I devoted one of my previous articles to the question of how to substitute wheat-flour with a gluten-free alternative in a recipe. In this article I offer you an overview of ten commonly used gluten-free flours.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a collective term for proteins that naturally occur in certain grains, such as wheat (including spelt), rye and barley. Wheat flour is used as the standard in traditional baking. It is important to realize that you can almost never substitute wheat flour one-to-one with another flour. It is useful to know which gluten-free flours have which properties before experimenting with gluten-free cooking in the kitchen. Below is an overview of ten commonly used alternative flours (and starches) that are gluten-free. The order is alphabetical.
Almond flour is made from almond nuts, nothing else. Since nuts are quite high in calories, almond flour is also high in calories. In addition, almond flour is also high in fat. Almond flour provides 55 g of fat per 100 g and 630 kcal, while traditional wheat flour only contains 1 gram of fat and 350 kcal. Almond flour has a slightly sweet taste. Almond flour is best used to bake (gluten-free) pies and cakes. You can also use it instead of breadcrumbs.
Buckwheat flour is made of buckwheat. It is very similar to traditional wheat flour in nutritional value. You can also often substitute it one-to-one in most recipes. Buckwheat flour does have a subtle nutty taste. The taste of the end product will therefore be different. Buckwheat flour is not very popular in the Netherlands, where I live, but it is widely used in our neighboring countries. Think France and buckwheat crêpes (also known as galettes de sarrasin). Like in Europe as in Asia, buckwheat flour is used to make pasta and noodles.
Chestnut flour is made from dried chestnuts. It is delicious in brownies and other crumbly pastries. In pastries where crumbs do not belong, chestnut flour is often mixed with other types of (gluten-free) flour. Chestnut flour is brown in color and so will affect the color of the final product.
Chickpea flour is a frequently used product in vegan baking. It can replace both – wheat flour and eggs. This type of flour is ideal for making pancakes and wraps. It does have a taste. It tastes and smells like chickpeas of course. So don’t use it as the only wheat flour substitute in flour-intensive recipes, such as cakes. Chickpea flour binds well and is therefore very suitable for vegan recipes. Here you will find my socca recipe which uses chickpea flour.
Coconut flour is made from dried and defatted coconut meat. Coconut flour is the most fiber-rich flour. It contains no less than 40 grams of fiber per 100 g. Compare it to regular wheat flour, which contains only 3 g of fiber per 100 g. Lots of fiber is good for your health. But fiber can cause problems during baking. In vegan baking, using coconut flour is difficult. It does not work without a powerful binder such as egg. As a rule of thumb, you should use one egg for every tablespoon of coconut flour. It is sometimes added in small amounts to gluten-free blends to improve the nutritional profile.
Lupine flour is high in protein and fiber and is made entirely from the sweet lupine bean. Lupine beans are closely related to peanuts. A lot of attention is being paid to lupine in the vegan and gluten-free food industry nowadays. It is increasingly being added to all kinds of bakery products including bread. Lupine flour has an intense yellow color and an almost neutral smell and taste.
Plantain flour is made from unripe green plantains (bananas). The unripe plantains do not taste sweet, and this flour is not sweet either. It tastes fairly neutral and is therefore suitable for many uses. But it tastes best in pancakes and (of course) in banana bread. This flour contains much more starch than wheat flour and absorbs more moisture. That’s why you can’t replace wheat flour one-to-one with plantain flour. You’ll be using about ¾ cup of plantain flour instead of 1 cup of regular flour in a recipe, or you’ll need to increase the volume of the liquid ingredients in the recipe.
Potato starch is an essential ingredient in gluten-free baking. A gluten-free flour blend almost always contains a starch. In most cases, potato starch is chosen. Potato starch tolerates higher temperatures than, for example, corn starch (another a frequently used starch in gluten-free bakery). It is therefore also an excellent thickener for sauces, soups and stews.
Quinoa flour is a ground quinoa grain. It is best to use in small amounts in combination with other (gluten-free) flours. For my taste, it works best in sweet pastries such as cupcakes, muffins, and pancakes.
Tapioca starch comes from cassava, a plant common in South America. It is often used in ready-to-use gluten-free flour blends. Like potato starch, tapioca has a strong binding capacity. It is slightly tougher than potato starch. Usually, you don’t use tapioca starch alone in a recipe, but in combination with other, protein-rich flours.