Gluten-free gingerbread is essentially any gingerbread, either cake or cookie, that is made without wheat. This means that baking flour — an essential ingredient in most standard recipes — must be avoided. Gluten-free gingerbread recipes typically replace wheat-based flour with flours made from other grains, particularly rice, quinoa, and arrowroot. The taste is not always the same, but is generally comparable, and the consistency is nearly identical.
Wheat is one of a handful of grains — bulgur, rye, and spelt among them — that includes the gluten protein. Most healthy people can process this protein without consequence. People who cannot are typically diagnosed with celiac disease, an intestinal disorder marked by an inability to process or handle any wheat proteins. Others are allergic to gluten, with reactions ranging from the minor brief rash or skin swelling, to the extreme, including violent illness and airway constriction. Gluten-free gingerbread is designed primarily for these individuals.
Traditional gingerbread is often served as either a dense spice cake or as festive, decoration-worthy holiday cookies. The ingredients are often extensive, but typically center around flour. Flour forms the basis of the dough, and gives the final product consistency and texture. Gluten-free gingerbread must not contain flour, which means that substitutions must be made.
There are a variety of gluten-free flour substitutes on the market today. None is able to exactly mimic the taste and consistency of ordinary wheat flour, but many come close, at least in terms of baking properties. Many gluten-free gingerbread cooks will combine a variety of flour substitutes until they find a pleasing taste as well as consistency. These substitutes tend to be more expensive, however, and can be harder to find outside of specialty or organic shops.
Most gingerbread recipes call for a wide variety of spices, as well as molasses. These ingredients are typically gluten-free on their own, but those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease would be wise to read the label and ingredients list carefully to ensure that no gluten-based preservatives or other additives are present. Gluten occurs in more than just wheat, and can be a surprising find in a variety of different places. Adopting a gluten-free lifestyle or sticking to a gluten-free diet often means becoming an expert on a range of different ingredients and their composition.
Cooks can usually approximate the taste of wheat-based gingerbread with the right proportion of spices. Ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon have strong flavors that blend well with many wheat substitutes. The result is often slightly denser than a wheat-based project, but the taste is often quite similar.