King of flour launches gluten-free line

By Ingrid Lysgaard
Globe Correspondent / April 7, 2010

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When America’s oldest flour company ventures into a whole new arena, bakers take notice.

Last month, King Arthur Flour Co., based in Norwich, Vt., entered the gluten-free market. “We did it almost reluctantly,’’ says Sue Gray, product development manager and test kitchen director.

The project has been in the works for a couple of years. “We started getting a lot of calls on our baker’s hot line for help with gluten-free baking,’’ says Gray, “and customers kept asking for flours and mixes. Two years ago I started working on the project with our team in the test kitchen by reading everything we could find about gluten-free flours.’’

The first and biggest challenge for the test bakers was to develop a bread mix.

“It was basically done by trial and error,’’ Gray says. “The recipe kept changing, and we did more than 200 tries on the bread. We have already changed the formula since launching the bread mix by adding an extra 1/4 cup of water. Someone happened to add extra water and we liked it better. In the future this will be noted on the sheet that is sent out with the mix.’’

Among the new products are multipurpose flour, cake mix, pizza crust, brownies, and cookies. Mixes use a combination of flours milled from rice, tapioca, and potato. King Arthur goes to a certified gluten-free co-packer for manufacturing its gluten-free products, which are free of milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. The mixes are kosher and certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.

Nutrition is a serious issue for anyone on a gluten-free diet. Only the gluten-free Pancake Mix ($6.95) lists whole-grain brown rice flour as the first ingredient. “Our focus group was looking for taste and for mouth appeal without the grittiness that you often find in gluten-free products,’’ says Gray. The test kitchen is working on adding a higher percentage of fiber to the products without losing flavor.

The gluten-free muffin mix and the cookie mix (both $6.95) are basic combinations to which you can add fruits, nuts, or chocolate. The muffin mix bakes into a dozen light and tasty treats. The cookie mix, blended with 1 1/2 cups bittersweet morsels, makes about three dozen good-tasting cookies, but the texture is slightly gritty.

The hard work in King Arthur’s test kitchens shows in the gluten-free bread mix ($6.95). The box makes a single loaf that can be sliced for sandwiches. The bread rises high in the pan. The taste and texture are exceptional; the most impressive part is the thin, crisp crust. As the bread cools, it crackles like a French baguette. It’s difficult to wait until the loaf cools completely before cutting off an end piece and slathering it with unsalted butter. Two days later, the loaf makes beautiful toast. Ready for more butter.

King Arthur’s gluten-free flour and mixes are expected in supermarkets in June. They are available now at or 800-827-6836.