What do you do when you've been diagnosed with a food allergy and your favourite foods are taken away? Fears not! Each month FBC member and certified nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, takes a look at how to adapt to an allergen-friendly diet, while still eating delicious and healthy food. This month she shows us an incredible array of gluten-free flours and shares her go-to blend.
The world of gluten-free baking is a fun one to explore. When I was a ‘regular’ baker, I used all-purpose flour and that’s about it. Now, I have more than half a dozen flours in my pantry I can use to play and create.
There are a multitude of gluten-free flours you can use for baking and cooking. As I’ve mentioned before, I take a non-traditional approach to gluten-free baking, which can be irritating to the fervent bakers and liberating to those of us who passionately love treats but are impatiently inept.
In this post, I’ll share with you my personal guide to gluten-free flours. This list of flours is by no means exhaustive; however, they are ones that are easy to find, use and even make (and the ones you’ll discover if you peek into my pantry).
The Grain Flours
Grain flours are made from milling gluten-free grains. As a whole, gluten-free grains are rich in stress-busting and energy-boosting B vitamins, and their flours substitute well for wheat flours once you get the hang of using them. The key is managing your expectations: since gluten-free flours don’t have gluten, you’re not going to get the same rise or stretchiness. Instead, learn to appreciate gluten-free flours for their individual and amazing qualities. To understand better what gluten is and why it's so important in baking, check out our Kitchen Geekery post on understanding gluten in baking.
Here are some of my favourites. There are some pseudo-grains in here, like buckwheat and quinoa, but for the purposes of this post I’ll lump ‘em in with the rest of the gluten-free grains.
Brown Rice Flour
This is my equivalent for all-purpose flour. It’s the base of most flour blends I create, and can usually be found in the storebought gluten-free flour blends as well. It has a neutral flavour, and can be used in sweet goodies as well as for the savoury stuff like biscuits, crackers, crusts and to thicken soups or sauces. It also contains trace minerals such as magnesium, which helps us relax, and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps us create neurotransmitters that improve sleep and our mood.
Before we got our family dog, we had a budgie named Kimmy. If you told me as a kid that I would one day be eating her birdseed, I would have laughed you out of the room. However, millet is now one of my favourite grains — both to eat and to use as a flour. It’s light and mild, plus it’s alkaline, high in magnesium and rich in antioxidants. You can use it in baked goods, as well as in breakfast items like pancakes and waffles.
Similar to millet, sorghum has a light and fine texture and sweet flavour that makes it perfect for baking gluten-free treats. It’s high in fibre, protein and iron. I like to use it in my sweet baked goods, but in a pinch I’ll also use it to make a pizza crust or toss it into a stew to thicken it up.
Oats are easy to blend up in your food processor for an instant flour option. Ensure you use gluten-free oats, as regular oats can be contaminated by wheat. Oat flour works wonderfully in all kinds of baked goods, savory items, and even raw treats like energy bites. I also like to toss some oat flour into my smoothies for a bit of extra fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Buckwheat flour is dark grey and dense, both physically and nutritionally. It has a strong flavour, so I typically don’t use it in large quantities. A lot of gluten-free bakers tend to fold buckwheat flour into sweet treats, which I do from time to time, but I prefer to use it for the savoury things like breads, crusts and flatbreads. Buckwheat flour contains vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc and calcium, plus it’s rich in protein and high in fibre, which helps to regulate blood sugar.
Quinoa has soared in popularity in the last few years, and if you’ve ever eaten quinoa then you’ll have an idea of what the flour tastes like: nutty and earthy. I rarely purchase quinoa flour and make it myself by grinding it in my high-speed blender or spice grinder. I don’t need my quinoa flour to be extremely fine because I prefer to use it in hearty items like quinoa flatbreads, muffins and crackers. Quinoa flour is a great source of plant-based protein, iron, bone-building calcium and magnesium, and it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Other gluten-free flours include teff and amaranth, but I don’t use them very much because they're more challenging to find and can be pricey.
The Grain-Free Flours
Grain-free flours are, as the name implies, made from non-grains. Grain-free flours have become more widespread with the popularity of the Paleo movement and other grain-free dietary protocols like GAPS, SCD and others. Most grain-free flours are made from beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Chickpea flour is high in protein and fibre and really shines in savory items like breads, pot pie crusts, fritters and flatbreads (I’m obsessed with this chickpea flatbread!). It also works well as a ‘breading’ flour for veggies or meat, plus it makes a neat egg alternative in omelettes. Chickpea flour certainly has a strong taste, so if I’m adding it to a sweet treat I’ll only use a small amount.
Red lentils in particular are easy to grind into flour at home. Use lentil flour to sneak extra protein and fibre into baked goods; it also makes great crepes or wraps.
Another high-protein and extremely fibre-rich flour, coconut flour is made from dried coconut meat and is delicious in sweet and savory baked goods, if you like the flavour of coconut (and I do!). The payload of fibre found in coconut flour means it absorbs a lot of liquid — I’ll repeat this because it’s important — a lot of liquid. The more coconut flour you use, the more liquid you’ll need. The coconut flour to liquid ratio is 1:1, so if you toss in a quarter cup of coconut flour, you have to pour in a quarter cup of liquid, too.
A popular choice among people following the Paleo diet, this flour is made from ground almonds. Some resources say you can use almond meal and almond flour interchangeably, but I definitely notice a difference between the almond meal I make myself by grinding it in the food processor or blender and the blanched almond flour you can buy, because it’s milled much finer.
In any case, almond flour is wonderful in sweets and is a great alternative to breadcrumbs. Baked goods made with almond flour are typically extremely filling because they are so high in protein, fat and fibre. Almond flour is also a good source of the antioxidant Vitamin E, magnesium and biotin, which is great for skin health.
If you make your own almond milk, save the pulp in the freezer. Dump it onto a baking sheet, dry it out and then either use it as breadcrumbs or whirl it in the blender to create your own almond flour.
Nut and Seed Flours/Meals
Not into almond flour? You can actually make your own flours from a variety of nuts and seeds, including sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, and so on. These are delicious, though be warned they have a strong flavour. I rather like using sunflower seed meal and it’s a much more economical alternative to the nut flours. To dampen the flavour of nut/seed flours but retain the nutritional benefits, try blending them with a milder gluten-free flour like brown rice or sorghum. (The final product would no longer be grain-free, but if you're not following a grain-free diet then you won't mind.)
Arrowroot, Tapioca, Potato and Corn Starch
Arrowroot, tapioca, potato and corn starch can be used interchangeably in baking to lighten up the heavier flours and help baked goods bind (especially if you’re not using eggs), plus they're useful in sauces as thickeners. If you opt for corn starch, aim for one that is non-GMO.
I prefer to use the starches in small amounts, as they are much more refined. I like my gluten-free baked goods to be nutritionally dense and mighty! However, if there's something light and flaky that you're dying to recreate, such as a delicate pastry, you can try throwing in more of the starches.
How to Make Gluten-Free Flours
You can make your own flours from whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes if you’ve got a high speed blender. In general, you can’t get them quite as fine as milled flour in a blender, so it really depends on what you're using the flour for. I love to grind my own flours for heartier things like flatbreads, pancakes, crusts or chunky cookies, but if I’m making a cake, muffins or a soft cookie, I like to use flours that are finer and more delicate.
Every gluten-free baker has their own favourite gluten-free flour blend. Here's the recipe for my usual starting blend.
- ¾ cup brown rice flour
- ½ cup sorghum flour
- ½ cup millet flour
- ¼ cup arrowroot starch
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until evenly blended.
- If not using right away, store tightly sealed.
If you're interested in creating your own gluten-free flour blends, there are tons of them online. If you have a great one you like to use, please share in the comments!
How to Store Gluten-Free Flours
I buy or grind flours in small amounts and store them in my pantry. The turnover is fairly quick, so flours don't have the chance to go rancid. If you like to buy flours in bulk or don't use them very often, stash them in the fridge or freezer.
Download your own printable copy of our FBC Gluten-Free Flour Checklist here.
Check out more of Sondi’s Allergen-Friendly Remixes for great ideas on revamping your favourite recipes to make them allergen friendly!
For more info on gluten and cooking gluten-free you'll want to visit these articles
- How to Cook For Gluten-Free Eaters
- Kitchen Geekery: Misunderstood Gluten
- How To Make Gluten-Free Pie and Tarts
- A Gluten-Free Meal Plan with Kitchen Frau
Got a favourite recipe you’d like to see get an allergen-friendly makeover? Let us know in the comments!
Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com. Or you can follow Sondi on Facebook or Twitter.