Is Buckwheat Gluten-Free? Or, Why You Don’t Need Wheat Flour for Baking

If you've been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, take heart: There’s a mind-boggling assortment of alternative flours at your disposal. Our report answers such basic questions as “Is buckwheat gluten-free?” Bonus: our own flour-blend recipes.

Is buckwheat gluten-free?

Is buckwheat gluten-free? Contrary to a popular misconception, buckwheat is not actually a wheat.

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It’s a common question among people with celiac disease: “Is buckwheat gluten free?” Despite its name, buckwheat is not a wheat. It’s a grain (actually, a seed) that is not related to wheat at all. Instead, it’s a fruit from the Polygonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb and sorrel. As such, buckwheat is naturally gluten-free.

Buckwheat has a strong, robust flavor that combines well with other gluten-free flours. A great source of protein and eight essential amino acids, this flour is high in fiber and B vitamins. It’s available in light, medium, and dark varieties; light buckwheat flour is usually preferred for baking.

Similarly, wild rice flour is not made from rice. It’s a wild aquatic grass originally grown in lakes, particularly in the Minnesota area. Wild rice is now grown in man-made paddies and, therefore, it’s more plentiful. Rich in folate, wild rice has a long shelf life because it is dried and slightly fermented. This flour’s very dark brown to black color adds a rich hue to pastries and other baked items. It has a hearty, interesting flavor and texture.

In fact, who says you need wheat flour to yield quality, tasty baked goods? Besides buckwheat and wild rice, there are other grasses along with coconut, seeds, and nuts that work as gluten-free ingredients.

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Nuts and Coconut

Consider using almond flour and almond meal in your cooking and baking. You can make your own almond flour by finely grinding blanched nuts in a clean coffee grinder. Don’t overgrind; almond flour can turn into almond butter very quickly. Leaving the skin on the almonds will darken the final baked product.

Almond flour imparts a sweet, nutty flavor to baked goods. High in protein, fiber, vitamin E, and healthy fat, almond flour adds structure and texture to cakes, cookies, and cupcakes. It can be also be used as an oat substitute in oatmeal cookies for people who cannot eat oats.

Chestnut flour, made from ground chestnuts, imparts a nutty, earthy flavor to baked goods. High in fiber and low in protein, it is used widely by Italian bakers and cooks in everything from pasta (tagliatelle and gnocchi) to cakes, pancakes, breads, and muffins. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Coconut flour is another option. It serves as a low-carb, high-fiber flour with the subtle, sweet fragrance of coconut. It’s usually well tolerated by people who have multiple allergies. People on low-carb diets often bake with 100 percent coconut flour.

Seeds

Flaxseed meal is a tiny but mighty seed high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Make your own flax meal by grinding flax seeds in a clean coffee grinder. (Whole flax seeds are not digestible.)

Chia seeds (also called salba seeds) come from the Salvia hispanica plant. Hundreds of years ago, Aztec warriors would tie a bag of these seeds to their belts to sustain them during their conquests. The seeds were so important in Aztec culture that they were used as money. Considered a “super food” due to high levels of multiple nutrients and protein, chia is flavorless.

Hemp flour, a protein-rich whole-grain flour, imparts a nutty flavor to breads, muffins, cookies and pancakes. It’s an excellent source of protein, containing all essential amino acids, and is very high in dietary fiber.

Quinoa, milled from a grain that’s native to the Andes Mountains, has a delicate, nutty flavor that’s similar to wild rice. This flour is easy to digest. Quinoa contains high levels of calcium, protein, complex carbohydrates, phosphorous, iron, fiber, and B vitamins.

Tubers

Potato flour, high in fiber and protein, is a fine yellow-white powder made from dehydrated potatoes. Potato starch, made from the starch of dehydrated potatoes, is often used as a one-for-one substitution for cornstarch in recipes. It has excellent baking qualities, particularly when combined with eggs, and contains no protein or fat.

Root flours are made from tapioca, arrowroot, and sweet potato. These flours are usually well tolerated by food-allergic people, even those with multiple allergies. High nutritional properties enhance baking performance and give baked goods a chewy texture and increased browning capabilities. Arrowroot flour is pleasant-tasting and versatile, good for making breads and bagels. Sweet potato flour, which has a yellow-orange hue, imparts its color to baked goods and has a taste that complements recipes containing chocolate, molasses, spices, and such.

Wine flours, also called grape seed and grape skin flours, are produced from the byproducts of wine making. Among those you’ll find are chardonnay, merlot, cabernet-sauvignon, and riesling flours, all containing the health benefits of wine, including omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamin A, iron, and potassium. They also add color and subtle taste to recipes.

Cabernet flour, the darkest and headiest of the wine flours, is good for making breads and lends a hint of molasses taste when used to thicken sauces. Merlot flour adds a taste punch to chocolate cake and a rich hue to sauces, especially those served with meats.

Chardonnay flour has a buttery taste and gives a subtle graham-cracker flavor to baked goods. Reisling flour, slightly sweet, perks up the taste of breads and pasta; its flavor is ideal in desserts like cream puffs, pound cake and cookies.

FYI

GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR RECIPES

To make these flour blends, thoroughly combine all ingredients. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until used. You can double or triple these recipes to make as much flour blend as you need.


All-Purpose Flour Blend

Use this blend for all your gluten-free baking.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup rice flour
1/4 tapioca starch/flour
1/4 cup cornstarch or potato starch

Nutrition Information*:
Each cup contains 436 calories, 1g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 99g carbohydrate, 3mg sodium, 2g fiber, 5g protein.
Note: 1/2 cup brown rice or sorghum flour may be added to boost nutritional content without changing texture or taste.


High-Protein Flour Blend

This nutritious blend works best in baked goods that require elasticity, such as wraps and pie crusts.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups bean flour (your choice), chickpea flour, or soy flour
1 cup arrowroot starch, cornstarch, or potato starch
1 cup tapioca starch/flour
1 cup white or brown rice flour

Nutrition Information*:

Each cup contains 588 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 128g carbohydrate, 24mg sodium, 6g fiber, 11g protein.


High-Fiber Flour Blend

This high-fiber blend works for breads, pancakes, snack bars, and cookies that contain chocolate, warm spices, raisins or other fruits. It is not suited to delicately flavored recipes, such as sugar cookies, crepes, cream puffs, birthday cakes, or cupcakes.

Ingredients:
1 cup brown rice flour or sorghum flour
1/2 cup teff flour (preferably light)
1/2 cup millet flour
2/3 cup tapioca starch/flour
1/3 cup cornstarch or potato starch

Nutrition Information*:

Each cup contains 428 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 92g carbohydrate, 19mg sodium, 5g fiber, 8g protein.


Self-Rising Flour Blend

Use this blend for muffins, scones, cakes, cupcakes or any recipe that uses baking powder for leavening.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups white sorghum flour
1 1/4 cups white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch/flour
2 teaspoons xanthan or guar gum
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Nutrition information*:

Each cup contains 514 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 113g carbohydrate, 1163mg sodium, 8g fiber, 10g protein.


GUIDELINES FOR USING XANTHAN OR GUAR GUM

Gum (xanthan or guar) is the key to successful gluten-free baking. It provides the binding needed to give the baked product proper elasticity, keeping it from crumbling.

  • Add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum per cup of flour blend to make cakes, cookies, bars, muffins and other quick breads.
  • Add 1 teaspoon per cup of flour blend to make yeast bread or other baked items that call for yeast.
  • Add 1 1/2 teaspoons per cup of flour blend to make pizza dough or pie crust.

* Nutritional analyses of recipes are based on data supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and certain food companies. Nutrient amounts are approximate due to variances in product brands, manufacturing and actual preparation.
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