In recent years, gluten-free flours are enjoying increasing success in the kitchen and not only for food needs related to celiac disease.
To replace gluten-rich wheat flour, you need a well thought mix of whole grain gluten-free flours and starches. There are many types of gluten-free flours available, starting with the most common rice and corn, and including amaranth flour, quinoa flour, chickpea flour. It’s a good idea to experiment with different flours to find the ones that you like best and that work best in your recipes.
Here is a quick and easy guide to choose the best gluten-free flours, from the lightest and most digestible to the tastiest.
But let’s start with some basic information.
What is the difference between gluten-free flour and regular flour?
Gluten is a soluble protein present in some cereals such as wheat, barley, rye and to a lesser extent in oats and spelt. Celiac disease is a chronic inflammation of the intestine triggered by the ingestion of gluten. There are many products on the market that are suitable for people who are allergic or intolerant to gluten, such as biscuits, preparations for bread and pizza, pasta and, in recent years, there are many flours blend already made.
If you have celiac disease, it’s important to avoid all sources of gluten in your diet. This includes wheat, barley, and rye, as well as any products that are made with these grains or that may be contaminated with them.
Which flours are without gluten?
There are many different types of gluten-free flours that can be used in baking and cooking. Some of the most popular ones include:
Low protein flours
The starches that often act as a binder in the preparations belong to this group. Combining with liquids they begin a process of “gelling”, they change consistency giving softness to the dough. In a mix of gluten-free flours they should be present at 30% of the total quantity. Gluten-free starches and starches are:
- The starch of arrowroot is obtained from the root of a tropical plant and is excellent for the preparation of cakes, biscuits or unleavened bread. It has a high thickening power
- Cornstarch or corn starch is also as a thickener, perfect to replace flour in sauces and creams such as custard and roux.
- Potato starch gives softness and lightness to bread, cakes and pies. It can be a valid substitute for cornstarch.
- Tapioca or cassava starch are extracted from the cassava root. Both make cakes softer and shortbreads crunchier.
Medium protein flours
These are gluten-free flours with a medium amount of protein and are valid substitutes for wheat flour. In a mix of gluten-free flours they must be present at least at 50% of the total quantity.
The best on the market are:
- millet flour: very similar to wheat flour, has a sweet taste and is very tasty in the preparation of cakes and bread.
- sorghum flour is a cereal with a flavor similar to wheat. This flour gives the bread softness.
- legume flours (chickpeas, lupins, soybeans, broad beans) are usually mixed with a neutral flour and are used in moderate quantities due to their very strong taste.
- quinoa and amaranth flours derive from two famous “super food” seeds. They are used in the preparation of tasty shortbread but in small doses
High protein flours
These are flours that thicken the dough thanks to the high content of proteins and nutrients. They should never be used alone and in the gluten-free blend they must be present at 20 – 30% of the quantity of the total.
These gluten-free flours are:
- corn flour is the flour that is normally used for polenta. Its optimal gluten-free use is to make crunchy and rough shortbreads and breadsticks or in breading. If it’s finely ground, it can be used in cake and lighter bread, too.
- almond flour that contains good fats and softens the dough.
- white and brown rice flour makes the doughs of biscuits and shortbreads flaky and, when mixed with other flours, makes the doughs soft
- buckwheat flour is mainly used in the preparation of crepes, pancakes, blinis and pancakes. Excellent in the preparation of homemade pasta such as pizzoccheri from Valtellina.
- coconut flour (which is different from shredded coconut) with a slightly sweet flavor, gives softness to the dough only if highly hydrated.
Other gluten-free flours include other nuts flours (such as hazelnut, walnuts…), seeds flours (like flaxseeds meal) or fruit flours like green banana. These are very specific to use and not recommend to start with.
Why are gluten-free flours gritty?
Some gluten-free flours have a gritty texture due to the presence of certain types of fibers or starches. For example, coconut flour is naturally high in fiber, which can give it a slightly gritty texture. Similarly, some types of grain-based gluten-free flours, such as those made from corn or millet, can have a slightly gritty texture due to the presence of fibrous particles.
In some cases, the gritty texture of gluten-free flours can be mitigated by using them in combination with other types of flours or by adding ingredients like eggs or a small amount of xanthan gum to the recipe to help bind the ingredients together. It may also be helpful to sift the flour before using it to help remove any large, fibrous particles. However, some people may be sensitive to xanthan gum (as well as to guam guar) and may experience digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea after consuming products that contain it. If you are sensitive to xanthan gum or have a digestive disorder, it may be best to avoid products that contain it.
It’s important to note that not all gluten-free flours are created equal, and some may not work as well as others in certain recipes. You may need to experiment with different flours to find the ones that work best for you. It may also be helpful to consult a cookbook or online resources that are specifically geared towards gluten-free cooking and baking.
Here is a list of all gluten free flours and starches:
Gluten-free wheat starch (not suitable for wheat allergy, but only for celiacs).
Remember that all these products must in any case bear the wording “Gluten-free” on their package because even if they are naturally gluten-free, they could be exposed to cross-contamination during processing.
How to convert a classic cake recipe into gluten-free?
What is the easiest gluten free flour to use?
From my experience, I would say that rice flour combined with a starch (corn or potato) is the easiest to start with. If you are new to gluten-free, I suggest you start from some simple recipes like this bread buns or this white cake. And for the first try, stick to the recipe!
If you have any question, you can write me in the comments or contact me on Instagram. I will be happy to help!