Gluten-Free Flours & Grains What You Need To Know
Rice flours: Rice is one of the world’s great food staples—all the cultures of the Far East depended on its cultivation to develop their civilizations. Brown or white rice flour can be interchanged, cup for cup, in our all-purpose gluten-free flour mixture, though you may need to add a little extra water if you use brown rice flour.
Retaining the external bran and germ, brown rice flour is much higher in nutrients and fiber than white rice flour, but white rice flour makes loaves with finer texture and cleaner flavour. Nonna Box says that you need to avoid rice flours labelled as “glutinous”—those have different baking properties (though in this case “glutinous” has nothing to do with wheat gluten).
And when using white rice flour, we avoided Asian food market products, which were highly variable in how much water they absorbed—we tested instead with Bob’s Red Mill “Stone Ground White Rice Flour” (not “Sweet Rice Flour”).
Tapioca flour/Tapioca starch: Tapioca is made from a root that’s known by many names: cassava, manioc, or yuca. It is extracted and ground into a flour that is high in starch, calcium, and vitamin C, but low in protein. It is most often used for its thickening properties, but it now frequently appears in gluten-free baking. It is sold as both tapioca flour and starch, and the most popular product has both of those names on the label. Unlike potato starch and potato flour, they are exactly the same.
Sorghum: Sorghum is a cooking grain related to sugarcane. It’s popular around the world, but it has only recently found its way into North American kitchens. The flour made from its seeds is high in nutrition and has a slightly sweet, nutty flavour that works well in whole-grain recipes.
Cornmeal and Cornstarch: Cornmeal is just the whole dehulled corn kernel, ground coarsely into a “meal”. Degerminated cornmeal has had its nutritious “germ” removed, but it has a better shelf life at room temperature, so many commercial cornmeals are sold that way. When used in the dough, it gives great crunch and character to gluten-free bread. Cornstarch is a different animal—it’s a refined product that has neither the bran nor the germ— just the starch. It creates a smooth texture and acts as a binder in a gluten-free dough.
Oats: Raw oats or oat flour adds a wonderful hearty flavour and contribute a toothsome texture to the bread. As they grow from the ground, oats are gluten-free, but they can only be certified as such if they are milled in a gluten-free facility; typical commercial oats may have traces of gluten because oats are often grown or processed in close proximity to wheat. Consider buying products labelled certified gluten-free if you can’t tolerate gluten at all.
Organic flours: We don’t detect flavour or texture differences with organic, gluten-free flours, but if you like organic products, by all means, use them. They’re not required, they certainly cost more, and they aren’t always available.
Potato starch: The starch from potatoes captures moisture in gluten-free baked products, so it’s a small but important component in Flour Mixture # 1. Potato flour performs differently, and it can’t be substituted.
Millet flour: Millet is the primary ingredient in (of all things!) bird seed, but it’s a major food staple in Africa. Turns out it’s one of nature’s perfect foods, and (ground) millet flour worked beautifully as a substitute for barley in our Moroccan Ksra bread. When used unground as whole seeds, it adds great texture to our 100% Whole-Grain Loaf.
Teff flour: An indispensable grain in Ethiopia, teff had been virtually unheard of in the rest of the world until recently. It is a variety of whole-grain millet that is wonderfully sweet and packed with iron and calcium. When combined with caraway seeds, it’s a dead ringer for a traditional German or Eastern European rye loaf.
Xanthan gum: This powdered additive, a naturally derived gum that creates gas-trapping structure in the dough, it is used in gluten-free bread to replace the resiliency and chew that wheat bread gets from gluten.
Ground Psyllium Husk: This product, milled from the outer coating of an edible seed, is a natural fiber supplement that creates structure in a gluten-free dough. It works well as a substitute for xanthan gum (though you need to adjust the amount in some recipes). Ground psyllium husk is available at your local pharmacy, food coop, or online, sometimes sold as “powdered” psyllium husk.
Guar gum: We’ve found that guar gum doesn’t create enough structure to be used in our stored gluten-free dough. In our method, you need to trap gas and store dough long-term in the refrigerator, and that requires more structure than guar gum creates.
Commercial gluten-free flour blends: There are many commercial gluten-free flour blends on the market today, and more will be appearing in the years to come.
Some of the products may be able to be swapped for Mixture #1 Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour, but you may need to add xanthan gum or psyllium to the mixture, up to 1½ teaspoons per 6 cups of flour, if the mixture doesn’t already have it. In any case, it’ll take some trial and error—start with a small batch.
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