The Fascinating World of Gluten-Free Flours

Gluten has become a lightning rod in the food world: There is a growing number of people who have removed it from their diets for various reasons, be it medical or personal preference.

But with all its notoriety, what exactly is it? Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and gives baked goods their signature chewy textures. Gluten is aptly named because it acts like glue and binds things together. In “Gluten be Gone” an article written by Beth Roessner, senior editor, and featured in the October 2018 School Nutrition magazine, gluten was put under the microscope to get a better understanding what it is and how it’s used.

A major caveat of the gluten-free diet is giving up all those delectable pastries: It’s hard to recreate certain breads, doughs, cookies and pastries without gluten. When the protein is removed, the resulting texture is often crumbly, dense and coarse. There have been major advances in gluten-free baked goods in recent years and grocery stores are exploding with more pre-made options and mixes.

Although mixes have become readily available for both home bakers and those in the school nutrition market, it can be beneficial to fully understand what’s available in terms of gluten-free flours. While wheat flour substitutions can be tricky, our best advice is to experiment and keep trying. A trick many gluten-free bakers have found is mixing several flour alternatives together to help imitate the properties of gluten. While the texture may not be exact to their glutenous counterparts, the end results are often still satisfying. In addition to a different texture, gluten-free flours often come with a hefty price tag. These may not be economical to source for school food service, and in those scenarios, mixes may be best.

From corn meal to quinoa flakes, there are dozens of different gluten-free flours on the market that add their own flavor, texture and personality to a recipe. In this month’s content, we expand upon the list that was in the original article with even more diverse options. While this below list does not cover every gluten-free flour available, it’s a good starting point for any home baker who wants to experiment with gluten-free baking and cooking.

  • Corn Meal—Corn is great for those following gluten-free diets: It’s a naturally gluten-free grain! While it does impart a strong corn flavor in baked goods, it adds a fun texture, too. It’s often combined with other flours for ideal fluffiness.
  • Cricket Flour—You read that correctly. Sustainable proteins have dominated the health-foods market recently as they offer a variety of benefits, and one that is gaining traction is cricket flour. Also known as cricket protein powder, these bugs are high in protein, certain B vitamins, iron, calcium and more. Crickets are both easy and efficient to farm and require fewer resources than cows or other livestock.
  • Potato Starch Flour—Making a creamy soup and need a thickener? Try this starch. To avoid a clumpy mess in the soup, add a little water first, stir to combine and then add it to the cooking liquid.
  • Cassava Flour—Ground from the whole yucca root, this flour is heralded as the holy grail of gluten-free baking. Why? Unlike other gluten-free flours, cassava flour is soft and powdery and very similar to wheat flour. Pair that with the fact that you can sub cassava flour 1:1 with wheat flour in many recipes, this substitute is gaining momentum quickly. 
  • Tapioca Flour—White, light and very smooth, tapioca flour is extracted from the yucca root through a process of washing and pulping. It adds a chewy texture to baked goods.
  • Banana Flour—Not for just smoothies, banana flour is milled from green bananas that are peeled, chopped, dried and then ground.
  • Chickpea Flour—More of a specialty ingredient, chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo bean flour or besan) is an unsung hero in the gluten-free kitchen. It’s naturally high in protein and fiber and can be used in baked goods—sweet or savory—or as a thickener. For an easy flatbread, combine chickpea flour with equal parts water and any spices. Spoon into a hot skillet and cook like you would a pancake. Enjoy sweet or savory.
  • Teff Flour—Teff is a grain that is about the size of a poppy seed and comes in a variety of colors—white, red, dark brown and more. It is predominantly grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea and used to make a traditional bread called injera.
  • Almond Meal—Keep the skins on the almonds, mill them and you’ll have almond meal. Because the skins are included, this flour is denser. Almond meal can also be made at home by simply grinding the nuts in a food processor or high-speed blender.
  • Brown Rice Flour—Baking with this flour over white rice flour is like baking with whole wheat flour instead of regular flour. Brown rice flour offers a nutty flavor and a slightly heavier product than baked goods with white rice flour.
  • White Rice Flour—The addition of white rice flour can add tenderness and can be used in sweet and savory dishes.
  • Glutinous Rice Flour—Milled from long-grain or short-grain sweet white rice, glutinous rice flour also goes by the name sweet rice flour. While it is free of gluten, it gets its name from its gluey consistency. Because of this resulting chewy texture, it is often used in dumplings (mochi), noodle recipes and in many Asian dessert recipes. Glutinous flour and white rice flours are not interchangeable.
  • Sorghum Flour—Growing tall like corn, sorghum is a cereal grain and is often used as a sweetener. But when milled, the grain is perfect for gluten-free baking. It offers a mild, sweet flavor and is light in both texture and color.
  • Quinoa Flakes—Perfect for hot breakfast porridges, quinoa flakes are simply quinoa grains that have been rolled thinly. And they still pack a nutritional punch as they’re loaded with protein, fiber and iron.
  • Millet Flour—Second to quinoa, millet grains pack a protein punch. When milled into a fine flour, millet offers a subtle flavor and cake-like crumb to baked goods. 

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