The Gluten Free Flour Guide

Learn how to use 21 types of gluten-free flours, from sorghum to millet, and try out tempting recipes like Chocolate Amaranth Quinoa Cake.

Going gluten-free doesn’t have to mean giving up baked goods like bread, cakes, cookies and muffins – but it does make baking a considerably more complicated enterprise. Instead of just all-purpose flour, gluten-free recipes might call for four or more varieties of flour, some of which the new gluten-free cook might never have heard of. Here’s a quick rundown of the 21 most commonly used gluten-free flours, how they’re used and example recipes that are so drool-worthy, you won’t miss the wheat at all.
The best way to get started with gluten-free baking is to get a cookbook or browse recipes online, and start with a small variety of flours or a gluten-free flour mix. Some brands, like King Arthur and Bob’s Mill, are readily available at most supermarkets. You can find a wider variety at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other natural food stores and online at Amazon.com, Jules Gluten Free and Authentic Foods.

Grain Flours

  • Amaranth – Cultivated for over 8,000 years, amaranth was a staple food of the Aztecs and is rich in protein and amino acids.  Usually paired with other gluten-free flours like almond meal and arrowroot powder, amaranth flour is used in all kinds of baked goods, including pancakes and flatbread. Try adding additional flavorings or spices like cinnamon, vanilla or garlic to make up for amaranth’s relatively bland flavor. La Tartine Gourmet’s Chocolate Amaranth Quinoa Cake will tempt you into trying it.
  • Corn – Perhaps the most familiar of the gluten-free flours, corn flour is simply finely milled corn, also known as masa harina. Be sure to purchase dedicated gluten-free corn flour from a brand like Bob’s Mill, since corn can be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains. Use it for the usual corn-based baked goods like cornbread or add it to pancakes, biscuits and cakes. Try Anna Brones’ recipe for Olive Oil, Sea Salt & Polenta Cake.
  • Millet – Available in wide varieties like pearl, proso, foxtail, finger and teff, millet is a grass-like annual plant that packs a lot of protein. While it has traditionally been rare in the west, millet is easier to digest than many other grains, making its flour an increasingly popular choice for gluten-free cooking. These flours can be used as a substitute for sorghum or bean flours in recipes. It typically requires an added binder like xanthan gum to hold baked goods together. The New York Times has a recipe for gluten-free rice and millet flour crackers.
  • Oat – Like corn, oats and oat flour must be purchased from manufacturers who certify that it’s gluten-free due to possible cross-contamination. With its natural sweet flavor, oat flour is ideal for pancakes, muffins and cakes. You can make your own simply by pulsing oats in a food processor. It’s a great flour for new gluten-free cooks to start out with, since it doesn’t necessarily need to be mixed with other flours to produce a desirable result. Check out this recipe for healthy Banana Walnut Oat Flour pancakes at SparkPeople.
  • Rice – Made from either white or brown rice, rice flour also has a sweet flavor and is sometimes used as a one-to-one substitute for wheat flour, though it’s most often paired with other gluten-free flours. It’s a great choice for breading, since it fries or bakes up nice and fluffy. Rice flour absorbs a lot of liquid, so you may need to adjust the amount of liquid if you’re adapting a wheat flour-based recipe. It can also be crumbly, requiring the addition of a thickener like arrowroot powder. Don’t confuse rice flour with sweet rice flour, which is a highly starchy flour used to thicken sauces. Try Gluten Free Goddess’ Whole Grain Strawberry Muffins, which also includes almond, sorghum and coconut flour.
  • Sorghum – Sweet sorghum is a popular ingredient in gluten-free baking mixes, lending a texture that’s close to whole wheat flour. It’s not ideal to use on its own, especially since it can be hard to digest and doesn’t contain complete proteins. Try a recipe for Artisanal Sorghum Bread at Gluten Free Girl.

Bean Flours

  • Chickpea – Rich in protein, chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour yields a thick, moist texture when mixed with water, making it a suitable egg replacer in many recipes. It’s also great for breading and is often used to fry up Indian pakoras. Unroasted chickpea flour, known as besan, has a strong bean scent and flavor while European chickpea flour, made of roasted chickpeas, is more subtle. Use it to make the traditional French street food Socca – thin, chewy pancakes drizzled with olive oil.
  • Soy – Soy flour is made from crushed raw soybeans and packs 23.5 grams of protein in a half-cup. It can be used as a one-to-one substitute for wheat flour, but it does brown more easily, so watch baking times carefully. Soy flour and rice flour come together to create some killer chocolate chip cookies in Brenda B’s recipe at Food.com.

Grass Flours

  • Buckwheat – With a strong, fairly bitter flavor, buckwheat can easily overwhelm a recipe, so it’s usually mixed with other flours. Despite its name, buckwheat isn’t actually related to wheat at all, and is entirely gluten-free and a rich source of antioxidants. It’s often used to make pancakes, crepes and soba noodles. Try it in Figgy Buckwheat Scones from Kim Boyce’s cookbook, Good to the Grain, and Anna Brones’ Buckwheat Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.
  • Montina – Made from milled Indian rice grass, Montina flour is one of the lesser-known gluten-free flours and can be hard to find. It’s sometimes included as an ingredient in gluten-free flour blends. High in fiber and protein, Montina is grown and processed in Montana, hence the name.
  • Wild Rice – Dark brown to black seeds from aquatic grasses we call “wild rice” are milled into a tan-colored flour with a soft texture and a nutty flavor. It’s not a terribly common ingredient in gluten-free cooking, but some bakers like to experiment with it. Add it to other flours in recipes for muffins, breads, scones, pastries and pancakes.

Nut Flours

  • Almond – Just as rich, nutty and satisfying as you’d expect, almond flour is typically added to other flours in small quantities. It’s soft and light, just the texture you want in a lot of baked goods. Almond flour is a starring ingredient in Gluten Free Goddess’ recipe for blueberry muffins.
  • Chestnut – Finely ground chestnuts will bring the flavors of fall into sweet and savory dishes. Chestnut flour is popular in the south of France, where it’s used to make crepes and other patisseries. It’s also the star of a Corsican treat called Torta Pisticcina. Try making your own chestnut flour madeleines. It can be used to substitute up to 1/4 cup of wheat flour in standard recipes.
  • Coconut – High in fiber and low in carbohydrates, coconut flour is very light and dry, soaking up moisture like a sponge. Its super-fine texture means you should measure it a bit differently than most other flours, scooping it from the container with a measuring cup rather than pouring it in. Learn more about coconut flour at Nourished Kitchen, and try it in our Fig and Coconut Walnut Cake.

Seed Flours

  • Flax – While this isn’t technically a flour but rather a meal, finely ground flaxseed is yet another ingredient sometimes added to gluten-free baking mixes to impart flavor, texture and nutrients. It can also be used as an egg substitute. Try it with slivered almonds, dried cherries and dried cranberries in simple, tasty Power Bars at Elana’s Pantry, or whole flaxseed in Anna Brones’ recipe for Five Seed Crackers with Olive and Cilantro Tapenade.
  • Hemp – Here’s another highly digestible, protein-packed flour with a lot of flavor. Hemp seed flour is dark and nutty, and works best in baked goods that are strongly flavored so it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients. Try it in Happy Hemp Protein Loaves by Marni Wasserman.
  • Salba – Ground salba (chia) seeds are another great substitute for both eggs and flour.  You can make your own by grinding chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor. Use 3 parts of another gluten free flour with 1 part chia flour to substitute wheat flour in recipes.
  • Quinoa – This is the highest-protein flour there is, and it’s tasty, too. It is often mixed with other flours, and goes well with almond meal, soy flour and buckwheat flour as well as bean flours. When replacing a considerable amount of flour in a recipe with quinoa flour, it’s generally best to reduce the cooking time and temperature, and increase the amount of moisture in the recipe. Try it in Sweet Quinoa Flour Muffins by Green Chi Cafe.

Root Flours

  • Potato – Ground from cooked, dehydrated whole potatoes, this rich, starchy flour can be pretty heavy and definitely imparts a potato flavor on anything it’s used in. But that can be a good thing, depending on what you’re cooking. It’s often used as a thickener in soups and stews and can add moisture to baked goods when used in small amounts. It’s slightly different from potato starch flour, which is more processed, made of only the starchy part of the potato. Potato starch flour has a blander flavor and fewer nutrients. The Cup That Cheers has a 1929 recipe for Potato Flour Muffins.
  • Arrowroot – Ground from the root of a plant that grows in the West Indies, arrowroot flour is fine and powdery and thickens into a jelly-like texture when mixed with water. It can be used as a cornstarch substitute, a thickening agent or as a flour substitute in a ratio of one teaspoon of arrowroot powder to one tablespoon of wheat flour. Check out Nourishing Traditions’ Gluten-Free Almond Cookies recipe at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
  • Tapioca – Commonly known as tapioca starch, this flour is made from ground cassava root and is most often used as a thickener and binding agent. Authentic Foods has a recipe for Pao de Queijo, Brazilian Cheese Bread, that uses primarily tapioca powder along with parmesan cheese, milk and eggs. Check out Gluten Free Girl’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls.

Photo: Andrea_Nguyen

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