Sorghum, xanthan and amaranth, oh my! Without a doubt there is a surge of gluten-free baked goods that are now available. It’s no longer such a headache to grab a frozen pizza or a birthday cake.
But making your own baked goods is not only a lot healthier, it’s also cheaper and allows you to customize your dish. With that said, learning how to bake gluten-free can be overwhelming even to the most experienced chef. Things like amounts, desired consistency, and time in the oven all change.
We’ll be tackling some of these other challenges in future posts, but for now we are going to focus on the first and most important new gluten-free baking lesson: what’s the difference between all these flours, and which should I use for what?
The good news is that gluten-free flour can be healthier than regular white flour, often containing higher amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Also the various types and flavors of flour can also add a unique twist to an old recipe. This guide will help you familiarize yourself with the different types of flours you’ll find at the store, and what foods they are good for. We also recommend a couple of our favorite gluten-free flours at the bottom of the guide.
Some quick tips and notes before we get started:
- Always buy flours labeled as gluten-free! Even if you see a familiar type that is listed here, it may be a mix and contain gluten. The best way to make sure your flour is gluten-free besides checking the label is being diligent about always buying your flour in the gluten-free aisle.
- As mentioned above, working with gluten-free flour is a new experience that requires tweaks and changes. We don’t recommend simply replacing white flour with gluten-free flour in your favorite recipes. Get used to gluten-free baking by using easy gluten-free recipes and flour mixes such as the ones recommended below. As you gain more confidence you can begin to make your own flour mixtures and learn what is perfect for you and for the dish you’re making.
- This list is far from complete. Pretty much anything you can grind into a powder can be used as flour, so once you become more acquainted with the more common types, go forth and experiment!
Without further ado, here are 10 very different types of gluten-free flour:
- Almond Flour: This flour is made from raw ground almonds is full of calcium and vitamin E. You can make almond flour at home by buying blanched almonds and grinding them in a coffee grinder or food processor until you get a fine powder (being careful not to over-grind). Almond flour adds moistness, texture, flavor and density to baked goods and is best for pie crusts, biscotti, scones and cookies. It is best for baking when used in a mix with other flours as ¼ of the required flour. It is also great to coat chicken or fish before pan frying.
- Amaranth Flour: These tiny grains usually used to make breakfast cereal have an earthy taste so are used best in savory dishes. We recommend using a handful in recipes such as pizza dough or savory bread, as the taste can be overpowering.
- Corn Flour: Made from dried corn kernels soaked in lime water, corn flour is available in a few different forms that vary by how fine the grain is. Masa harina is perfect for making corn tortillas or thickening chili. Corn flour is also perfect for gluten-free cornbread.
- Millet Flour: Not the most common flour, so it might take some searching. Gluten-free chefs swear by millet flour for breading pan fried meats and fish. It adds a light, almost sweet flavor and crumbly texture to foods, and is full of protein!
- Potato Starch: This starch (not to be confused with potato flour) won’t directly substitute for wheat flour, but is great when blended with other flours and starches.
- Quinoa Flour: This flour is jam packed with nutrients, as quinoa contains all essential amino acids and is full of protein, fiber, zinc, magnesium and iron. Quinoa has a heavier, nutty flavor and is perfect for banana bread, carrot cake or savory muffins. The flavor can be a bit overpowering, so replacing ¼ of the recipe with a different flour is recommended.
- Rice Flour: This versatile flour has a milder taste than most gluten-free flours, and should be a staple in any gluten-free kitchen. We recommend using brown rice flour as opposed to white rice flour, as it has extra potassium, calcium, iron, fiber, protein and B vitamins. Rice flour is a great choice for muffins, pizza crust, and homemade pasta. It is also great to thicken gravies and sauces. This flour can be grainy for some, but replacing ⅓ of the required amount with another type of flour such as buckwheat or sorghum can create the perfect combination.
- Sorghum Flour: This is said to closely mimic wheat flour in both texture and taste, and can even be used by itself as a direct substitution in items such as pancakes. Some people claim that this flour is bitter and prefer to use it in smaller amounts.
- Tapioca Flour: Also known as tapioca starch, this fine white flour can be very successful in baked goods, but only when mixed with other flours. It is also handy for thickening gravies and sauces.
- Guar Gum & Xanthan Gum: Both of these are used as binders, and will (somewhat) mimic the effects of gluten in baked goods. ½ a teaspoon or less is all you’ll need to bind things like pizza dough and pie crusts.
Wrapping up, here are two brands of flour mixes that I happily endorse whenever I get the chance:
Pamela’s Baking Mixes are pre-mixed flours specifically tailored to the food you are making. My favorites are the chocolate chunk cookie mix and the artisan flour blend, which I’ve successfully used in lots of baking recipes.
I also can’t get enough of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Flours. Bob’s Red Mill has a huge and dedicated following in the gluten-free community, and rightfully so. Aside from their all-purpose flour mix, they also make a huge variety of gluten-free flours so you can stick with this great brand when you begin mixing your own.
Enjoy your gluten-free baking, and feel free to share your recipes in the comments section!