Six years ago, when I first had to alter my diet to treat my migraines, finding the words “gluten-free” on a product was a challenge. And when I did, it rarely tasted great – not at all like the real thing. Now, however, most grocery stores and bakeries sell at least a small selection of gluten-free products. While the taste, texture, and selection has improved immensely over the years, I actually prefer making my own gluten-free goods at home.
If you have to avoid gluten (or choose to for health reasons), it might be daunting to make your own gluten-free goods at home. To help get you started, here are some tips for choosing the best gluten-free flour substitute to use in your recipes.
Why go gluten free?
There are many reasons to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye (for a list of foods that contain gluten, read more here). For some people, going gluten free is not a choice. People with celiac disease are extremely reactive to any sort of exposure to gluten. Even the smallest amount causes the immune system to attack the lining of the intestine and cause inflammation and unpleasant symptoms.
Others are simply sensitive to gluten or have a gluten intolerance, and they choose to avoid it because they feel better when they don’t eat it. A gluten-free diet might help prevent cavities in children, help osteoporosis, treat depression, and prevent dementia as well. Whatever your reason for avoiding gluten, these tips for choosing the best gluten-free flour substitute will make your gluten-free diet easier and more delicious.
Gluten-free flour alternatives
There is an abundance of gluten-free flour alternatives. Some are very high in protein, which helps give structure to your product, while others are higher in starch, which will give your product an airy, lighter, crumbly quality. Others are very nutritious flour options, which can allow you to turn regular recipes into a healthy snack packed full of vitamins and nutrients.
A combination is usually best to provide good texture, taste, and nutritive value; it will almost always be necessary to use at least a few types of gluten-free flours in place of regular wheat flour. Your gluten-free pantry will have a lot more items in it than a regular pantry does. These five flours are my favorites, and I use them almost exclusively.
- Brown rice flour is a great flour you can use as a base in almost any recipe. It does not have a distinct flavor and helps to keep structure in products. One cup of brown rice flour has about 11 g of protein and gives you almost two-thirds your daily recommended allowance of niacin. In my book, brown rice flour is the staple of a gluten-free kitchen.
- Potato starch is extremely light. One of the most disappointing things with a lot of gluten-free products is how heavy and dense they are. Potato starch helps immensely to give the regular, light texture back. It helps to moisten baked goods and is a great thickener for gravy or other sauces as well.
- Tapioca starch. Like potato starch, tapioca is light and neutral flavored. It is great in baked goods, in combination with brown rice flour and potato starch. It also serves as a good thickener.
- Sorghum flour. Sorghum is a highly nutritious grain. It is packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals, and one cup provides about 10 g of protein and 8 g of fiber. It has a richer flavor and is best used in recipes where the subtle, unique flavor will add to the recipe, not detract (such as bread).
- Quinoa flour is high in protein and also adds good nutrition to a recipe. Try using quinoa in hearty pancakes and muffins – but keep in mind that it adds a distinct flavor. If you are looking for the traditional flavor of a non-gluten free product, don’t choose quinoa flour. If you are looking for a healthy treat, however, quinoa is a highly nutritious gluten-free flour substitute.
Additional options include buckwheat, millet, and amaranth, which are all healthy, nutrient-rich alternatives to wheat flour. A combination of brown rice, potato starch, and tapioca starch makes a nice neutral flavored mix that provides good texture to baked goods. Try 6 parts brown rice, 2 parts potato starch, and 1 part tapioca starch to use in place of regular flour in your favorite recipes.
The importance of xanthum gum
If you have ever tried experimenting with a gluten-free flour substitute, you might have found that your final product fell apart and crumbled easily. This is because gluten has a binding quality that helps to hold together baked goods. Gluten free flours lack this quality, and so they need a little help. Add about ¼ t xanthum gum per cup of flour.
- Don’t overcook. Sometimes it may seem that baked goods are a little soft at the end of the cooking time and you may wonder if they are underdone. However, gluten-free products tend to crisp up and dry out more than you might expect.
- Served warm is always better. Gluten-free cookies, muffins, breads, scones, etc. are always better fresh out of the oven (or reheated). Try toasting your bread – you will be amazed at how much more moist and soft it will become.
- You may need to use more leavening agents, like baking powder, for gluten-free recipes; it can be very difficult to make gluten-free products rise properly.
If you miss being able to eat the muffins from your grandmother’s recipe or your favorite banana bread, it might be time to start experimenting with your own gluten-free recipes at home. In no time, you will be adding some favorite new dishes and baked goods to your repertoire.
Avoiding egg and dairy as well? Try out these 5 Simple Substitutions for Egg- and Dairy-Free Recipes.
Please share your gluten-free living ideas in the comments section below.