All About Gluten Free Flours
It takes a long time to understand the properties of gluten free flours and starches. One of the benefits (yes, there are some) of having a gluten intolerance is that you become more open to trying grains that you might never have had before. Some are high in nutrients, protein, and fiber. Incorporating teff, millet, and other whole grains can only be good for your diet. The problem is that the really nutritious flours have such a nutty, dense flavor that they do not taste right in many traditional baked goods.
Understanding the properties of each type of flour makes it easier to create gluten free blends, which you can use to make delicious gluten free baked goods.
Remember that when are making a flour blend, especially for baking bread, cookies, cakes–use a little bit of xanthan gum or psyllium husk to keep everything together–otherwise, the final product will spread.
Arrowroot. Sometimes you will find arrowroot in an all purpose flour blend. It can also be used as a thickener in puddings and custards. A fun ingredient–have fun looking up recipes on Pinterest!
Corn. Cornstarch, corn flour, and cornmeal are all different. Corn flour is a little more substantial and can be used to make homemade tortillas. Many people who have problems with wheat also develop an intolerance to corn, so I stay away from it in my cooking. When a recipe calls for cornstarch, I ALWAYS use tapioca starch instead. I just bought some gluten free cornmeal for when I make English muffins again. It adds a nice crunch to the bottom of pizza too.
Potato. Potato starch and potato flour are different. Both are incredibly powdery. The potato flour is a bit darker in color, and the potato starch is pure white. I have had a hard time finding a bulk source of either and often buy potato starch from the bulk bins at Healthy Living. I would like to sincerely apologize to the staff there for making a mess in the gluten free bulk section of the store. The starch seems to fly everywhere and gets all over the floor. Potato starch is a very common ingredient in all purpose gluten free flour blends. Combined with brown rice flour, white rice flour, and tapioca starch, it can make a blend similar in texture to regular wheat flour.
Sweet White Rice. Higher in starch than regular white rice flour. This flour is used more like a starch in baking, adding moisture to baked goods. I like it more than regular white rice flour in flour blends.
Tapioca (Cassava root). I cannot believe that I never used tapioca starch before going gluten free. I love it! It is the most versatile flour in my kitchen. I use it to thicken sauces, as bench flour, and always use instead of cornstarch. Although there are a few people who develop intolerances to tapioca, it is one of the most easily digestible foods and rarely causes problems.
White Rice. Most white rice flour is not ground down to fine enough of a powder. Sometimes I put in the food processor to try to get it a little finer because I find it to be a bit too gritty. A few online sources (nuts.com for instance) sell a “super fine” version. Very versatile and good to have on hand for blending your own gluten free all purpose flour or for a nice coating for fried fish.
High Protein Flours
Amaranth flour. Confession: I’ve never used amaranth flour. I don’t think I even have any. It is super nutritious and is a complete protein, so I should really start using it. However, it is another of those flours that is hard to find.
Brown Rice. Try to find superfine brown rice flour. If you can only find Bob’s Red Mill, which is particularly gritty, blitz it in the food processor before adding it to your flour blend. For most baked goods, brown rice flour should make up just under half of the total flour blend (40% brown rice flour, 25% white rice flour, 20% tapioca starch, 15% potato starch–for instance).
Buckwheat. This is not related to wheat, so it is perfectly safe. It has a dark color and nutty flavor and is absolutely amazing as the primary flour in pancakes and crepes.
Millet. Millet flour has a light, mild flavor and can be easily incorporated into a gluten free flour blend to be used in baking. I’ve used it in muffins and baked donuts with really good results. Bonus: it is really nutritious.
Oat. You can buy gluten free oat flour or gluten free oats and then put them in a food processor. Really nice in bread recipes. Oat based bread recipes is the most un-gluten free bread I’ve tasted. Some people with celiac disease have a difficult time digesting even gluten free oats, so I try to limit using them if I am baking for other people.
Sorghum. One of the first major gluten free cookbook authors, Carol Fenster, uses sorghum flour in her basic flour blend. When I made pie crust using her recipe, I thought it had too much of a whole grain, wheat taste. It would be great in a bread recipe or even a cookie recipe where there are other strong flavors–like a gingersnap or molasses cookie. I have also read that if you have whole sorghum, you can pop it like popcorn–great for people who have an intolerance to corn.
Teff. Teff flour is so hard to find! You either have to order it online or buy the whole grain version and find a way to mill it. I bought a bag of Bob’s Red Mill teff at Healthy Living thinking it was flour. I still haven’t decided if I am going to return it or try to put it in the coffee grinder! The sourdough recipes from Gluten Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread call for teff flour. I really want to make the sourdough starter, but still am not sure if I will use King Arthur Flour’s Ancient Grains blend, which includes teff, instead of plain teff flour.
Almond. Buy already ground or blitz almonds in food processor. Used mostly in cookies and cakes in combination with other flours. I’ve struggled with cookies made with almond flour burning in the oven. I have not become a fan–but there is hope.
Coconut. I like coconut flour. I’ve combined it with white and brown rice flours to create a nice flour blend for baking cakes. It creates a nice texture. Super expensive, but buy it at least once to experiment.
Hazelnut. So expensive! I bought very little in bulk at Healthy Living last week and it cost a fortune and I am still not sure how to use it. Cookies probably.
Flours/Starches That I Dislike
Bean Flours (including: black bean flour, fava bean flour, and garbanzo (chickpea) bean flour
The flours do not keep for very long. I store everything in a medium sized freezer. It is the best thing ever. (Sorry the third shelf is so messy—that’s all my Udi’s bread, homemade bread and english muffins, frozen potstickers, and rolls of homemade cookie dough.)