When baking traditional desserts and breads, the majority of recipes just call for plain flour or self raising flour. When baking gluten free products there is a myriad of flours needed, adding to the wide variety of tastes you can achieve. It is important to test each product to see what works best for each recipe.
Most commercially produced gluten free flours are a mix of different flours. To build structure, strength and flavour, a variety of flours are blended. Luckily these flours are often healthier than bleached wheat flours, so there are benefits. Some however have more nutrients than others. Be sure to evaluate your recipe and match it to the correct flour; commercially preprepared mix or otherwise.
Here’s the GF Pantry guide to flour.
Traditional Wheat Flours – just so you understand what we are comparing to.
Plain flour - also known as all-purpose flour. It contains proteins called gluten. The protein in flour creates volume and texture. The higher the protein, the stronger the end product will be. Higher protein flour is usually used for breads and heavier baking. The lower the protein the softer the flour, which is better for cakes, cookies, and pie crusts
Self raising flour - Leavening agents are added to produce even lighter and softer baked goods. Premixing the agents ensures even distributed throughout the flour, which gives a consistent rise in baked goods. This flour is often used for light cakes, scones and muffins.
Low protein flours – mainly starches, with neutral flavours. These are versatile light flours, good for bulking out flour mixes, helping to bind products, and build texture and structure. They are usually mixed with other flours when baking.
- Arrowroot starch/flour comes from the arrowroot plant. It is often used as a thickener for sauces and desserts without the negative of a cloudy colouring. It's rich in potassium, B vitamins and iron. It is known to be stable at low temperatures, so it is good for baked goods that require freezing.
- Potato starch is derived from ground potato. It is a refined, white powder that adds lightness and moisture to breads. It can help with structure but is one of the few low protein powders that has a strong flavour, and is known to absorb moisture. It can be used as a substitute for corn flour. Potato starch is different to potato flour which is made from the whole potato including the skin, and is not suitable for baking large quantities of gluten free foods.
- Quinoa flour is made from the grain like quinoa seed. It has a strong flavour and is good for adding strength and structure. It is often used in small amounts due to the flavour. Quinoa is a very healthy flour, providing 100% of the amino acids needed by the body, as well as a good source of fibre. It requires longer cooking on a lower temperature then most flours, and tends to absorb moisture when baking. When substituting quinoa flour into a recipe, start with 1/4 less flour then the recipe states, and add 5 to 10% more liquid to it. Quinoa flour is commonly used for quick breads, muffins, and pancakes,
- Tapioca starch or flour is from the cassava root; a tuber vegetable native to South America. It gives a soft, slightly crisp crumb and is very light. It can be used in soups, sauces and pies, and with a slightly sweet flavour works well in cakes. Nutritionally it is very similar in profile to wheat flour (minus the gluten). It does however provide resistant starch which has digestive benefits. Cassava flour is processed differently to tapioca flour. It has a thicker texture when baking, so you can use less gums or thickeners.
- Tigernut flour is not made from nuts but a small root vegetable. It has a sweet vanilla like flavour that works in baked goods and allows you to reduce the added sugar quantity in your recipe. It’s slightly coarser than traditional white flour and produces products with more texture. It has a high fibre content, as well as Vitamin E and potassium. You need to combine tigernut flour with a starchier binder like arrowroot or tapioca flour for many recipes.
Medium protein flours – These flours contain more protein and can often be used on their own when baking. They usually have more flavour than the low protein flours.
- Buckwheat flour sounds like wheat but isn’t. It comes from a plant related to rhubarb, and is often used for pancakes, blinis, and crepes. It’s a good source of protein, omega fatty acids, B vitamins, manganese, fibre, copper, magnesium, and other minerals. Buckwheat flour has a rich earthy flavour and results in darker baked goods
- Cornflour comes from highly processed corn and is usually very fine. It can also be known as corn starch or maize starch, and is good for baking cakes, biscuits and cookies or as a thickener in sauces. Corn flour comes in white and yellow varieties, is high in fibre, vitamin B6, thiamine, manganese, magnesium and the antioxidant selenium. Corn flour won’t always work as a straight substitution for normal flour, as it can be quite drying. It should not be confused with corn meal or polenta which are slightly higher in protein, thicker and stronger. Most importantly in Australia, cornflour can be made from wheat, with “Wheaten Corn Flour”. This is not gluten free. Corn flour must always be checked for gluten.
- Millet flour is made from ground millet grains. It has a slightly sweet flavour profile that is perfect for cakes and desserts. It’s packed with protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins. Foods made with this flour may crumble easily so binding agents or starch are often needed.
- Rice flour comes from either white or brown rice. White rice flour is flavourless, with a superfine light and crumbly texture. It is used as an all-purpose flour for breading and baking. Brown is a denser whole grain flour with a nutty flavour that works best when used in flour mixes. White rice flour isn’t the most nutritious choice, but does give baked goods a light texture. Brown is higher in protein and fibre, is rich in iron, B vitamins, magnesium and manganese. By itself it’s good for thickening products.
- Sorghum flour is another grain flour. It has a similar but slightly nuttier taste profile to wheat with a light colour and texture. It gives breads a smoother, softer texture and is a source of protein, fibre, iron and antioxidants. It is often used for baked goods and desserts but doesn’t rise as well as wheat flour. Extra binders or starch will help in sorghum recipes and extra oil and eggs may keep your mixture from becoming dry.
- Teff flour is derived from the very small teff grain. It contains iron, calcium, fibre and vitamin C. Teff flour gives a great crumb and adds moisture. There are two types; ivory and brown. Brown is nutty in flavour similar to cocoa powder and therefore good for brownies. Ivory has a mild flavour. Sometimes teff can be a little bit gritty in texture.
High protein flours – These flours contain a good source of protein. They aren’t often used on their own unless a specific flavour is required. They are dense and need to be mixed with less dense flours for good texture and structure.
- Amaranth flour is made from the seeds of the amaranth plant. It is technically grain-free, but is often referred to as an ancient grain. It’s high in protein as well as iron, B vitamins, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. With a nutty flavour, it is good for tortillas, breads, and pizza crust. It should only replace around 25% of wheat flour when combined with other flours for baking.
- Almond meal or flour is derived from finely ground almonds. It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavour, and gives a moist crumb ideal for friands and flourless cakes. The terms meal and flour may be used interchangeably or may indicate coarseness. Almond flour may be more finely ground with the skins being removed before grinding. Whatever it’s called, it is low in carbohydrates, high in healthy fats, high in fibre and protein, with lots of vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and vitamin E. When substituting for wheat flour, you may need an extra egg, and your mix will be thicker, with a denser finished product.
- Bean flours can come from many different legumes including navy beans, fava beans, lentils or chickpeas, and may be labelled by the bean name or as besan, garbanzo or gram flour. They are often yellow in colour and have a strong distinctive flavour, so are only suitable for certain dishes. They are a good source of protein, fibre, and iron. These flours are common in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, and are used to make falafels, hummus, flatbreads, curries and the flatbread socca.
- Coconut flour comes from dried coconut meat and has a mild sweet flavour. It gives a great moist crumb, but often needs extra liquid or eggs to provide structure. It is high in healthy fats, fibre and protein and is perfect for baking and desserts.
- Soy flour is made from ground soybeans. It’s flavour varies widely from a mild sweetness to a strong beany flavour. It has a smooth texture, and is high in protein. You can use it in baked goods and for frying. Due to its moist consistency when baking, it is popular in many gluten free flour blends
All of these flour can be produced or packed on lines that also process wheat, rye, barley or oats, so it’s still important to read the package to confirm the flour was not made in a facility where gluten is processed. If purchasing from GF Pantry, you can be assured that we have already checked all products for you.
GF Pantry sells all sorts of flours. The makeup for the commercial mixes is listed so you can check which individual flours might suit your recipes. New flours are also always coming out, which means there are always new things to try. If you are baking with them, check out our “Gluten free baking tips" blog. There are lots of handy hints on how to get the most from your flours. And remember that home baking rarely looks like commercially baked product. Enjoy your creations, even when they don’t turn out perfect every time.