There are a lot of flours on the grocery store shelves now besides the standard all-purpose and whole wheat but most people don’t know what to do with them. Over the last few years with the explosion of gluten free baking and cook books, these alternative flours are much more common in the average store. Reading the label of a gluten free bread or cookie can also be a little confusing when you see ingredients like sorghum and xathan gum. Just what are they? Below is a list of flours and baking ingredients with their main characteristics, what they are made from and how they are best used.
** Special Note: gluten free flours have gotten WAY better in the last few years. Rice flour used to be grainy, now the brown rice flour from Bob’s Red Mill is silky soft resulting in better baked products. And common brands like King Arthur and Betty Crocker now offer a gluten free all purpose flour blend, with the goal of making your baking easier. Be careful with these, they might contain more ingredients than you need like baking powder or xanthan gum so always read the labels.
All About the Gluten Free Flours:
No matter what gluten free recipe you are making, it is essential to blend multiple flours because there isn’t one single flour that can fully replace wheat. All of the flours we use instead are somewhat lacking, especially in the sticky glue called gluten, which holds everything together. The best gluten free cakes, muffins and cookies come from using a blend of flours including heartier flours like brown rice and sorghum and then a little starch like tapioca and potato.
To learn more about gluten free cooking and baking, check out my online Art of Gluten Free Cooking Course. I have a whole module on the difference between all the flours and all the ways to use them in your cooking.
Brown Rice Flour – made from stone ground brown rice. The most widely used flour in gf products. Can also be used to thicken soups and stews. I prefer to use this instead of white rice as it contains more fiber and therefore has a higher nutritional value. The higher fiber content will contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. Can also produce a gritty product when used alone and is best when combined with other flours like sorghum, potato flour and tapioca starch.
Millet Flour – adds a subtle flavor, creamy color, and more vitamins and minerals than other grains. Substitute 1/4 cup millet flour for an equal amount of unbleached white flour in any baked good. Can be a little gritty and contains no gluten, so is best to substitute only about a 1/4 millet flour for other flours when baking.
Tapioca Starch/Flour – made from the cassava root. Once ground it takes the form of a light, soft, fine white flour. It is starchy, slightly sweet and adds chewiness to baking and is a good thickener. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per recipe to lighten and sweeten breads made with heavier flours like brown rice and millet.
Potato Starch – made from dehydrated potatoes. Used in bread, pancake and waffle recipes and as a thickener for sauces, gravies and soups. It adds smoothness and moisture in gluten free baking. It is high in carbohydrates and lacks fiber which makes it necessary to use it along with other flours as a mixture. Always use Potato Starch and not Potato Flour.
Sorghum Flour – is an annual grass originating in Africa and a popular cereal crop worldwide. It has a higher protein content than corn and about equal to wheat. It is neutral in flavor which allows it to absorb other flavors well.
Quinoa Flour – made by grinding quinoa (keen-wah) to a powder. Highly nutritious, containing more protein, calcium and iron than other grains. It has a light nutty flavor. Not recommended to use alone as it does not contain any gluten and has a strong flavor. Best when substituting 1/4 cup for another flour and inside a recipe with lots of spices like a Pumpkin Bread.
Paleo and Non-Grain Flours
Almond Flour – made by grinding blanched almonds into a fine powder (skins removed). The consistency is more like corn meal than wheat flour. You can find extra fine Italian Almond Flour which has more flavor, but can be very pricey. Baking with almond flour requires using more eggs to provide more structure. Use it in cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods. You can make it yourself by placing blanched almonds in a Vitamix or high power blender.
Coconut Flour – delicious alternative to wheat and other grain flours. It is very high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrates and a good source of protein. It gives baked goods a rich, springy texture but needs a lot more liquid than other flours. Replace up to 20% of the flour called for in a recipe with Coconut Flour, adding an equivalent amount of additional liquid to the recipe. You will not need as much sugar when using this flour as the coconut has a natural sweetness.
For ideas of what to do with Coconut and Almond Flours, check out Elana’s Pantry. She uses them exclusively because of their higher protein content. The recipes that I have tried from her blog always turn out great and are delicious! I especially like her Coconut Flour Blueberry Muffins.
Stabilizers and Gums
Xanthan Gum – is a natural, complex carbohydrate made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris. Using about 1/4 tsp in bread and other gluten-free baked goods adds volume and viscosity which usually comes from the gluten in wheat. It is also used as a thickener and emulsifier in dairy products, salad dressings, and other foods.
The Flour Blends I Use
My standard flour blend for gluten free baking is:
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup tapioca flour
- 1/2 cup potato flour
- 3/4 cup sorghum flour
Mix flours and keep in an airtight container and replace for an equal amount of flour in your recipe of choice. Sometimes I add a little quinoa or millet flour as well depending on what the recipe is. These flours work best when there are eggs in the recipe and do not work as well with egg replacers.
A great source for how to use these flours if you are new to the gf cooking world is “How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen“.
Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods produces all of the flours above in a plant dedicated gluten free and is by far my favorite source.
HOW I USE GLUTEN FREE FLOURS
Here are some of my recipes where I make my own blends of these flours. I keep all of these flours in my house and use them in slightly different proportions depending on what the recipe is. Check out the recipes and practice mixing your own flour blends!
Pie Crust: Pumpkin Pie Crust Recipe
Cookies: Snickerdoodle Cookie Recipe
Shortbread-like bars: Apricot and Plum Coconut Bars Recipe
Baked Sweet Bread: Pumpkin Bread Recipe
Mini Muffins: Banana Bread Mini Muffins Recipe
Make some of these recipes and tag me in your pictures on Instagram at @holisticchefs.