Blending your own gluten-free flour may seem a little time-consuming, but it really is worth the extra effort.
Unlike wheat flour, there is no ‘one flour suits all’. Different flours need to be used for different things. For example, you don’t want a flour with gelatinous qualities in pastry.
Also, while different brands vary, the majority of ready blended gluten-free flours use rice flour as the base. As you will read below, rice flour has no binding qualities which is why so many gluten-free products fall apart and crumble easily. The addition of xanthan gum will rectify this, but with the right selection of flours, there is no need to use xanthan gum at all.
Below is a list of gluten-free flours and what they are best used for.
Amaranth Flour: Made from the seeds of the amaranth plant. Good source of protein, calcium and iron. Very nutritious and easily digestible. Has some binding power. Smells and tastes like beetroot to me, so I would only use in savoury dishes where it doesn’t matter if it comes through a little. Suitable for breads. Use at up to 20% of the flour weight in bread but beware of a tendency to produce a gluey crumb.
Buckwheat Flour: Popular in Eastern Europe and Japan (soba noodles). High in rutin (helps prevent heart disease), B vitamins & lysine, calcium, phosphorus and other minerals. Pungent flavour. Very little binding power, but can confer a kind of lightness in some baked goods, for example, pancakes. Use at up to 10% of the flour weight unless you are used to its flavour. Can often add body, flavour and nutritional value to products that are mainly composed of lighter refined ingredients such as cornflour, tapioca or white rice.
Chestnut Flour: Nutritionally useful source of flavour and texture. Has a natural sweetness. Can become overwhelming if too much is used – can create a ‘pasty’ mouth feel. Use at up to 10% of the flour weight in breads, cakes, biscuits and pastry.
Chickpea (Gram / Garbanzo Bean) Flour: Low in carbohydrates, high in protein and fibre. The high protein content gives it a firming and binding effect in pastry and cakes batters. Best used in moderation due to its prominent flavour. Use at a maximum of 10% of the dough or batter weight. More than this and the flavour comes through.
Coconut Flour : Coconut flour is high in fibre and low in digestible carbohydrates. It helps to raise and expand baked goods. Smells similar to coconut macaroons. Use up to 20% of the flour weight in a recipe, any more and the flavour of coconut will come through. Needs to be mixed with other flours that have a binding quality and also requires a high amount of liquid if using as the majority flour.
Corn Flour / Corn Meal: Cornflour is a useful base flour and thickener with considerable binding power. Cornmeal (polenta) is much more nutritious but as it is coarser, does not have the same functional qualities. Use cornflour at up to 50% of the flour weight with additions of other more nutritious flours. Good for pastry, but needs balancing with tapioca and a source of protein, such as gram flour.
Hazelnut Flour / Meal : Hazelnut flour has a sweet, nutty flavour which adds a richness to baked goods. It is low in carbohydrates and a good source of fibre and protein. Use up to a third of the weight of flour. Easy to make your own by grinding whole hazelnuts in a food processor.
Hemp Flour: Can be used to thicken sauces, or to augment wheat flour in recipes. Use up to 5% the flour weight. It has a nutty taste and dark colour. Whole-grain hemp flour is rougher in texture than standard wheat flour, and very high in fibre. High in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, as well as being an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
Maize Flour: Typically yellow in colour. Difficult to work with as it imparts a flavour similar to sweetcorn.
Millet Flour: Similar to sorghum flour. High in carbohydrates but considered more nutritious than rice flour. Prone to rancidity which can leave a bitter taste in baked goods. Either buy from a source with a quick turnover or grind the seeds yourself and use quickly. Limit to 10% of the flour weight. In strong flavoured cakes a higher percentage may work. Works well as a mixture with twice its weight of gram flour.
Oat Flour : Adds a flavour of oats and wholesome nutrition to recipes. Not all oat flour is gluten-free so always check the labeling. Oats are very often grown, harvested or stored with wheat, barley or rye, so cross contamination can occur.
Potato Flour: High in carbohydrates. Has the ability to bind liquid and create a certain amount of lightness and tenacity in breads and cakes. Use at up to 20% of the flour weight in breads and cakes. Do not use in pastry.
Quinoa Flour: Low carbohydrate and a good source of protein. It has a distinctive taste. Use at up to 15% of the flour weight in bread, 10% in biscuits, less in cakes. Has little binding power when used as a flour.
Rice Flour : There are three types of rice flour – white rice flour (just called rice flour), brown rice flour and sweet (glutinous) rice flour.
- Rice Flour & Brown Rice Flour – high in carbohydrates. The main drawback is a tendency to produce a bitter taste, especially if baked goods are kept for any period of time. Will give a slight gritty texture when baked. Has little binding power so needs to be used in combination with cornflour or tapioca for example.
- Sweet (Glutinous) Rice Flour – is made from milling ‘sticky rice’. It is very starchy and has exceptional binding qualities. It is high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Adds moisture to baked goods.
Sorghum Flour : Sorghum is the seed of a grass and is similar in size and flavour to millet. Soft and absorbent, so good for cakes.
Soya Flour: Good source of protein. This along with it’s high fat content makes it an ‘egg-substitute’ in cakes and biscuits. Cannot be used in large amounts without creating a heavy and unforgiving structure. Limit to 5% of the dough or batter weight.
Teff Flour : Teff flour is produced from the small seeds of a grass that is grown as a staple crop in parts of Africa, such as Ethiopia. It is the smallest grain in the world and has a higher percentage of bran and germ than many other grains. This makes for a flour that is high in fibre, protein and iron. Use up to 25% of the flour weight to increase the fibre and iron.
Tapioca Flour: Also called cassava. Very high in carbohydrates. Useful as a bland base, especially in cakes and biscuits where a light texture is required. Has a binding quality and at moderate levels gives a pleasant chewy texture to breads. Use at 5-10% in breads and sponge cakes and up to 40% in biscuits and pastry.