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Gluten free flour types

Article by: Dr Fiorella Amodio   
Gluten free flour types
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The sheer number of gluten free flour options can make gluten free baking intimidating, especially since you have to recreate the chemical reaction, protein quality and structure that flour with gluten provides. To make things even more confusing, hardly any gluten free baking recipe calls for just one type of flour; to help build structure and flavour, a variety of flours and starches are needed, and in the right proportions. Read on to learn all about different types of gluten free flours and what they can do for your gluten free baking.

There are three basic groups of gluten free flours, divided by their protein level:

Low protein

This group refers to mainly starches. They are a big component of gluten free flour blends and are used to help bind the mixture and build texture and structure. Basically they gelatinise; they form gels when combined with liquid to help support structure and make baking goods tender.

Arrowroot: Made from the root of the arrowroot plant, this starch is usually used as a thickener for roux, sauces and desserts.

Cornflour: A starch derived from highly processed corn, cornflour is tasteless and its fine texture makes it ideal for baking cakes, biscuits, cookies and soda breads. Also used as a thickener.

Potato starch: Made from ground potatoes. All protein is removed, and the residual starchy liquid is then dried. It adds tenderness, lightness and moistness to breads, which is why it is mostly found in gluten free blends. Excellent replacement if you can't have cornflour.

Tapioca starch: Made from the cassava root and gives a soft and slightly crisp crumb. Also used as a thickener for doughs and batters. Tapioca starch and tapioca flour are one in the same.

Potato starch v flour
Note that potato starch is not the same as potato flour, though sometimes potato starch is erroneously labelled as potato flour. Make sure what you buy is a refined, white powder, as true potato flour is made from the entire potato, including the skin, and is less refined and not suitable for baking in large quantities.
Medium protein

The amount of protein contained in these flours are moderate, which makes the perfect middle point to use in gluten free flour blends.

Millet flour: With a similar nutritional profile as wheat, this slightly sweet and soft flour is perfect for soda breads and cakes.

Sorghum flour: A cereal grain, quite nutritious, and has the most wheat-like flavour. Has a nutty flavour, very common in gluten free flour blends, and gives breads a smoother, softer texture than other gluten free flours.

Bean flours: Including fava bean and chickpea flour, these are usually used in small quantities because of their strong taste, but have a pretty high protein level.

Quinoa flour: This famous superfood, as one of the only plants that provides 100% of all the amino acids your body needs to function, is also available in flour form, but has quite a strong flavour, and is thus usually used in small amounts. It adds great strength and structure.

High protein

Usually more dense and nutritious, these flours are rarely used alone. They need to be mixed with medium-protein flours and starches.

Fine cornmeal: Also known as polenta, this flour tastes sweet and slightly nutty and adds strength and great flavour. Perfect for making cornbread and for breading meats.

Almond flour: Nothing more than finely ground almonds, this flour is slightly sweet and has a wonderful nutty flavour, and is also high in healthy fats, producing a tender, moist crumb, similar to wheat flour.

Cashew flour: Similar characteristics to almond flour, though with a higher protein level (10g protein per 4 tablespoons).

Rice flour: Either from white or brown rice, this flour is flavourless and provides a crumbly texture. Usually used mixed with other flours, and the superfine flour is the ideal one for baking. White rice flour is an all-purpose flour used for breading and thickening.

Buckwheat flour: Derived from a plant related to rhubarb, this flour has great nutritional value and is usually used for pancakes, blinis, crepes and soba noodles.

Coconut flour: Very mild and slightly sweet, also high in healthy fats, this flour gives a great moist crumb, but works best in recipes with eggs, which provide structure and moisture.

Teff flour: Derived from a highly nutritious grain, high in both protein and calcium, originally from Ethiopia, this flour gives a great crumb and adds moisture to gluten free goods. It comes in two versions: ivory or brown. The brown one has a nutty taste similar to cocoa powder, and is especially good for brownies. (Teff brownies are simply delicious!)

Kamut, einkorn and spelt flours: These flours are milled from ancient forms of wheat. While they contain low levels of gluten and aren't appropriate for a coeliac friendly diet, they can sometimes be tolerated by people with gluten sensitivities.

What's a binding agent?
Whatever the protein level, there is less protein in gluten free flours than in wheat flours, lending much less structure to the final product. Binding agents help make up the difference by building structure in gluten free baked goods. Binding agents are generally in the form of gums, such as xanthan gum or guar gum, but less refined alternatives include powdered psyllium husk and chia seeds. Note that not all gluten free recipes will need added binding agents.
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