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Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in grains, such as rye, barley, and wheat. In people with celiac disease, consuming foods that contain gluten can cause irritation to the protective lining of the small intestine because their immune system treats gluten as if it were a dangerous substance, causing inflammation as a defense mechanism. People with celiac disease, as well as those who simply experience negative side effects after consuming products containing gluten, may follow a gluten-free diet, in which they eat foods that do not contain the protein. They may also find substitutes for gluten in items, such as flour tortillas, that generally contain the protein. A gluten-free tortilla is a product that is typically made with a dough that uses a gluten substitute as the base for the dough, and can usually safely be eaten by those with gluten intolerance.
There are a variety of substitutes for gluten that may be used to make a gluten-free tortilla recipe. Flour made from ground rice or potato starch may be used as gluten-free substitutes for basic flour that generally forms the base for the tortilla dough. Tapioca, a powder made from ground cassava root, also thickens in a way that is similar to white or wheat flour, but does not contain gluten.
To prevent a gluten-free tortilla dough from being too dense or crumbly, a binding gum is usually combined with the gluten-free flour substitute. One common gluten-free gum that acts as a binder is xanthan gum. Xanthan gum comes from sugar made from corn and can help prevent tortillas and other breads from being overly dry and falling apart, which may occur if only a flour substitute is used. Another binder that may be used is guar gum, which is derived from guar beans and may be recommended if a person has an intolerance or sensitivity to corn products. If used in large amounts, these gluten-free binders can make a dough overly wet; therefore, they are often used in small proportions compared to flour substitutes, such as 1 teaspoon (4.78 grams) gum to 1 cup (228.57 grams) flour.
Gluten-free tortillas may be purchased commercially, but they may also be made at home. A basic gluten-free tortilla recipe may consist of a gluten-free flour substitute combined with xantham or guar gum and warm water. The dough is divided into portions for individual tortillas and rolled into flat disks before being cooked on a hot griddle or pan until golden brown on each side. Commercial corn tortillas are often naturally gluten-free and may be used as a substitute for specialized gluten-free flour tortillas.