It’s difficult to realise how much of our food depends on flour until we’re unable to eat it, due to gluten sensitivity. Fortunately, there are lots of gluten-free flours on the market, and some of them are actually even more healthy than normal wheat flour. Here’s our rundown of the best gluten-free flours to use in all your cooking and baking projects.February 05, 2021 10:09 am January 28, 2021 4:20 pm
What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins which are present in some cereals.
You may be most familiar with it as it plays an essential role in bread-making. When you knead bread dough, you are encouraging the gluten in the flour to bind into long, strong fibres. These then give the bread its structure.
Some people are sensitive to gluten due to Celiac disease. For these people, eating gluten is very dangerous, as it prevents their bodies from absorbing nutrients from their food and may damage the lining of their small intestine. They’re also more likely to suffer from an autoimmune disease.
Many other people avoid gluten due to a slight sensitivity or simply as a lifestyle choice. If you do not suffer from Celiac disease and are curious about the pros and cons of giving it up, check out our article: Is gluten bad for you?
Which flours contain gluten?
Supermarkets and health food stores offer such an enormous range of flours that it’s best to start with which ones you can rule out.
All-purpose flour – which we might also call ‘normal’ flour or wheat flour – does contain gluten. However, so do barley flour, rye flour and spelt flour.
If you are sensitive to gluten, you should avoid these flours.
However, things are complicated slightly by the fact that cross-contamination is rife in flour producing facilities. This is because gluten-containing products are processed in the same place as gluten-free ones, and a bit of gluten often passes into the supposedly gluten-free products.
The tricky question of oats
One such example is oats and oat flour. While oats do not naturally contain gluten, they are often contaminated with it during processing.
You can get gluten-free oats which have been processed in a way which avoids cross-contamination.
However if you have Celiac disease, you may still want to avoid them.
While the majority of people with gluten intolerance can eat gluten-free oats with no issues, a small number of people with Celiac disease may have a reaction to them.
This is because oats contain a different protein called avenin, which can provoke a reaction in some cases.(1)
Now, let’s take a look at the best gluten-free flours you can use for your kitchen projects.
Amaranth is technically not a cereal, but a ‘pesudocereal’! This means that it’s actually a seed, but we consume and use it in the same way as a cereal. It has a light, nutty flavour that lends itself nicely to both sweet and savoury recipes.
Amaranth is high in fibre and a good source of protein. In fact, it contains 18 amino acids, meaning it can be considered an almost complete protein source.
When it comes to fibre, amaranth contains both soluble and non-soluble types. Soluble fibre helps food to move smoothly through your digestive system, while non-soluble fibre adds bulk. This gives your body time to absorb as many nutrients as possible from the other foods you eat.
Amaranth acts a bit like oats when exposed to water, soaking it all up to produce a creamy ‘sauce’. This means that the grain itself makes excellent porridge. You can also use the flour as a thickener for sauces, gravies and soups.
While many cooking and baking recipes call specifically for amaranth flour, such as our tasty Amaranth Veggie Burger, you can also use it as a replacement for wheat flour.
However, if you’re using it this way, you’ll need to include amaranth flour as part of a blend. You can replace up to about a quarter of the required amount of wheat flour with amaranth.
Pros: Super nutritious, with a pleasantly nutty flavour
Cons: You can’t substitute all your wheat flour for amaranth in normal recipes.
"Almond flour is also very nutritious, providing a high proportion of protein and fibre, as well as vitamin E. It also contains essential minerals like manganese and magnesium."
Much like the whole nut, almond flour has a delicious, sweet flavour which is much prized in hundreds of recipes.
However, there is a difference between the different types available. Many almond flours on the market are simply the whole nut ground into a very fine powder. As a result, the powder has a very high fat content which you need to compensate for in your recipes. It also needs to be stored at a cool temperature to prevent the oils from going rancid.
On the other hand, some almond flours are made after the almond oil has been extracted. At Erbology, we cold-press our almonds to remove the almond oil and then grind the remaining solids into our almond flour. The fat content is lower, which means you can use it as a closer approximation to wheat flour.
For example, ricciarelli and amaretti, those moreish little Italian biscuits that go so perfectly with coffee, both call for almond flour to impart flavour and texture.
Almond flour is also very nutritious, providing a high proportion of protein and fibre, as well as vitamin E. It also contains essential minerals like manganese and magnesium.
However, some types of almond flour, like Erbology Organic Almond Flour, has been partially defatted, so you can keep them out of the fridge. There’s another level of convenience to our flour: you can use our flour to make almond milk simply by mixing with hot or cold water!
In many recipes, almond flour can be substituted directly for plain flour in a 1:1 ratio. However you may need to tweak the recipe to get the results you want.
Pros: Delicious flavour and packed with protein, fibre and minerals. Can be swapped 1:1 for regular flour and used to make almond milk.
Cons: You may need to experiment with almond flour in your recipes to get the texture you want.
Much as we make our almond flour by first removing the oils, we also defat our walnut flour. This means that our walnut flour doesn’t have the same high oil content of the nuts themselves.
You can use walnut flour in the same way as you would use almond flour. However, as walnut flour includes the skin of the walnut (unlike almond flour), the taste is a bit stronger.
Walnut flour has a slightly different nutritional content, offering similarly high amounts of protein and fibre but also providing iron, potassium and phosphorus.
Its flavour is slightly less sweet than almond flour, but it has a moreish toasty flavour which goes brilliantly in baking.
It’s also soluble, which means you can use it as a thickening agent for sauces and stews. You can also add a spoonful to your smoothie to thicken it up and give it a boost of nutrients.
If you’re aiming to replace wheat flour with walnut flour, it’s best to use it in a blend. The exact ratio will depend on the recipe. For denser bakes, such as brownies or banana bread, it’s fine to use a higher proportion of walnut flour.
However if you want to create a light, airy bake, blend a smaller amount of walnut flour in with another gluten-free flour to maintain the right texture.
Pros: Great flavour, packed with protein, fibre and minerals. An excellent thickener for sauces.
Cons: You’ll probably taste it in your bakes, which might not be right for every recipe.
Rice flour is available as white rice flour and brown rice flour. The only difference is that brown rice flour is made from the whole grain (and is therefore more nutritious). White rice flour is made only from the endosperm (inner part) of the rice grain.
Both types of rice flours are common features in lots of gluten-free flour blends. The major benefit, especially to white rice flour, is that it has a neutral, almost unnoticeable flavour. This means it will blend happily into lots of different recipes without becoming a dominant flavour.
Traditionally, rice flour is used for all manner of culinary creations including rice cakes, or sweets made from ground, sweetened and shaped rice.
On the downside, rice flour does have a reputation for creating a gritty texture. To avoid this, make sure you source the finest milled flour you can get your hands on.
Rice flour cannot be substituted 1:1 for plain flour in recipes and should be used in a blend.
Pros: Very versatile thanks to its neutral flavour
Cons: White rice flour is not particularly nutritious on its own. May give a gritty texture. Can’t be substituted 1:1 for plain flour.
Creating a gluten-free blend
Lots of brands offer a blend of gluten-free flours. However, as each flour gives different results, a pre-packaged blend may not give you the results you’re looking for.
Making a gluten-free flour blend at home gives you much more control and potentially much better results. However, there are no hard and fast rules, and you will need to dedicate a period of trial and error to finding what works.
If you’d like to try making a gluten-free flour blend at home, there are a few simple tips to follow which should help you along the way.
Firstly, think about the end result you’re aiming for. What kind of texture would you like it to have? Is it acceptable to add a nutty flavour (such as almond or walnut), or even make it the star of the show? Or would that overpower the other flavours in the recipe?
Choose a neutral flour, like white rice flour, as your base; it will provide bulk without any disruptive flavour. Then, experiment with adding other flours until you have reached the weight you need.
You may also need to play about with the quantity, perhaps adding more or less gluten-free flour blend than the amount the original recipe calls for.
Many people also like to add a small of amount of starch (such as cornstarch, potato starch or arrowroot) to their blend. Not only are they great thickening agents, but they can help achieve a light crumb in baking, too.
Which is the best gluten-free flour?
There is no one type of gluten-free flour that can be substituted for plain flour in every recipe. However, you can definitely find a good substitute in the form of a blend.
In some recipes, you may be able to sub in almond flour in a 1:1 ratio, but be aware that the final recipe will (predictably) taste of almond. The texture may also be different.
Finding the perfect blend of gluten-free flours is a process of experimentation, but once you’ve mastered your signature blend, you’ll be able to adapt it across lots of different recipes.
If that all sounds too much like hard work, don’t forget that many cooking and baking recipes involving flour are naturally gluten-free! If you are keen to satisfy your sweet tooth with a weekend bake, why not try our Apple and Sweet Almond Oil Tea Bread?
It goes beautifully with a cup of tea, with no need for gluten-free flour alchemy!
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