Yes, corn flour is naturally gluten-free; however, if you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, you need to know that cross-contact from gluten can occur in the field or during the manufacturing process1. To ensure corn flour is gluten-free and safe from cross-contact, look for a corn flour labeled or certified gluten-free.
Which brands of corn flour are safe for those with celiac disease? When should you use corn flour in gluten-free baking? This complete guide to gluten-free corn flour will help you understand what you need to watch out for so you can safely use corn flour for your gluten-free baking and cooking needs.
What is Corn Flour?
Corn flour is a flour made from grinding up whole corn kernels. Home cooks, chefs, and bakers use corn flour in many recipes including soups and gravies (where it is used as a thickener), in corn bread and other baked goods, and as breading on baked or fried foods. If you are making corn tortillas or other Mexican, Latin or South American food, make sure you are using masa harina, sometimes also called corn flour. So, what’s the difference between corn flour, corn starch, cornflour (one word), maize flour, cornmeal, and masa harina? Let’s explain:
- Corn flour (a US term) / maize flour (used in some other parts of the world) – Corn ground into a flour consistency. Some brands may be ground finer than others.
- Masa harina – Also sometimes called corn flour, masa harina is a flour made from corn soaked in calcium hydroxide (a process called nixtamalization)2. Masa harina is needed to make corn tortillas and other dishes like tamales, pupusas, and gorditas. These dishes will not work well with corn flour that has not been nixtamalized.
- Corn starch (US) / cornflour (one word – British) – refers to the powdery starch from corn after it is separated from the protein.
- Cornmeal / polenta – Cornmeal and polenta are also terms for ground corn, but tend to be a medium or coarse grind, versus a fine grind you found in corn flour.
Corn Flour and Gluten
Corn does not naturally contain any gluten. Thus corn flour is also naturally gluten-free. Unfortunately, in the fields, during transport, and during the manufacturing process, corn flour can sometimes be contaminated with wheat or other gluten containing grains. For those with celiac disease who need to be on a strict gluten-free diet, it is wise to buy corn flour that is labeled or certified gluten-free to prevent cross-contact.
Gluten-Free Corn Flour / Masa Harina Brands
Gluten-free corn flour brands (best used for cornbread, baking, or breading):
- Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour – This corn flour is made in a dedicated gluten-free facility ensuring it is free from cross-contact. Additionally, Bob’s Red Mill tests their corn flour with an ELISA gluten free assay.3
- Pereg’s Multipurpose Corn Flour – Pereg’s corn flour is made with allergy safety in mind and cross-contact protocols in place. Additionally, this corn flour has a gluten-free certification and items with this label are ensured to be under 10ppm gluten.4
Gluten-free masa harina (best to make corn tortillas, tamales, gorditas, etc.):
- Maseca corn flour – Meseca corn flour is labeled gluten-free and the company only grinds corn meal in the facility where it is produced, ensuring it is free from gluten containing grains.5
- Gold Mine Corn Flour / Masa Harina – Gold Mine Natural Foods offers a gluten-free masa harina. They have allergy protocols in place and “package gluten-free items Monday through Thursday and we package gluten-containing items only on Friday. We then thoroughly clean all of the equipment, following Good Manufacturing Practices. In addition, we only package whole grains (no flours that contain gluten), so this further minimizes the chance of contamination.”6
- Panhandle milling – Panhandle Milling offers a gluten-free masa harina that is certified gluten-free, and processed in a dedicated gluten-free facility.7
- Masienda – Masienda produces red, blue, yellow and white gluten-free masa harina if you want to experiment with different colors. “We produce the masa flour in a facility dedicated to corn products (where none of the 8 major allergens are present) and the only ingredients in the product are corn, water, and culinary lime.” Additionally, they state that farmers who they purchase from also do not grow any gluten containing grains.8
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can corn flour be used as a substitute for wheat flour in recipes?
Corn flour is not a good 1:1 substitute for wheat flour in recipes. The consistency of a baked good with corn flour is denser than a wheat flour recipe. Typically, to get a good substitute for wheat flour you will need to use a blend of gluten-free flours. You can buy a gluten-free flour mix in the grocery store that will be more suitable as a 1:1 substitute for wheat, or look online for various recipes and find one that matches your ingredients on hand. You may see corn flour in recipes like pancakes, muffins, or waffles, but generally it is mixed with other types of flours to improve the consistency.
- Can I find gluten-free corn flour at local grocery stores?
Your best bets at finding gluten-free corn flour or masa harina at your local grocery stores are likely the Bob’s Red Mill corn flour and Maseca brand masa harina. You can check your local grocery store app before shopping to try to determine options and see which gluten-free brands they might carry. Otherwise, you can plan ahead and order online.
- What are some delicious gluten-free recipes using corn flour?
Gluten-free recipes containing corn flour
- Easy Corn Flour Bread
- Corn Flour Pancakes
- Japanese Cheesecake
- Gluten-free Waffles with Avocado and Corn Salsa
- Gluten-free Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
Gluten-free recipes containing masa harina
In conclusion, corn flour and masa harina are gluten-free when they are not contaminated in the field or during processing. By choosing certified gluten-free corn flour and being mindful of cross-contact, individuals with celiac disease can enjoy the versatility and taste of this ingredient in their cooking and baking adventures. For more information on gluten and corn, Beyond Celiac (a non-profit celiac disease patient advocacy group) has a great post detailing everything you need to know about gluten and corn. For further guidance on the gluten-free diet or to talk to a nutrition professional who understands your gluten-free needs while working on other aspects of your diet, book an in-person or telehealth session with Three Square Nutrition (accepting patients who live in AZ, CA, CO, NE, TX, VA) or learn more about nutrition services offered by Three Square Nutrition.