Learn the different gluten free flours, what works best in each type of recipe, and how to combine them so you get the best results!
Everyone likes to use the word “overwhelming” when talking about the best gluten free flours. And I totally agree. Baking especially can get overwhelming, and expensive, super fast.
The first time I tried to make gluten free biscuits, the results resembled something closer to a hockey puck than a biscuit. Even my dog, who will eat anything, looked at it like, “wtf is that?”. I am a stubborn human, so I coated it in a thick layer of butter and jam and claimed I liked it.
That was a lie to myself.
Since that horrible night of biscuits, I made it my mission to understand gluten, how to bake without it, and how to make it taste good.
I’ve spent the last year since developing my wheat allergy experimenting, reading studies on the molecular properties of oats and quinoa (seriously!), and have developed this guide to have you navigate your way through the gluten free baking aisles of your grocery stores. Plus, they are all pretty easy to find and I’m saving you the grocery bills of testing out all these different flours!
What Is the Role of Gluten in Recipes
Gluten is a protein found in wheat products. This is the protein that those with wheat allergies and celiac react to in the food. Gluten is formed when two of the proteins in wheat, glutenin and gliadin, come into contact with water. The more gluten a flour produces, the more air is trapped inside of the dough.
For bread making, this trapping of air via a gluten net is important. The dough holds onto these gas bubbles, giving the bread rise and an open crumb.
For cookies and cakes, this is why bakers recommend for you not to overmix, as you don’t want to develop those gluten proteins from activating via over agitation and exposure to moisture.
So, gluten does a few things for food.
One, gluten makes the dough … dough-y. The more your kneed your breads and pizza crusts, the more the gluten develops, forming those elastic bonds, to give it stretch and bind the dough together.
Two, gluten gives the dough rise. The more you develop that gluten, the more air is trapped inside.
Why You Can’t Swap Gluten Free Flour for Wheat Flour
Understanding the how and why gluten is formed should help you understand why we can’t use a conventional gluten recipe, simply swap out the flours, and expect the same results. No matter what we do, a simple 1:1 will never be exactly like the gluten flours in either taste, texture, or behavior.
A good gluten free recipe needs to have the different ingredients serve the dual purposes of gluten. You need to have good binding and you need to have rise. That is why there are so many different combos of flour that you can use to achieve these results.
Types of Gluten Free Flours
There are 3 types of gluten free flours that you should focus on for gluten free cooking and baking. Starches, low protein flours, and high protein flours. Each of them needs to be combined to mimic the properties of wheat flour in your recipes.
Gluten Free Starches
Starches don’t have a ton of taste, rather they are used to thicken the dough. You often find these in gravy and sauce recipes to make things rich and creamy. Just using a starch in the recipe won’t work, as they are a binder but not much else. Some common starches include:
- Corn starch
- Tapioca Flour
- Arrowroot Powder
One of my favorite ways to incorporate arrowroot powder is in my Crispy Korean BBQ Tofu recipe! The arrowroot helps to hold the sauce to the tofu while making it bake up crispy.
Low Protein Gluten Free Flours
A majority of gluten free recipes use these common low protein gluten free flours as a 1:1 substitution for wheat flour. While they do contain protein as they are a grain, the protein is much lower, and doesn’t contain gluten so no gluten structure would be formed.
They are best when combined with other flours. These flours also have a tendency to be grainy.
- Rice flours (both white and brown)
- Corn flour
- Oat flour
- Buckwheat (not wheat, just suffers from a poor name)
High Protein Gluten Free Flours
These high protein gluten free flours are not actually formed from grains at all, but rather from beans and nuts! This gives them a good protein structure, making your food chewy and working wonderfully in used as a coating for fried items. They don’t work well for thickening sauces and puddings, however.
- Chickpea flour
- Fava bean flour
- Soy flour
- Almond meal
Combining the Different Flours
How to combine the different gluten free flours really depends on what you are baking and how the flour is to be used.
Cake recipes call for a lighter flour blend. Stick with low protein flours and starches.
Cookie recipes can be a little denser in texture, can use a combo of low protein and high protein depending on the flavors you want to achieve.
Breads are the most difficult and will require a balance of all three to achieve a good structure while also remaining dough-y and tasty.
My Favorite Gluten Free Flour Blends
For those just starting on their gluten free journeys, I can’t recommend enough how helpful pre-made gluten free flour blends can be. These can basically be used as a 1:1 ratio in most recipes. Of course, there are variances and it won’t work in everything. But two of my favorites are Pamela’s All-Purpose flour for cookies, cakes, and brownies, and Better Batter for breads, pie crusts, and cookies.