The Taste of Gluten-Free Food: How Does it Compare?

Bread rolls on a tray
Those who are gluten-free know these rolls are definitely made with gluten. Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

As somebody with celiac disease, I’m often asked “what does gluten-free food taste like?”

Gluten-free food can, and often does, taste similar to gluten-containing food. While there are some gluten-free foods that don’t taste the same, the taste and texture of gluten-free food continues to improve over time, providing an increasingly similar experience to eating gluten-based foods.

Some gluten-free products are easier to make taste like gluten-based products, and some brands do a better job of replicating the taste of gluten-containing products than others.

Taste Of Gluten-Free Food

Gluten-free food presents a unique challenge for taste and texture. Most people consuming gluten-free food are familiar with the taste of food with gluten, and want gluten-free products to taste like their gluten-containing counterparts. When eating something gluten-free, it’s natural to compare it to gluten-containing products you’ve eaten before.

For a long time, many gluten-free products did not taste nor have a texture similar to those of their gluten-containing counterparts. Over time, as more people have become gluten-free and more manufacturers have started producing gluten-free products, the taste and texture of gluten-free foods has become increasingly similar to that of gluten-containing foods.

If you’re expecting gluten-free products to have exactly the same taste and texture and gluten-containing products, you will be disappointed in most cases. However, just because the gluten-free foods don’t taste exactly the same doesn’t mean they don’t taste good or have good texture.

In addition to gluten-free foods that can be bought, there are also many commercial gluten-free mixes and many great gluten-free recipes that result in gluten-free foods that have similar taste and texture to foods with gluten.

Some dense and sweet baked goods, such as brownies and banana bread, are fairly easy to make taste like their wheat-containing counterparts. Other baked goods, like biscuits and breads, are more difficult to make taste like their gluten-containing counterparts because gluten plays a large role in their taste and texture.

(Once, in college, I tried to make gluten-free biscuits by following a recipe for gluten-containing biscuits and directly substituting in gluten-free flour for wheat flour. The biscuits came out like sand pucks; they were dense, hard and gritty.)

There are plenty of foods that are naturally gluten-free (fruits and vegetables, rice and other grains, meats, tacos, etc.), so people following gluten-free diets aren’t stuck eating only gluten-free products that are trying to copy gluten-containing products.

What Does Gluten-Free Bread Taste Like?

The taste of Gluten-free bread varies widely based on the type of gluten-free flour used, and the bread is usually more dense than wheat bread. Gluten-free sandwich bread taste varies widely between brand, with the higher-cost breads in general tasting more like wheat bread than cheaper brands. Toasting gluten-free bread often helps its flavor and texture.

Making good gluten-free bread is not as simple as following a recipe for wheat bread and replacing the wheat flour with gluten-free flour. If you try this, you will likely end up with a loaf that is similar to a flat rock. (And not a good-tasting flat rock)

The gluten protein is what gives wheat bread it’s sponge-like structure and texture. Gluten traps the gasses released by the yeast, creating little holes in the bread, and allows the dough to rise. Wheat also plays a role in the flavor of bread.

This means that creating good gluten-free bread requires removing the wheat (gluten) from the bread and then adding various gluten-free flours and starches to replicate the texture and taste of wheat bread. Bread is probably one of the most difficult gluten-free products to make comparable in taste and texture to its gluten-containing counterpart.

When buying gluten-free sandwich bread from the store, you’ll find that different brands use different combinations of gluten-free flours and starches to make their breads, so there are wide-ranging of tastes and textures among gluten-free breads.

As is often the case with other things in life, you get what you pay for with gluten-free bread. The more expensive breads have the most similar taste and texture to wheat bread, while less expensive breads would be easily distinguishable as gluten-free bread because their taste and texture are lacking in comparison.

Gluten-free bread is often more dry and dense than wheat bread (especially the cheaper gluten-free brands), and many people on gluten-free diets agree that toasting gluten-free bread can improve the flavor, most likely because toasting the bread levels the playing field by making all bread dry and crispy.

Many people have had success with making their own delicious gluten-free bread. In the end, it really comes down to a taste preference, and those baking their own gluten-free bread can make bread that they like without having to please grocery store customers.

What Does Gluten-Free Pasta Taste Like?

The taste and texture of gluten-free pasta can be very similar to that of wheat pasta when the pasta is fresh. Gluten-free pasta is often stickier than wheat pasta, and can become hard and brittle when cold. Gluten-free pasta’s taste and texture will vary based on what gluten-free flours are used.

While a lot of gluten-free pasta brands use corn and rice flour for gluten-free pasta, there are other brands that use chickpea flour, or even rice flour, potato starch, and soy flour. From personal experience I know that chickpea flour pasta has a chickpea taste (surprise!), and it would make sense that other bean flour pastas will have more distinct bean flavor than wheat-containing pasta.

While the taste of gluten-free pasta may be similar to wheat-containing pasta in some cases, the texture will vary more. Gluten-free noodles often stick together while cooking and remain clumped together unless separated.

The texture of gluten-free pasta when first cooked is most similar to that of wheat-containing pasta, but after cooling down to room temperature or being stored in the refrigerator, it is often more hard and brittle. The pasta retains its harder structure until after it is re-heated, but some of its original pliability is still lost and it breaks and tears more easily. Creating a cold gluten-free pasta salad that is similar to wheat-containing pasta salad would be more challenging than a hot pasta meal because of the structural difference between cooked gluten-free pasta and regular gluten-containing pasta at cooler temperatures.

What Does Gluten-Free Pizza Taste Like?

There are many gluten-free pizza options that taste good, even while the taste and texture may be different that of wheat crust pizza. Gluten-free crusts are usually thin crusts, and cauliflower crusts are also available. Standard pizza toppings are usually gluten-free.

Some gluten-free pizza crusts are referred to as tasking like cardboard, and while that is definitely an exaggeration, it has some truth to it because gluten-free crusts are usually more thin and dense than wheat crusts and can also miss the mark when it comes to taste. Just like bread, gluten-free pizza crusts present a challenge in replicating their fluffy, gluten-containing counterparts. But there are many gluten-free pizza crusts that are much better than cardboard!

Taste preference will vary between people, but there are many options for getting good gluten-free pizza; these include making your own crust following a credible and experienced gluten-free blogger (here’s a crust recipe I enjoy), buying commercially available gluten-free crust mixes (here’s one I like available on Amazon), or buying frozen gluten-free pizzas and baking them yourself. Some restaurants offer great gluten-free pizzas, so it may be worth calling the pizza places in your area to find out. Make sure to ask about cross-contamination if you have celiac disease.

Cauliflower pizza crusts are gaining in popularity, and can be an easy way to make gluten-free pizza. However, cauliflower pizza crusts will taste pretty different than dough-based crusts.

Common pizza toppings, such as tomato sauce, most cheeses, pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, etc., are usually gluten-free. Of course, be vigilant and clarify if you aren’t sure about certain topping. (For example, a teriyaki chicken topping would most likely contain gluten unless it is made with a gluten-free teriyaki sauce). If the most important part of the pizza to you is the toppings, gluten-free pizza can easily taste great! (I personally love pineapple as a topping, but I know this topic is controversial. Anyone else a fan??)

Jordan Clark

Hi everybody, I'm Jordan! I was diagnosed with celiac disease and lactose intolerance in 2016, and have been living gluten-free and lactose-free out of necessity ever since. I created this blog to help to help others navigating the gluten-free life.

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