Living without gluten, casein, soy, eggs and peanuts. Living with ASD and ADHD. Life is good!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Introduction to Gluten Free Flours

This post has been a long time coming. I needed to hack things out in my kitchen before settling down and writing about what kinds of gluten free flours are used in GFCF baking. Now that I've finally gotten a good grip, here's my list.

First: Wrap your head around being gluten free
Being gluten free is the hardest part of being GFCF. It is easy enough to substitute rice milk, almond milk or coconut milk for cows milk, and palm shortening or casein free margarine for butter – it’s a little harder to get used to baking gluten free. Read about the different gluten free flours and how good they are for you, and feel better knowing that you (and/or your loved ones) will be just as healthy, and probably much healthier, by being gluten free.

Second: Understanding Gluten Free Flours
Gluten free flours need to be used in combination with one another. There is no one gluten free flour that you can substitute 1:1 successfully for wheat flour. At the same time, there is no one mix that is good for every type of baked good. You want your pizza crust to taste different from your birthday cake, after all! Using a combination of gluten free flours greatly improves the taste of gluten-free baked goods. Gluten free flours need to be thoroughly sifted together to avoid pockets of one type of flour – you can use a sifter or a whisk to sift your flours together. After being opened, gluten free flours should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer since they don’t have a very long shelf life. (Go here for more information about making your own flour blends.)

You can buy pre-made flour mixes, such as Pamela’s or Bob’s Red Mill, but they are expensive and may not work well for all recipes. I mix my own flour blends, which is more economical and gives me greater control of the taste and texture of my baked goods. I buy most of my gluten free flours at Whole Foods, but a few of them can be found other places. Amazon also sells gluten free flours in bulk so you get a price break, plus the shipping is free.

Different people like different flours, and different flours taste good in different recipes. I like rice flour with sorghum flour in layer cakes. I love using millet for sweet breads and cakes. Millet with sorghum makes great one layer cakes (baked in an 8” square pan or 9x13” pan). I love making yeast bread with chickpea flour. Sorghum flour is great in cookies, pie crust and pancakes. You should experiment with the different gluten free flours to see which ones you like best.

Third: Get Confident in the Kitchen
To get comfortable with gluten free baking, first try using a pre-made mix. I started with Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Baking Mix. Then when you have some success with this, try blending your own flours. The flour blends I use I got from searching for flour blends online, and a couple I tried making up or altering on my own. When you are ready to mix your own flour blends, keep in mind that the ratio of starch flours (arrowroot, cornstarch, potato and tapioca) should be kept to between 1/3 and ½ the total of your other gluten free flours – otherwise, I’ve found, your baked goods will be dense, gummy or more likely to cave in and fall.

Last: Get familiar with Gluten Free Flours – Read this list
And take comfort in knowing that gluten free baking is not as hard as it sounds at first, I promise. If I can do it, you can do it too.

Almond Flour
Blanched, skinless almonds are ground into a fine flour. High in protein, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium and iron. Can replace dry milk powder in baked goods. It is very expensive, and I have not used it yet in my baked goods. Instead, if I want to add protein and fiber to a baked good, I include walnut meal in the recipe.

Amaranth Flour
High in protein (particularly the amino acid Lysine), calcium, iron and zinc. It contains more fiber and iron than wheat. Amaranth has a flavor similar to graham crackers without the sweetness.

Arrowroot Starch/Flour
A source of calcium and potassium, arrowroot starch/flour has no flavor of its own and is the easiest starch to digest. It is used as a thickener for soups, sauces, fillings and fruit pies. Those who are allergic to corn and can’t use cornstarch can use arrowroot flour instead.

Buckwheat Flour
Buckwheat contains no wheat and no gluten - it is the seed of a plant related to rhubarb. Buckwheat is high in fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium, iron and B vitamins.

Chickpea/Garbanzo Bean Flour
High in potassium, protein, and iron, also a source of calcium and dietary fiber. I love the flavor chickpea flour imparts to baked goods, but some people do not. Chickpea flour tends to get gummy when used with applesauce, but it is fabulous for helping bind things like pie pastry together.

Corn Flour
Not to be confused with corn meal (although you can use corn meal in gluten free baking too!), corn flour is finely ground. It contains protein, but not to the same degree as other gluten free flours. It is also a source of vitamin A and potassium.

Millet Flour
Very slightly sweet, makes baked goods slightly crumbly. It is easily digestible, and is also believed to be one of the least allergenic varieties of flour. Millet is a good source of iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, B vitamins and fiber.

There is some controversy about whether oats contain gluten. I’ve read that oats are gluten free but become contaminated with gluten on machinery that also processes wheat flours. Bob’s Red Mill packages oats that are processed on special equipment and are certified gluten-free. One of my daughters is sensitive to oats so I don't bake with oats. Quinoa flakes and uncooked buckwheat hot cereal can substitute for oats in many recipes.

Potato Starch
Not to be confused with potato flour, these different flours cannot be used interchangeably. Potato flour is made from ground whole potatoes, while potato starch flour is made from the starch of the potato. Potato starch is a good thickener and adds moistness to baked goods.

Potato Flour
Has a strong potato taste, but is good in some recipes in small amounts. Potato flour soaks up a lot of liquid so beware using a lot of it in baked goods.

Quinoa Flour
Has a strong taste and is good in savory recipes. Quinoa is a complete protein with all 8 essential amino acids. It contains more protein than any other grain flour and is equivalent to milk in protein quality. It is also contains a fair bit of calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium.

Rice Flour
Brown rice flour (ground from unpolished rice) is higher in B vitamins, iron and fiber than white rice flour (ground from polished rice), but both white and brown rice flours can be used in gluten free baking. I’ve found that Bob’s Red Mill has the finest ground rice flour (the finer the grind, the less gritty the end product). Rice flour needs a fair bit of liquid to avoid making a baked product gritty. Sorghum flour helps cut the grittiness of rice flour in baked goods.

Sorghum Flour
Of all the gluten free flours, sorghum comes closest to traditional wheat flour in both taste and texture. I love using sorghum flour in nearly all of my baked goods. It cuts the “beany” taste of chickpea flour and it cuts the grittiness of rice flour. Sorghum flour is high in protein, calcium, iron and potassium.

Soy Flour
High in protein and fat. It has a short shelf life. Since my girls react strongly to soy, I do not use soy flour in my baked goods.

Sweet Rice Flour
Sweet rice flour, made from glutinous (sticky) rice, is smooth and finely ground (it does not contain gluten). It is used as a thickener for sauces and gravies. Many gluten free baking recipes call for using sweet rice flour. It is expensive, however, and I have been substituting tapioca flour for sweet rice flour with good results.

Tapioca Flour
Also known as tapioca starch, the cassava root is ground into a velvety white flour to make tapioca flour. It is a good binder and lightens gluten-free baked goods; it also gives baked goods a texture more like that of wheat flour.

Teff Flour
Teff is an ancient grain from Ethiopia. High in fiber, protein, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, zine and iron, in small amounts it lends breads a dark color and a flavor reminiscent of rye.

(There are other flours which are also gluten free, but this is a list of the most accessible and readily available gluten free flours. To read about other gluten free flours, check out the sources at the bottom of the page.)

Other Additives
Gluten free flours are full of essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals. To make your baked goods even healthier, consider adding flaxseed or nut meals to your recipes.

Flax seed
Flax seed is very high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans and fiber. It is also a good source of protein, manganese, magnesium, folate, copper, phosphorus and vitamin B6. I love adding ground flax seed to almost all of my baked goods, from 2 tbsp. in pancakes and cookies to 1/3 cup in yeast breads. It soaks up liquid in a recipe so if you add it to yeast breads you may need to add another 1 – 2 tbsp. liquid to compensate.

Nut Meal
Finely ground nut meal increases the protein, fiber and vitamin E content of baked goods and allows for a better rise. I like the taste and texture that walnut meal adds to quickbreads, cakes and cookies, using anywhere from ¼ added to cookies to ½ cup added to quickbreads.

Binding Agents
Gluten in wheat flours keeps baked goods from getting crumbly and falling apart; it gives dough elasticity, traps air pockets which allows for a better rise, and helps breads keep their shape. Without a binding agent to replace gluten, your gluten free baked goods will crumble into bits all over the place. Most people use either xanthan gum or guar gum to replace gluten in their gluten free baked goods, but be prepared – although these agents help bind gluten free flours together, the texture and rise of your baked goods will not be the same as baked goods made with wheat flour. This is not a bad thing, it’s just different. I actually prefer the taste and texture of gluten free baked goods, which have more personality than baked goods made with wheat flour!

Guar gum
Guar gum is ground from the dried seeds of the guar plant (a legume). In small amounts it mimics the binding effects of gluten. It can be used in place of xanthan gum for corn sensitive individuals. Replace xanthan gum with 50% more guar gum in recipes that call for xanthan gum. Guar gum can cause bloating and gas in sensitive individuals, although thankfully my family has not had that experience. Guar gum is much cheaper than xanthan gum, though it's not as easy to find.

Xanthan gum
Xanthan gum binds gluten free baked goods together and acts as a replacement for gluten. It is expensive, but you only need to use a little bit for each recipe so it lasts a long time (I do a lot of baking, and mine lasts about 4 months). Use too much xanthan gum, and your baked goods will turn out slimy. If you spill some, use a broom to sweep it up instead of using water. Xanthan gum is derived from bacteria in corn sugar, so the person allergic to corn should using guar gum instead.

My sources: I used several different sources to compile this list of gluten free flours, including the nutritional content backings of my bags of Bob’s Red Mill Flours. You can find more about gluten free flours from these sources:


Karina said...

What a great introduction to gluten-free flours!

Gina Sainz said...

Hello. Your breakdown of gluten free flours and GF flour mixes was wonderful. I recently discovered that I am allergic to wheat, gluten, corn and dairy. It's been a struggle for me in general since I've come to this knowledge, however giving up bread has been the worst! I've made several attempts to bake gluten free bread (in my bread machine) and have failed every time. My bread won't rise and won't bake all the way through. I've tried to remedy this in more ways than I can count with no success. I'm begging to become very depressed about the whole thing...I've never been so frustrated about anything in my life. I've wasted so many hours and so much money on expensive ingredients trying to get it right. I just want a piece of bread in the morning with my coffee....boy, the things I took for granted before now...anyway, please help me if you can! Why won't my GF bread rise?? Why won't it bake in the center??
Thank you

Erin said...

Hi Gina, thanks for your comment. Have you tried making your own gluten free flour blends? See here if you have not already:
Also, are you using a bread machine and if so, does it have a gluten free setting? There could be a few reasons why your bread is not rising...too much water or not enough, too much kneading before baking, a flour ratio that is off, or something else. If you describe for me exactly what you are doing, I can probably be more help! Whatever you do, don't give don't need to live without good bread!