Gluten-Free Flours Provide Healthy Alternatives
8 of 11 in Series: The Essentials of Eating Gluten-Free
A variety of alternative flours are available these days — a very good thing if you’re avoiding gluten in your diet. Health food stores, Asian markets, and even many mainstream groceries offer a large variety of flours ranging from buckwheat to nut flours to substitutes like flaxseed meal.
Alternative flours at Asian markets are often very finely ground, which is good for baking, but it can be difficult to confirm that the flours are processed in a gluten-free facility, so you may want to stick with more traditional sources.
You can choose between brown rice flour and white rice flour.
Brown rice flour still has the bran layer, so it offers more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than its white counterpart, but the finished product is slightly darker in color and a bit nuttier tasting. Even though brown rice flour still has the bran layer, this kind of bran is gluten-free.
White rice flour and glutinous white rice flour are not interchangeable. White rice flour is used for baking; Glutinous white rice flour is glutinous (sticky) and is used like cornstarch to thicken gravies.
Don’t let the name glutinous confuse you. Rice gluten (which is safe for celiacs) is not the same as wheat gluten (which is not safe for celiacs).
Potato starch flour shouldn’t be confused with potato flour. Potato flour is used as a thickener for gravies; potato starch flour is used as a base for baked goods. The powdery texture helps keep baked foods light in texture and helps with the expansion during baking. It also helps maintain moisture in baked goods.
Tapioca (or cassava) flour is a thickening agent that helps prevent breads and cakes from crumbling. It also lightens baked goods while adding a chewiness (perfect for cookies), and it helps gluten-free products to brown. It’s very easily digested.
The two main bean flours on the market are garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour and garfava bean flour (a combination of garbanzo beans and fava beans). Both are slightly yellow in color and excellent sources of protein.
A little more challenging to locate are lentil, mung bean, and pea flours. The bean flours add extra nutrition to the mix, and they also help make the product lighter, so it’s beneficial to add a little bean flour to your flour mixture. Adding too much bean flour may give your product a potent aftertaste and may also cause flatulence (yup, gas).
Cornstarch, although it has no nutritional value, helps lighten the texture of baked goods.
Sorghum (or milo) flour offers more nutritional value (protein and fiber) than the rice flours. It’s neutral tasting, and it helps keep your baked goods from shrinking.
White sweet potato flour is difficult to find, but it adds a delicious flavor to cookies and cakes, and is also higher in fiber than most other flours.
Amaranth is sweeter than most alternative flours with an almost nutty taste. Although the taste is good, the texture tends to be very sticky, so no more than 10 percent of your flour mixture should be amaranth. The advantage to including it is that it’s more nutritious than most of the alternative flours. It’s high in fiber, iron, and calcium.
Soy flour is an option, but it tends to leave a distinctive aftertaste, as do teff and buckwheat.