About Gluten-free Flours/Starches
The following is merely an introduction to gluten-free flours and starches. There is much information about each of these gluten-free ingredients online and in cookbooks. Each cook gradually learns their own favorite flours, starches, and blends through experimentation.
There are many healthy and often tasty flours that are naturally gluten-free. Unfortunately, none of these flours on their own can match the wonderful properties of wheat flour. Each flour has strengths and weaknesses in terms of taste, texture, nutrition, and baking properties. Several of them are "ancient grains" used by past civilizations that have been fairly recently rediscovered. Much more information/history is available on the internet about each of the flours.
- Those flours with a high oil content should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, as they go rancid fairly quickly. This would occur even faster in warm climates. Heavy-duty freezer bags work well for storage. High oil content flours include brown rice, amaranth, millet, and any nut or bean flours.
- Try to buy flours that are marked gluten-free when possible, such as some produced by Bob's Red Mill and dedicated gluten-free manufacturers. There is a good chance of cross-contamination during the normal harvesting, storage and milling process of grains.
- Be as precise as possible when measuring GF flours for recipes. Use a whisk or sifter before measuring, and then carefully level off in the correct size of measuring cup. Never pack down the flour.
- Different GF flours will have different replacements amounts for wheat flour. See The Gluten Free Guide on the Sprouts Markets website.
The December/January 2010 issue of Living Without magazine had a very informative article titled "Flour Power" by Beth Hillson. The article describes the different gluten-free flours and gives recommendations for their use.
Additional descriptions of individual flours/starches can be found at www.triumphdining.com, glutenfreecooking.about.com, glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com and glutenfreemommy.com.
Coconut flour information:
Almond flour information: www.elanaspantry.com/almond-flour. Elana also wrote the popular cookbook The Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook.
When baking, it is necessary to combine several flours and starches to make it as close to wheat flour as possible. This gets confusing, as there are so many different recommended blends in recipe books and online. Not only does each cookbook author have their favorite blend they recommend, but different blends will be recommended for different types of recipes. It is normal to use a different blend for a crust, cookies, a cake, and bread. In addition, the authors also tend to change their recommended blends in subsequent cookbooks.
The current trend is going toward sorghum blends, such as Carol's Sorghum Blend. Carol gives recommendations for modifying this basic blend in her latest cookbook 1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes depending on what you are cooking. The CSA website lists several other Gluten-free Flour Blends from different cookbook authors. The Living Without magazine website give several flour blend recipes in the "Gluten Free Flour Substitutions" section of their website. They include High-Fiber Flour Blend, High-Protein Flour Blend, Self-Rising Flour Blend, and All-Purpose Flour Blend. The GIG Gluten-Free Recipe Exchange site gives recipes for different flour blends and some comments from users about them.
There are several commercial GF flour blends that are sold in stores such as Whole Foods and Jimbo's. Many more are sold online. The glutenfreegoddess.blogspot provides recommendations for some of the commercially available GF flour blends (scroll down to "Using a baking mix as a flour sub"). Be aware that many celiacs are also sensitive to soy, nuts, or beans, which are found in some of the commercially sold GF flour mixes.
Some flour blends come with gum in them (xanthan or guar). These are considered important for the texture of a gf baked product. If a gum is not included in a commercially made flour blend, you may want to add it to the flour blend for baked items.
Whether making a GF blend or purchasing a premade one, each cook will need to experiment to find the blend(s) that works best for them.
GF Flour Blend Comments to SillyYak site:
"The Carol Fenster mix is a favourite of mine. Whenever we mix flour, we do very large batches at one time so the mess happens once and store it in large plastic bins in the pantry. I have made other mixes, and used some premixed AP mixes, but somehow always come back to the Carol Fenster mix. My girls look up recipes on line, that are meant for wheat flour, and we just sub in the Fenster mix and xanthan gum and they always turn out perfectly." Sabreena, 12/10
"You will get a lot of suggestions on this since we all have our favorites. Tom Sawyer (flour for flour sub) and Better Batter (flour for flour sub) are good replacements. Some people prefer to make their own flour blends from Bette Hangman I believe. I also use a combo depending on what I am doing.
Flours I will never use due to taste or performance are bob red mill all purpose flour or arrowmills flours. just don't like them." Theresa, 7/09
"I can't stand the garbanzo/fava blend in Bob's unless it is in something that will seriously disguise the taste.
My favorite for general baking is Better Batter flour. I also make my own blends for specific recipes that call for particular GF blends. I have not tried Tom Sawyer flour but others on this board say it's just as good as Better Batter for their purposes. (If it makes a difference to you, Better Batter is vegan and Tom Sawyer isn't.)
If you want to make your own blend, there are lots of recipes available for GF flour blends. The simplest ones use rice flour, cornstarch, and tapioca starch. For baking, you will need to add xanthan gum or guar gum." Chandra, 7/09
The Carol Fenster mix is a favourite of mine. Whenever we mix flour, we do very large batches at one time so the mess happens once and store it in large plastic bins in the pantry. I have made other mixes, and used some premixed AP mixes, but somehow always come back to the Carol Fenster mix. My girls look up recipes on line, that are meant for wheat flour, and we just sub in the Fenster mix and xanthan gum and they always turn out perfectly.
Almost any of the GF flours/starches can be used as thickening agents, but some are better than others. It will depend on what you're making as to which one you will want to use.
About Starch Thickeners
Cornstarch, arrowroot and tapioca are most often used for puddings, pie fillings, fruit sauces, gravies, and Asian dishes. All give a transparent glistening appearance. Mix with cold liquid before adding to your dish to avoid lumping. Additional thickening will occur as the recipe cools. Undercooking after the starch is added could impart a starchy flavor.
The Cook's Thesaurus website has a section on starch thickeners that is very informative.
About Flour Thickeners
These are used very similarly to wheat flour to thicken gravies, sauces, stews and soups. Mix with cold water, and then gradually stir into the recipe at the end of the cooking time to help avoid lumping.
- Corn starch gives a slightly glossy appearance, and is the best choice for dairy-based sauces. It can also be used to thicken an acidic liquid. Corn starch also is used in baked goods to make them more airy. It has no taste and is flavorless. Store in a sealed container in a dry location.
- Arrowroot flour thickens at lower temperatures. Not a good thickener for dairy based sauces. Overcooking will cause it to thin a little, so add only in last 5 minutes.
- Tapioca (instant, or regular) comes in little balls that don't dissolve when heated. Often used to make puddings and pie filings. "I've found that the best thickener in a crock pot is instant tapioca powder. Two tablespoons is usually enough for a medium-sized slow cooker. I add the powder right from the beginning, though some people prefer to stir it in about 1/2 hour before serving the meal." Connie Sarros, GF cookbook author, 5/09 in Clan Thompson online newsletter.
- Rice flour (brown or white): Often used for soups, stews, gravies. Gives a gritty texture, so the "fine texture" rice flour is best. Store brown rice in freezer.
- Sweet rice flour: Made from sticky white rice, it is higher in starch than white or brown rice four, and therefore makes an excellent thickening agent for suaces, gravy and puddings. It is good for sauces that will be refrigerated or frozen since it inhibits separation of liquids.
- Potato starch
Often used for cream-based soups and sauces. Don't boil. Don't confuse with potato flour, which is a heavy flour with a definite potato taste.
- Grated potato: This can be added to soups and stews to naturally thicken them (commonly done this way in parts of Europe).
- Pancake mix: Don't have any of the above handy, and just need a little thickening agent? A commercially made GF pancake or baking mix will usually work just fine.
The following suggestions were from various people on the Celiac Listserv in August 2009. It was in response to a poster asking for recommendations for the best flour to be used for dredging.
-- I have my baking mix but there are some on the market just for
coating meat, fish, etc. For stew I prefer to use potato flour as it
helps thicken the gravy.
-- use a mix of rice or potato starch or tapioca or corn
starch.....Doesn't have to be the proportions that you'd need to bake.
I just find that rice is too grainy alone and the starches are too
light alone. Dry chicken pieces, dip in flour mix, dip in beaten
egg, and then redip in flour. Actually, I use a baggie for the flours.
-- I make Lemon Chicken using corn flour. I found this recipe in an
old cookbook, and the recipe actually called for corn flour, so there
was no substitution involved. The chicken fries up crispy and light.
Ffirst dip the pieces in egg and then dredge in seasoned corn flour
before d eep frying in a wok.
-- I use the gf flour mixes....like Domata or Bettey Hagman's for
dredging ...but if you want to make a batter-like coating use Pamela's
pancake mix...makes great coating for chicken tenders or sweet and
sour chicken recipes.
-- We like garbanzo bean or soy flour for meats. Corn meal for fish.
All three with salt and pepper mixed into the flour before dredging.
-- Fish and chicken are really good dredged in corn flour (not corn
starch) or really fine corn meal. I like dredging things in tapioca
-- To make a terrific sauce, brown your onions or other flavorings in
oil or butter, sprinkle with tapioca flour, stir to coat the solids,
then add boiling stock or water, stir and simmer for a few minutes.
Even a non-GF cook friend tried this and now does it this way all the
time. It doesn't make lumps as readily as some other flours.
Tips for Baking with Gluten-Free Flour on About.com:Celiac Disease
Baking Hints on glutenfreeflour.com
Baking + Cooking Substitutions for Gluten-Free and More on glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com
The Gluten Free Guide on the Sprouts Markets website provides guidlines for substituting various GF flours for wheat flour in recipes.
Cooking and Baking Gluten-Free: Tips from Karina on glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com
Gluten Free Grains 101: The Best Flour Blend on glutenfreemommy.com
Nutritional Content of Alternative Gluten-Free Grains on celiac.com
"I would not say that sorghum flour tastes better than quinoa - but sorghum is more of a neutral flour, while quinoa has more personality. Small amounts of quinoa in a recipe add interesting depth to the recipe, as well as a sweetness that is quite unique. One of my favorite recipes, Rebecca Reilly's graham crackers, has a small amount of quinoa and it makes them AWESOME. But, it must be said that in large quantities, quinoa would overwhelm the flavor and be overpowering. Sorghum would be ok as a substitute, but if it were possible I would probably try teff or millet flour as a substitute because they will both add additional interest to the flavor of the recipe and have similar nutritional profiles." Brenda to SilllyYak group, 5/09
"Unfortunately, the best GF flours for white cakes tend to be the ones that are not all that great nutritionally. Bean flours do darken the appearance, so a lower-protein flour such as Featherlight (add xanthan gum to it) or a white rice/cornstarch/potato starch/tapioca blend from a cookbook (add xanthan gum to that, too) makes a lighter-colored cake.
I personally like Better Batter flour, it has the xanthan gum already in it and you can use it in regular gluten type recipes just like all purpose flour (except yeast breads, but there are instructions for that)." Chandra to Silly Yak group, 5/09