An Introduction to Gluten-Free Flours, Starches, and Proteins
Each Gluten-Free flour/starch serves a purpose. No two are exactly interchangeable and there’s no single perfect magical blend that will fulfill every need for every recipe. This is where a little bit of knowledge, research, and a willingness to practice comes in. I’ll try to explain things as best I can based upon my current understanding and experience. I'll be updating this page as I continue to learn and tweak and add to my current repertoire. Stay tuned for more upcoming Gluten-Free recipes, including a compilation of my best tips + tricks for gluten free baking.
Without further adeiu...in no particular order, A very basic overview of my current GF pantry ingredients…
Cornstarch and cornmeal (and corn flour) are NOT the same. Cornstarch is derived from only the starchy inner-part of the corn with the protein/fiber kernel removed. Cornmeal is ground from the entire kernel of corn which includes the protein/fiber/starch/etc of the kernel. Corn flour can have a few different meanings depending on where you live in the world, but generally it is the same as cornmeal but ground much more fine and powder-like.
Potato flour and Potato starch are NOT the same: Potato flour is made from the whole potato including the peel. Potato starch is made from just the inside of the potato. Potato starch is great at capturing moisture.
Tapioca Starch and Tapioca Flour ARE the same thing. Tapioca starch is a hydrocolloid which acts as a thickening agent. Works great for thickening pie fillings in addition to its uses in GF flour blends.
Millet flour is a great GF substitute for barley. It is a whole grain and a great source of protein, vitamins, and dietary fiber. Whole millet seeds are great in whole grain loaves.
Buckwheat flour is a whole grain that is not related to wheat, even though the name is confusing. It has a distinct flavor that is almost nutty. I find it taste great in recipes containing chocolate such as brownies or chocolate chip cookies.
Sorghum Flour has a very mild taste and is very smooth/fine which makes it a great component in many GF recipes.
Dried Egg White Powder- High in protein which provides structure and contributes elasticity to GF breads.
Yellow Pea Flour (Yellow Split Pea Protein)- High in protein and is particularly helpful in providing strength and structure in GF bread recipes. Note that this is made from split peas, not chickpeas.
Xanthan gum- A hydrocolloid that creates gas-trapping structure and provides a chewy quality that is similar to what gluten provides in wheat breads. Xanthan gum is made by drying and grinding the fermented product of a sugar-fed bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, hence the name.
Guar gum- Another hydrocolloid similar to Xanthan gum. Provides protein structure and strength to the dough. Guar gum is derived from guar beans.
What’s a hydrocolloid? Basically, it refers to how certain particles react in water. Hydrocolloids can exist as liquids, gels or solids depending on the amount of water they’re introduced to. They affect the texture and viscosity of the dough when used in GF baking, thickening the doughs/batters and providing structure and stability. Many hydrocolloids require heat to hydrate, however Xanthan Gum does not. A few common examples of hydrocolloids in cooking are starch, xanthan gum, pectin, agar agar, locust bean gum, and gelatin.
Ground psyllium husk- Similar to Xanthan gum, but not actually a ‘gum’. Can be substituted in place of Xanthan or Guar Gum but would need to be double the quantity. I typically use Xanthan gum.
Stone-Ground White Rice Flour- White rice flour is refined brown rice flour. I’ve had the best results with Bob’s Red Mill. I don’t recommend the more generic ground white rice flour from international markets as their absorption properties vary greatly which yield very inconsistent results. Bob’s Red Mill also has dedicated GF facilities as well so their products are safe.
Brown rice flour- Brown rice is a whole grain that provides a similar flavor to what one would expect from whole wheat flour in that it has a deeper, more nutty flavor. Often requires more water to hydrate than white rice flour. I’ve used a few different brand with good results, but I find that Bob’s Red Mill is more finely ground and results in a less grainy final product which I like.
Sweet White Rice Flour- Made from glutinous rice which is “sticky rice” (does NOT contain gluten, although that name is deceiving/confusing). Sweet rice flour is used in baking to add moisture. It is not as sweet as the name would suggest, and it works well as a thickener in savory applications as well.
Almond Flour-Made from ground blanched almonds. Good source of nutrients, but also contains fat so it is higher in calories than many other GF flours.
Oat Flour- Made from whole grain oats. Provides moisture and chewiness to baked goods. Read labels carefully though to be sure it’s processed in a GF facility as oats are very susceptible to cross-contamination during harvest and processing.
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Want to put your gluten-free ingredients to use? Here's my go-to Gluten-Free All-purpose Flour Blend. This is a medium strength flour (more on that in future posts) that is a great basic GF flour blend perfect for many recipes including my Gluten-Free Apple Cinnamon Muffins.
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