The Gluten-Free Flour Guide
Gluten-free living can be challenging enough, but gluten-free baking is practically a whole new world of intimidation with alien-sounding ingredients like xanthan gum. It can be hard to go into the grocery store and try to find the right flour to make cookies with or attempt the right combination of flours to make bread. The hunt for supplies might end in defeat, frustration, and a purchase of store-bought cookies because homemade is just too hard. If this has happened to you before, don’t let it get you down: We are here help!
For those of us with a gluten-free diet, there are plenty of flours to choose from at local grocery and health food stores. In fact, there are now so many out there that it’s hard to keep track. If you’re up for the challenge and looking to try your hand at baking gluten free, here’s what you need to know about some common gluten-free flours that you may encounter.
As its name suggests, almond flour is made from ground almonds. This flour is widely available, is naturally gluten free, and it produces dense, sweet flavored treats. Perfect for muffins and dense breads like pumpkin or banana bread, almond flour is ideal for those on a paleo diet or people that avoid grains altogether. The downside to almond flour is that it is more gritty than other flours — with a texture more like cornmeal — and it is also more expensive than most gluten-free flours, coming in at around $8 a pound.
If you tolerate gluten-free oats, oat flour is one of the better baking flours for those on a gluten-free diet. Made from ground oats, it provides more protein than wheat flour and can be used on its own or in combination with other gluten-free flours. Oat flour has a moist, gummy texture compared to other flours and is thus more reminiscent of wheat flour in recipes. Oat flour can be easily made in a food processor or blender: just toss in your certified gluten-free oats and pulse until they have a floury texture.
Brown Rice Flour
Brown rice flour, like oat flour, is more protein packed than wheat flour and is just as soft and fluffy when finely ground. It also provides a healthy serving of potassium and iron. Rice flour can be made using uncooked brown rice and a blender or food processor. Be aware that homemade rice flour will likely be more gritty than store bought, and thus it may not hold as well on its own in gluten-free recipes; to avoid this, mix it with another type of gluten-free flour, like sorghum or tapioca.
Tapioca comes from the tuber of a South American plant called the cassava, and despite its popularity as a pudding and Bubble Tea (boba drink) staple, it also serves as a great allergen-free flour alternative. It is a naturally gluten-free food, and tapioca flour is inexpensive and holds moisture extremely well. Cooking with tapioca flour and tapioca starch has been common in South American countries for centuries, mainly in flatbreads and rolls. Pão de Queijo, a popular Brazilian cheese roll, is just one of the thousands of dishes made from tapioca flour that are naturally gluten free. Be wary of the amount of liquid you use with tapioca flour, as it can easily become too sticky to work with.
Sorghum is a cereal grain that, when processed into flour, is fluffy, creamy, and light in texture. Unlike almond flour, sorghum flour is not mealy or gritty and provides a natural rise to baked goods. Unfortunately, sorghum is best when mixed with other flours as it doesn’t hold well on its own. However, this means that a pound may last for months in the average bakers kitchen, so it saves money in the long run.
These flours are only a small fraction of the options out there on the gluten-free market, and they can make gluten-free living a lot more bearable. They are often used in combination with xanthan gum, baking powder, and starches to produce all-purpose flours that strongly resemble wheat flours. With the growing number of people that are choosing to live gluten free, more and more foods are being made into flour. From peas to oranges, if you’ve got a brave stomach and a good handle on flavor combinations, don’t rule any foods out as options for your baking. Also, once you buy your flour, don’t forget that there are blogs and entire Pinterest boards dedicated to baking gluten-free food, so give them a shot and be creative.
If you’re wondering about precise substitutions, we recommend Living Without’s flour blend ideas or Gluten-Free on a Shoestring’s take on gluten-free flour subbing