New to Gluten-free or Grain-free living? If you are looking for recipes online you will find a long list of alternative ingredients to help you avoid gluten. Some of these ingredients can be hard to source and hard to work with. Here is a quick overview for you of the flour choices.
All gluten-free or grain-free flour alternatives will behave differently than wheat flour. The key is knowing when to use which for the desired results. Gluten is a sticky protein found in wheat which gives stretch to dough. Without the gluten, alternative flours will perform differently in recipes. All grains contain a similar protein to gluten, so grain flours will potentially have some stretchy quality. Grain-free flours will usually have no stretch which often makes it harder to do a direct substitution in recipes. That said, using alternative techniques and selecting recipes that are well suited for conversion will give you success in the kitchen. When you are starting out on a gluten-free/grain-free lifestyle it is good to start with recipes from trusted sources that are already designed for alternative flours. Danielle Walker’s Against All Grains, The Paleo Mom and Wheat Belly are great blogs to get started on your journey. Over time you will get a good handle on what works and what does not and you will build confidence creating your own recipes. I went grain-free 8 years ago and it is really just a lifestyle change that you will adjust to over time. During that time I have adjusted, included some grains, been super strict and removed everything from dairy and eggs to caffeine. What works is different for everyone, so trust in yourself and listen to your body.
The world of alternative flours is a large. I am not providing you a comprehensive list in this post, this is just a brief overview of the flours you are likely to encounter and how they might be used. There are a few major brands for alternative flours. Probably top on the list of Bob’s Red Mill, which offers a wide selection of products and packaged mixes. Also worth mentioning is King Arthur, who is a favorite of professional bakers. I have used their blends many times with good results. NOW foods offers organic options. Vitacost has a large assortment of house-branded gluten-free flour products that are more affordable than the name brands and Anthony’s has become a stand out in the grain-free category.
Gluten-free Blends – As gluten-free living has become more mainstream there are a tremendous number of packaged blends on the market. These are convenient and have been formulated for easy baking (they work great), but if you are following a healing diet the inclusion of Xantham gum in almost all of these blends may cause digestive sensitivity. That said, I do keep a Gluten-free blend in the house for when I am in a hurry and need a quick substitution for a recipe. because they make it so darned easy.
Rice Flour – Blend with other flours Rice flour is very fine and works well in recipes when combined with other bulking agents. Available in white, brown and sweet rice flours, most blends use a combination. I found that in sauces the rice flour will tend to not dissolve and will collect at the bottom. I do like to use rice flour for rolling out baked goods, rather than wasting your blend.
Corn starch – Use as a bulk flour Not suitable for every recipe, but most people are familiar with the corn-bread texture that corn flour offers, which can be great and is delicious. Be sure the product you are using is gluten-free certified, as it is often processed in facilities which also process wheat. Also note that many people struggle to digest corn because of the zein protein, sort of a cousin to gluten. If you struggle to digest gluten or are following a healing diet, it is recommended that you avoid grains and corn in particular.
Potato Starch – Used in blends and as a thickener Potato starch dissolves well in liquids and this is my first choice for thickening a gravy or sauce.
Potato Flour – Usually Not used Potato flour is the dehydrated and ground full tuber, so it is bulkier than the starch. Typically the starch is used in blends and recipes. I mention this here because I have accidentally purchased potato flour instead of starch, so I wanted to call your attention to the difference.
Sorghum Flour – Grain-flour usually blended with rice flour Sorghum is considered an ancient grain and is widely used in commercial gluten-free blends due to its mild flavor. You would typically use this in conjunction with Rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch to make a gluten-free blend.
Millet – Grain-flour usually blended with rice flour Millet is considered an ancient grain and while slightly less common than sorghum, it makes for a good gluten-free blend. You would typically use this in conjunction with Rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch to make a gluten-free blend.
Teff – Grain-flour usually blended with rice flour Teff is considered an ancient grain. You would typically use this in conjunction with Rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch to make a gluten-free blend. Teff is high in protein and is a good choice for sourdough starts. Teff flour is less common and can be expensive.
Amaranth – Grain-flour usually blended with rice flour Amaranth is considered an ancient grain. You would typically use this in conjunction with Rice flour, tapioca flour and potato starch to make a gluten-free blend. Like teff, amaranth is considered a high-protein grain. Amaranth has a slightly stronger flavor and is more expensive, so it would be used when you wanted that specific profile.
Quinoa – Grain-flour usually blended with rice flour Quinoa is considered an ancient grain and has become popular as something of a rice alternative. This flour is not commonly found in stores, but is available online. It is more expensive, so rarely found in blends.
Almond Flour – Great for deserts Slightly sweet bulk flour made from ground almonds. Look for finely ground and blanched. This is my go-to flour and I use it for everything from cookies, to cupcakes to pancakes, to pie crusts.
Coconut Flour – Nut free Very dry and hard to work with, but if you have a nut allergy, coconut flour is a nut-free alternative made from the ground flesh of the coconut.
Tapioca Flour – Adds stretch Made from Cassava, but is just the starchy components of the root. A common component of many gluten-free blends. There are some recipes that use just the tapioca without a bulk flour (my favorite is Brazilian Cheese Rolls), but most often you would use tapioca as a blend. Be very careful trying this for sauces and it can create a stretchy, gelatinous mess.
Cassava Flour – Use as a bulk flour Cassava Flour is the ground and dried whole root. You could use this as a bulk flour. I would use this for biscuits or rolls and items I did not want the sweetness of Almond flour. This tends to have a gritty, cornbread like texture. It is dense and will not replicate a light, fluffy wheat texture.
Arrowroot – Thickener Arrowroot is great to use in sauces, gravy or glazes as a replacement for wheat as a thickening agent.
Tigernut Flour – Nut-free, Use as a bulk flour Not made from a nut at all, Tigernut is a tuber from a grass, so suitable for people with nut allergies.
*Xantham Gum – Adds Stretch Also causes sensitivity and is considered derived from grain because it is a byproduct of bacterial fermentation of usually corn and can be a digestive irritant. Xantham gum is somewhat controversial in dietary circles due to the digestive concerns.
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