit less than the above.  Its out of the brick category but you can see the difference the starch makes.   One big difference between white and whole wheat flour is white flour has a greater percentage of starch in it, so what we are seeing here is related to the white vs whole wheat flour difference on rise.

My conclusion here is unless I figure out some other technique it doesn't seem worth it to try to leave out the starch.  The above recipe has a starch to grains-and-seeds ratio of 1:3 and I also expect that is about as low as I can go with the starch if I want a big rise.  It would be worth experimenting to see if the kind of starch mattered.  Tapioca holds air bubbles better than corn starch so maybe it would be better using just tapioca starch.


Breadandwine's picture

Hi Scott

Congratulations on a serious bit of research. I teach breadmaking, in and around Taunton, England, and I'm frequently asked about gluten free bread and baking. I've tinkered with the subject a bit around the edges and have had some success  using equal amounts of commercial GF flour and ground maizemeal (for simplicity's sake, really).

But anyone who wants to seriously make a good GF loaf would do well to look at this thread and your research. With that in mind I'll include a link to this thread on my blog, if that's OK? There's not a lot of help for people who have a problem with wheat gluten, so I like to spread the word where I can.

(Check out the GF cakes and pancakes on the blog, as well)

Like you, I'm not a fan of guar gum, etc, and I like the sound of using flax seeds and chia seeds. Chia seeds are horrendously expensive over here, but flaxseeds I've always got in the cupboard. Using commercially bought GF flour is a bit of a cop-out, I realise that.

Couple of questions for you:

You don't mention soaking the flax/chia seeds in water prior to use - this would help the gelling action, wouldn't it?

Does GF bread need two provings? The reason for two risings with wheat bread is to help flavour develop, etc. Not sure it's necessary here (willing to be proved wrong, of course! ;) )

You're not using a lot of yeast - I'd be inclined to double that.  

But, great stuff, Scott! Keep up the good work!

Cheers, Paul

scottfsmith's picture

Hi Paul, sorry about the long delay in replying, I stopped looking here at some point since there is not much activity.  Thanks for your interest in my post and hopefully you catch this reply.

To answer your questions, since I grind the seeds I don't think they need to be soaked.  I was soaking the ground mix but I didn't notice any appreciable difference when I stopped - they basically get the soak during the ferment.

Re: two provings, I am not sure on that.  I did one test where I did only one rise in the pan and it was OK but did not seem quite as good as two.  One experiment is not enough, however, and I would say give it a try yourself and see.

Re: yeast, I change the yeast quantity all the time based on how much time I have for the rise.  The quantity I use is based on what it takes to get to a full rise in the time indicated; I don't want to overproof.  If you are not getting enough rise in time you are alloting, either increase the time or increase the yeast next batch.

Re: chia seeds and their price, I would try replacing the chia/flax with all flax.  My wife has had good results with that as a xanthan gum replacement.  Or make it 3:1 flax to chia to cut down costs.  I did not experiment with different ratios myself.  The chia seeds make an amazing gel when water is added so it does seem like they are doing something good.  In my current recipe I have reduced the quantity to 20g flax and 20g chia (from the above 30g) and it has been working just as well.



Farzana's picture

Hey Scott,

Now that I have added eggs back in my diet, I am definitely going to try your recipe!  I already have one great recipe I use but feel like trying something new.  Just wondering if you have tried anything different or altered this recipe at all since you posted this recipe using less starch.  Was the texture of the bread any real difference compared to the first one you posted?  This bread looks delicious!  I dont have teff flour or brown rice flour.  I usually use sorghum (and almond) but you already are using this so I dont know.  I have been meaning to try teff flour, its one of the gluten free flours I havent tried yet.  What does it taste like?  Does it have a strong taste like quinoa?  Instead of the water, I am going to use soya milk and add a little honey.  I love that tiny bit of sweetness to my bread.  Please let me know if you have come up with anything new or different with good results :-)

scottfsmith's picture

Here are again some very delayed replies..

I have continued to make bread as well as pizza and waffles from variations on the above.  I have tried different blends of grains and have not noticed a huge difference, but I do always make the bulk be rice/sorghum since the other grains can be overpowering in larger amounts.  Since the above recipe has a lot of strong grains and seeds in it, it is possible to also add more starches and get a loaf that is still very flavorful.  My goal in the above was to get the starches as low as possible, but now that I did that I find I am sometimes upping them.  Not up to the commercial GF bread levels of mostly starch, but more than the recipe above.

Farzana, I have been meaning to make a loaf with a large amount of teff in it to see how much it impacts the flavor, but without doing that all I have is a vague sense that it is a somewhat strong taste but much less strong than either quinoa or buckwheat.

I also have used honey or milk and it works fine; reduce the water accordingly.

Dee Dee, my primary observation on the starch is that tapioca is the best since it is more "slimy" in texture which is better for making a foam; besides that I have not noticed much difference and often substitute based on what I have around.

Mamafermenta, I read your page with the help of Google translate.  Your pictures are helpful to show how the starches do help with greater rise.  Also I agree with your comment about the flavor being better with less starch.  For each person making bread I think they need to find their favorite point in terms of the fluffiness vs taste tradeoff.


PS One grain I have been adding recently is corn.  A local restaurant served me some GF bread with a lot of cornmeal in it and it was excellent!

clazar123's picture

Re:Teff flour

Teff is rather expensive here (Wisconsin,USA) at about $8/lb but it adds a lovely flavor. Nutty?Browned wheat? Hard to describe flavor.It has a nice after palate flavor. I use it as a portion of my mix. It is also a brown color so the loaf has a nice whole grain color.

My 1st attempt at an all purpose GF flour is 60%starch (a mix of potato starch,tapioca,white rice) and 40% whole grain (white sorghum,millet,teff). I have little experience, so I am on the start of this learning curve but thought I'd share what I used-I did do a lot of online research and put some thought into choosing the ingredients. My favorite site,so far is GlutenFreeGirl. She is a celiac-diagnosed chef and has great practical advice as well as recipes and ingredient information.

Part of the problem I am having is finding flours that are not bitter/spoiled even if it has a future freshness date. I  recently bought a millet flour and sorghum flour that had "Sell by" dates in 2014 and 2015. But when I tasted them, they were very bitter and had gone stale. Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead were the brands and both companies will replace for free (great customer service).

I wonder if this might be the reason that some people are put off by the results of their GF baking-the flours taste bitter. Quinoa flour can be bitter if the seeds are ground without washing off the saponins. If it is ground after washing and drying, it should be sweet or at least-not bitter..

As far as gums-I am trying to use either psyllium or flax for now. I will see how things go.


clazar123's picture

My gluten based breads are mostly whole grain so I am very familiar with the concept of soaking the grains to reduce crumbly crumb,prevent a dry loaf and improve flavor.

Can the same concepts be applied to GF breads? Even tho my flours are very finely ground (even silky) it seems the final product (I have only made a few) have a gritty texture. So can techniques to gel out a starch and thoroughly hydrate the dough work in this circumstance? A water roux? Autolyse? Retarding? I can only imagine using any of these would improve the flavor, also.

Suggested technique:

Mixing flours and liquids,

Set for an overnight retard,

Tthen the next morning mix in salt and yeast?

Then bulk ferment-shape-rise-bake.

My next attempt I will incorporate these ideas but I can only bake on weekends. It is a slow-motion classroom!

scottfsmith's picture

Clazar, one reason why I bought my own grinder was to get more freshness.  These odd flours can be on the shelf a long time and go bad.  Before I had the grinder I would freeze them right after purchase at least.

I did not try an overnight retard but I did do some low-yeast 24 hour fermentations and I found the rise was not nearly as  good.  Also I get no gritty taste in my above recipe; my thinking is the large % of water helps get the grain more fully hydrated.  If you are using less hydration, it could help the grittiness by letting the grains sit.  The gums may be best added after the sitting period for the grains, they may lose gumminess over time and that could be why my long ferment did not do well.  I have years of experience with long ferments on gluten bread and I used a standard amount of yeast and time/temp I was familiar with.



clazar123's picture
  1. Mix just the flours (sorghum,teff,millet) and liquid and let sit for a few hours.
  2. Then add the psyllium/flax/chia.
  3. Then add yeast and other ingredients.
  4. I wonder if making a water roux with the starches would work or if the starches would then be overworked and de-gel?

I have also seen conflicting instructions regarding mixing GF dough/batter. Some sites suggest barely mixing (just until it becomes cohesive) and some sites say to mix for 10 minutes with the paddle to incorporate air. Any thoughts on when one or the other method is best? It is not necessary to develop gluten but any air should improve the texture and help liberate the gel-right?

I have also seen conflicting instructions (just like on any bread site!) about putting a GF loaf in a cold oven vs preheating the oven. What concepts are in play here?

Since I use my flour mill for wheat, I probably can't use it to mill GF grain into flour. I think I'm stuck with buying the flour, though I, too, prefer to mill my own WW. I might check out the bulk bins at a large coop and see how they taste.



scottfsmith's picture

That should get the full benefit of the autolyse without the risk of the gum running out of steam.

Re: mixing, I always did the former, doing minimal mixing.  I did this following yeast-free bread recipes which seemed to be more in the GF bread philosophy.  There are many reasons why it could help to get extra air in, for example the yeast needs oxygen to get going.

I think the cold oven approach is solely to save time on a 2nd rise.  So many bad bread recipes out there were created to save time so I am highly suspicious of any "time saving tricks".  But, I never tried it myself.



clazar123's picture

I mixed these for about 5-10minutes in a stand mixer. The recipe also had a little baking soda in the recipe.

Non yeast breads are to be minimally mixed so gluten doesn't develop and make the bread/cake tough or chewy. I think GF breads may need all the help they can get to developing any loft and beating in trapped air may help with that. At least that is what I think is happening. A very different way to look at "bread". More like cake.

I have to think about the cold oven idea. Does it encourage the bubbles to expand,break the surface before it seals and result in a flatter loaf? Or  does a hot oven cause the loaf to skin over quickly and therefore either not be able to expand or trap moisture inside when it isn't able to escape, ending up with a dense,wet  crumb?

Swoosh! More learning curve ahead!



Samantha M's picture
Samantha M (not verified)

Hi Scott, 

Great work with the experimenting and sharing of the art to gluten free bread. I am obsessed with baking gluten free bread and have spent hours of reading and researching and experimenting baking gf bread. I have even started a blog dedicated to gf bread and all my findings, information and anything related to gf bread baking. Its still in the beginings and still have lots more to add.

The key to my bread I have found is using a blend of high protein gf flours with a blend of starches with a mix of 60% flour to 40% starch and I use psyllium as my binder! Its brilliant! I use 20 grams psyllium to 450 grams flour blend, I also like to add 10 grams ground flaxseed. 

Here are some photos of some of the loaves I have baked:


clazar123's picture

That is truly an amazing looking bread for GF. Do you have a recipe? I did not see one on your blog or did I just miss it?

Samantha M's picture
Samantha M (not verified)

Thanks clazar!

I do have a recipe but I'm reluctant to give out as it is still in the works. Its not just the ingredients that determine a good loaf but the mixing, rising times, temperature, amount of water etc. I don't want to provide a recipe and people try it and do not good results, I'll look bad and feel bad too!

clazar123's picture

I have just started my learning curve on GF. I 'm happy with my basic,very simple white bread recipe except for the hydration level of the crumb-it is still a little too wet for me after the bake. I am still making it a batter consistency and I think I need to bring the moisture down a bit and add a nice long retard. I do wonder if 1 tbsp. psyllium (6g) per 3 cup(422g) GF flour is too much.I have seen suggestions all over the board on that. Any thoughts on that? My next attempt will be next weekend.

Samantha M's picture
Samantha M (not verified)

I use 20g psyllium and 10g ground flaxseed to 450g gf flour blend. I mix the binders first for just a few minutes with 350-450g water (amount depends on the type of bread and crumb I am trying to achieve). I am liking a near 100% hydration with a longer fermentation time.

scottfsmith's picture

Clazar, my bread above is fairly moist.  Like Samantha I am at a fairly high hydration level.  I did not have much luck reducing the hydration.  But I also did not have good results with longer fermentation times and they worked for Samantha.  It depends a lot on what the recipe is, Samantha is using 40% starch and I am using less than 20%.  If you up the starch there is more flexibility with other things in the recipe.  

Samantha, I did not have any luck with longer rise times so there must be something you did differently, maybe it is more starch or the preparation method.  It could also be the psyllium, it did not work as well as the seeds when I tried it (in a shorter ferment) but it could hold up better in a longer ferment.  My next project is to make a gluten-free bread with a bit more starch in it so it will taste more like regular bread, I will be interested in your recipe when you post it.


Samantha M's picture
Samantha M (not verified)

Scott, I have played around with the levels of wholegrain flours and starches and found that the 60%-40% would provide a successful loaf. I have pushed to 70%-30% and still got a decent loaf. My first rise varies depending on the warmth of the surrounding environment, 30-45 minutes but I usually go by eye also, double in size and also the finger poke test. Then depending on the type of loaf I am making eg. for a sandwich loaf I gentle push out the dough to a flatten rectangle shape and use the letter fold technique, tuck in the ends and place into a loaf pan and let rise until double in size, about 2 hours then bake. This is with using just dried instant yeast. If I make a sponge or use a pre-ferment or starter the rising times are much longer. Keep trying with psyllium, it really is brilliant but does need practice to understand how it works. Many things can affect it like the % of flours to starches, the hydration level, even the mixing and kneading can have effect, which makes sense as mixing and kneading affects the gluten development and the psyllium behaves in the same manner.