Gluten Free Flours and how to use them
Since my son has celiac disease and must avoid the gluten in wheat, barley, rye and oat products, I have collected a fair bit of information about gluten free baking. I've included a list of different flours that can be used and some flour blends at the bottom. I've found that the more flours I use blended together, the better the baked product. Rice flours by themselves are quite grainy and bread quickly seems to dry and crumble. Bean flours have more fat and that may be why they keep bread softer longer, but some are quite bitter and best in smaller quantities. I have fun experimenting - I hope you do, too.
Bean flours are high in protein, fiber and calcium. Varieties include chickpea (garbanzo), bean (navy, pinto and red) and soy. Garfava flour is a blend of flours made from garbanzo, fava beans and Romano beans. These flours work well with foods, such as breads, pizza and spice cakes. Try mixing them with tapioca flour, cornstarch and sorghum flour for a hearty, nutritious blend that lends structure and texture to your baking. Store them at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
How to use: Add up to 30 percent of a total flour blend. A small amount (¼ to ½ cup) added to pie crust or wraps makes these items more elastic and easier to roll out.
Watch out for: Certain bean flours, particularly garfava and chickpea, impart an aftertaste that some people find unpleasant. Offset the taste by using less than 30 percent in a flour blend in recipes that contain brown sugar, molasses, chocolate or spices. Bean flours are not well suited to delicately flavored goods, like sugar cookies and biscotti.
Pea Flour and Green Pea Flour, the newest addition to the line-up of gluten-free flours, have many benefits similar to bean flours but without the strong aftertaste. High protein content lends structure to baked goods without adding any distinct flavor. Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
How to use: Add up to 30 percent pea flour to a basic gluten-free blend.
Watch out for: Green pea flour imparts a green hue to the final baked product, great for Easter or St. Patrick’s Day but not suitable for bakery items you want to be white. Too much produces goods that have a starchy taste.
An ancient food used by the Aztecs, this flour is made from the seeds of the broad-leafed amaranth plant. Amaranth seeds are also puffed into kernels for breakfast cereals. High in protein, calcium and iron, amaranth flour adds structure to gluten-free baked goods and helps them brown more quickly. To store, refrigerate in an airtight container.
How to use: Works well in recipes that contain brown sugar or maple syrup. Because of its distinct taste, use it sparingly, about 10 to 20 percent of a flour blend or no more than ½ cup per recipe.
Watch out for: If too much is used, baked goods may have a bitter aftertaste and may brown too quickly.
Milled from corn kernels, this is finely ground cornmeal that comes in yellow and white varieties. One form of corn flour is masa harina (milled from hominy) used in making corn tortillas. If corn flour isn’t available, you can make your own by grinding cornmeal into a fine powder in a food processor. High in fiber with a slightly nutty taste, corn flour is a good source of fiber, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron and thiamin. To store, refrigerate in an airtight container.
How to use: Blend with other gluten-free flours, preferably rice and sorghum, buckwheat or amaranth for hearty baked items. Use it for tortillas, waffles, pancakes, breads and desserts. Great for cornbread and as part of a breading for deep-fried foods
Watch out for: Don’t confuse U.S.-made corn flour with the so-called “corn flour” (really cornstarch) used in Great Britain.
Corn Starch A flavorless white powder that lightens baked goods to make them more airy. It is highly refined and has little nutritional value. Store in a sealed container in a dry location.
How to use: Can be used in place of arrowroot or potato starch. It makes a transparent thickener for gravies, soups and sauces. It’s an important part of many all-purpose gluten-free flour blends.
Watch out for: The British term for “corn flour” is really cornstarch.
Larger particle size than corn flour, cornmeal lends excellent texture to foods and has a nutty, slightly sweet taste. Cornmeal comes in yellow and white varieties and in fine, medium and coarse grinds. Great for cornmeal cakes, breading, cornbread, Johnny cakes, Indian pudding and Anadama bread. Select finer grinds for baking and for polenta. Use coarse meal for breading. High in fiber, iron, thiamin, niacin, B-6, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Refrigerate to extend shelf life.
How to use: Blend with corn flour or a gluten-free flour blend. In most recipes, it should be no more than 25 percent of the flours used. However, some cornbread recipes call for just cornmeal.
Watch out for: Select the grind appropriate for your recipes. Using too much cornmeal or a grind that’s too coarse produces a gritty texture.
An ancient food, possibly the first cereal grain used for domestic purposes. It imparts a light beige or yellow color to foods. Easy to-digest millet flour creates light baked goods with a distinctive mildly sweet, nut-like flavor. High in protein and fiber and rich in nutrients, millet adds structure to gluten-free baked items. It is excellent for flat breads, breads, pizza and other items containing yeast. Store in the refrigerator or freezer in a tightly sealed container.
How to use: For best results, use no more than 25 percent millet flour in any flour blend.
Watch out for: Short shelf life. Millet can quickly become rancid and bitter. (Millet as a grain can be ground into flour, or used whole in soups or casseroles).
Oat Flour and Oats
High in fiber, protein and nutrition, oats add taste, texture and structure to cookies, breads and other baked goods. If oat flour is not available, you can make it by grinding raw oats in a clean coffee grinder or food processor. Quinoa flakes can be substituted for whole oats in most recipes. Store in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place or freeze to extend the shelf life.
How to use: In most recipes, oat flour should be less than 30 percent of a flour blend.
Watch out for: Most oats grown in the United States and Canada are rotated with wheat crops, making cross contamination a major concern for people with gluten intolerance. Select oats that are marked “gluten free.” People with celiac disease should consult their physician before using oats.
Rice Flour Most often used gluten-free flour. It’s available as brown rice (higher in fiber), sweet rice (short grain with a higher starch content) and white rice. The texture varies depending on how it’s milled—fine, medium or coarse. Fine grind is used for cookies, biscotti and other delicate baked goods. Medium grind, the most readily available, is suitable for most other baking. Coarse grind is best for cereal and coatings. Finer grinds produce the best texture in baking. Easy to digest and blend, white rice flour has a bland taste. Brown rice flour is slightly nutty. Brown rice flour should be stored in the refrigerator.
How to use: Relatively heavy and dense, rice flour works best in recipes when it’s combined with other flours, especially those that are high in protein to balance texture and build structure.
Watch out for: Too much rice flour (unless it's super-fine grind) can produce a grainy taste and texture and can make baked goods crumbly.
Sorghum Flour is also called milo or jowar flour, some believe this flour tastes similar to wheat. Available in red and white varieties, it has a slightly sweet taste and imparts a whole-wheat appearance to baked goods. Sorghum flour is high in protein, imparting all-important structure to gluten-free baked goods. It’s also high in fiber, phosphorous, potassium, B vitamins and protein, a great choice for pancakes, breads, muffins and cookies. Sorghum flour is ideal for darker-colored, heavier baked goods, like brown bread or ginger cookies. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
How to use: Should be no more than 25 to 30 percent of any gluten-free flour blend.
Watch out for: Darker in color than many other flours, it’s not a good choice for baked goods that should look white.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not a wheat. It is a fruit from the poly-gonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat has a strong, robust flavor that combines well with other gluten-free flours. A great source of balanced protein and eight essential amino acids, this flour is high in fiber and B vitamins. It’s available in light, medium and dark varieties. Light buckwheat flour is usually preferred for baking. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator to extend shelf life.
How to use: For breads and rolls, use up to 1 cup per recipe to impart a taste and texture that comes close to whole wheat. Use less when baking delicate cookies or pies. (I also find the buckwheat grains and cook them up like porridge or add to soup instead of barley).
Watch out for: Too much can overpower a baked product.
Almond Flour and Almond Meal impart a sweet, nutty flavor to baked goods. High in protein, fiber, vitamin E and healthy fat. Make your own almond flour by finely grinding blanched nuts in a clean coffee grinder. Don’t over-grind; almond flour can turn into almond butter very quickly. Leaving the skin on the almonds will darken the flour and the final baked product. Almond flour adds structure and texture to cakes, cookies and cupcakes. It is popular for Passover baking. Almond flour can be substituted for oats in oatmeal cookies for people who cannot eat oats.
How to use: Add up to 25 percent to a basic flour blend or use up to 50 percent or more in cakes leavened with eggs.
Watch out for: Not suitable for people allergic to nuts. Because of its high fat content, almond flour and meal can go rancid quickly. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer and use within a few months.
Flaxseed Meal is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Make your own flaxseed meal by grinding flaxseeds in a clean coffee grinder. (Whole flaxseeds are not digestible.) Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
How to use: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons per recipe for baked goods or sprinkle on yogurt or cereal for a nutritional boost. A mixture of flaxseed meal and warm water is used as an egg replacer in vegan and egg-free baking.
Watch out for: Flax meal produces a flecked appearance in bakery items. Too much flaxseed or flax meal can have a cathartic effect on some people. Introduce it into your diet slowly.
Salba / Chia Seeds
Also called chia, salba seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant. Hundreds of years ago, Aztec warriors would tie a bag of these seeds to their belts to sustain them during their conquests. The seeds were so important in Aztec culture that they were used as money. Considered a super food due to high levels of multiple nutrients and protein, salba is flavorless. Unlike flax, salba seeds do not have to be ground in order to be digested.
How to use: Can be added by the tablespoonful to everything from yogurt to baked goods. A mixture of 1 tablespoon salba and 3 tablespoons warm water (let stand, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes until thick) can replace one egg in vegan and egg-free baking.
Watch out for: High in fiber, salba can be cathartic to some digestive systems. Introduce it slowly into your diet.
Milled from a grain that’s native to the Andes Mountains, quinoa is a seed that has a delicate, nutty flavor that’s similar to wild rice. This flour is easy to digest. Quinoa contains high levels of calcium, protein, complex carbohydrates, phosphorous, iron, fiber and B vitamins. Quinoa flakes are an excellent replacement for oats in cookies, breads, cakes and rolls and a delicious addition to granola. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
How to use: Mix with other flours, up to 25 percent of total blend, to increase the nutritional value of baked goods.
Watch out for: Too much can overpower the flavor of bakery items. Whole quinoa should be rinsed first to remove the bitter-tasting natural oil that sometimes lingers on domestic varieties. (I grind quinoa in a high power blender to make my own flour, but the flour is available at health food stores).
Made from dehydrated potatoes, this fine yellow-white powder is high in fiber and protein. It can be used in place of xanthan gum or guar gum in gluten-free baking. It lends a soft, chewy mouth-feel to baked goods, homemade pasta, breads and pizza crust.
How to use: Add 2 to 4 tablespoons per recipe. Reduce or eliminate the gum ingredients accordingly.
Watch out for: A little goes a long way. Too much potato flour will create a gummy product. Don't confuse potato flour with potato starch, which is used in much larger quantities in recipes and has different baking properties.
Made from the starch of dehydrated potatoes, this white powder is often used as a one-for-one substitution for cornstarch in recipes. It has excellent baking qualities, particularly when combined with eggs. Contains no protein or fat.
How to use: Gluten-free recipes often call for ½ to ¾ cup potato starch as part of a flour blend.
Watch out for: Potato starch tends to clump so it should be stirred for accurate measuring. Don't confuse it with potato flour, which is used in much smaller quantities and has different baking properties.
Root Flours (Arrowroot, Sweet Potato Tapioca)
Made from root plants, these flours/starches are usually well tolerated by food-allergic people, even those with multiple allergies. Their high nutritional properties enhance baking performance and give bakery goods a chewy texture and increased browning capabilities. Arrowroot flour is pleasant-tasting and versatile, good for making breads and bagels. Sweet potato flour, which has a yellow-orange hue, imparts its color to baked items and has a taste that complements recipes containing chocolate, molasses, spices and such. Tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch), is made from the cassava (manioc) plant. It's a good choice in breads, tortillas and pasta.
How to use: Root and tuber starches should be part of a flour blend, up to 25 percent. Arrowroot starch and tapioca flour/starch are also used as a thickener in gravies and other sauces.
Watch out for: Too much of any of these flours can produce a gummy result.
All Purpose flour Blend
Use this blend for all your gluten-free baking.
1/2 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour
1/4 cup cornstarch or potato starch
Each cup contains 436 calories, 1g total fat,
0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol,
99g carbohydrate, 3mg sodium, 2g fiber, 5g protein
High-Fiber Flour Blend
This high-fiber blend works for breads, pancakes, snack bars and cookies that contain chocolate, warm spices, raisins or other fruits. It is not suited to delicately
flavored recipes, such as sugar cookies, crepes, cream puffs, birthday cakes or cupcakes.
1 cup brown rice flour or sorghum
1/2 cup teff flour (preferably light)
1/2 cup millet flour
2/3 cup tapioca starch/flour
1/3 cup cornstarch or potato starch
Each cup contains 428 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 92g carbohydrate, 19mg sodium, 5g fiber, 8g protein.
High-Protein Flour Blend
This nutritious blend works best in baked goods that require elasticity, such as wraps and pie crusts.
1 1/4 cups bean flour (your choice),
chickpea flour or soy flour
1 cup arrowroot starch, cornstarch
or potato starch
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
1 cup white or brown rice flour
Each cup contains 588 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 128g carbohydrate, 24mg sodium, 6g fiber, 11g protein.
Self-Rising Flour Blend
Use this blend for muffins, scones, cakes, cupcakes or any recipe that uses baking powder for leavening.
1 1/4 cups white sorghum flour
1 1/4 cups white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch/flour
2 teaspoons xanthan or guar gum
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Each cup contains 514 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 113g carbohydrate, 1163mg sodium, 8g fiber, 10g protein.