How to Mix and Use Gluten Free FlourGluten Free
A growing number of people are having problems tolerating gluten, a complex and difficult to digest plant protein. If you find this hard to believe, check out your local healthfood store. An entire aisle in mine is devoted to products made with gluten free flour or that are completely grain free!
For some, the issues with gluten result from a genetic predisposition that can lead to Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the consumption of gluten leads to damage to the small intestine. Celiac is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
For millions of others, up to 15% of the population who don’t qualify as Celiacs, gluten is simply not well tolerated digestively. A wide variety of symptoms are attributed to gluten intolerance including brain fog, depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue.
The widespread nature of Celiac and gluten sensitivity makes it highly probable that you will have a friend or relative with this condition come to dinner or a party at your home at some point in the future if it hasn’t happened already!
As a result, I consider gluten free baking to be an essential skill in order to accommodate these folks without any loss of enjoyment for the guests who are able to tolerate wheat.
Successful gluten free baking tastes as yummy to those who eat wheat as it does to those who don’t!
The picture above is of a plate of gluten free chocolate chip cookies that I baked and brought to an open house at my son’s high school a few months ago. It was the very first platter to have all the cookies disappear!
I guarantee that if you learn to bake gluten free, your baked goods will be a big hit at school and community events. More people are gluten free than you might think!
If you would like to learn to bake gluten free to provide options for your gluten intolerant or Celiac friends and family or to just mix it up in your own home once in awhile to give everyone a break from wheat (most people eat far too much!), below is a simple guide for mixing all purpose gluten free flour that you can use as an easy substitute for your wheat based recipes.
Mixing Gluten Free Flour as a Substitute for Wheat
The problem with gluten free baking is that the gluten itself is the very ingredient that holds moisture and binds everything together.
Gluten is food glue, so to speak.
No wonder food manufacturers love it so much and even add additional vital wheat gluten to some products to make them especially sturdy and non-crumbly. Mass production of cookies, crackers, and other processed carbs is a much more difficult process when the gluten is removed.
This is why simple substitution of wheat with a gluten free flour doesn’t work very well. Things fall apart and just don’t have the right consistency.
According to Becky Mauldin ND, author of Recipes for Life, the best results using gluten free flour as a substitute for wheat flour are obtained by using at least two gluten free flours blended together as it gives a better texture and flavor.
Gluten free flours can be categorized into crumbly flours or binding flours. Your gluten free flour mix of choice should include a crumbly flour (2 is better) and a small amount of one or two binding flours.
Of course, you can buy an all purpose gluten free flour mix from the store, but the flour will be essentially nutritionless (except for these gluten free flour mixes that have no added starch). It is always best to grind fresh and blend gluten free flour yourself as much as possible just the same as if you were using wheat. Here is an overview of the many choices available to you.
Crumbly Gluten Free Flours
- Rice – The best choice when first attempting to bake with gluten free flour. White rice flour is more easily digested and less allergenic than brown rice flour.
- Amaranth – Always needs a binding flour with it. Good for cakes, cookies and pancakes.
- Plantain – High in beneficial resistant starch and good for those who are also grain free.
- Teff – Has a delicious, mildly nutty flavor and easy to digest. Wonderful for bread, pancakes and waffles. Not all grain grinders can handle teff as the grains are so tiny (smaller than chia seeds).
- Quinoa – Harder to digest than other gluten free flours unless thoroughly soaked and cooked first.
- Oats – Mild tasting and makes great bread.
- Coconut – Easily make your own (video here) with desiccated coconut pulsed in a food processor. Is typically used alone with eggs as the binding agent (see below).
- Nuts and Seeds– A good choice only if the nuts or seeds are soaked overnight in brine water and dehydrated before grinding, else the high level of anti-nutrients makes them very hard to digest. This video how-to shows you the details.
- Corn – Make sure to buy organic as most nonorganic corn is genetically modified.
- Millet – Use no more than 1/5 of total flour mix as using more tends to produce a very dry baked good.
- Sorghum – Similar to millet, sorghum is best used in smaller quantities and blended with another crumbly gluten free flour like rice or teff.
Binding Gluten Free Flours
- Arrowroot – The best choice of the binding flours. Easy to digest, unrefined, and the most nutritious (where to find).
- Buckwheat – Use very small amounts as buckwheat has a very strong flavor.
- Tapioca – Good in small quantities, good for coating anything to be fried. Imparts a chewier texture.
- Potato – Highly refined and low in nutrients. Arrowroot is a much healthier choice.
- Legume (pea, lentil, chickpea) – Beware, as anti-nutrients make these flours particularly hard to digest.
- Skip the soy flour – You don’t need the hormone disruption in your life! Beware as many gluten free products in the store contain it.
Once you’ve blended your crumbly and binding gluten free flours together, you must select a binding agent to hold everything together in the absence of gluten doing the job.
Gluten Free Binders
- Egg – Most nutritious binder of all. May be used in addition to xanthan gum for extra firmness.
- Flax gel (egg substitute) – click here for my recipe plus video how-to on making this easy egg substitute. Use 4 Tbl of the gel as the substitute for 1 egg. Tip: for extra lightness, Ms. Mauldin suggests whipping the gel and folding through the batter at the end of mixing.
- Guar gum – Some people with sensitive digestion react to this so probably best to avoid unless absolutely necessary.
- Xanthan gum – A better choice than guar gum. Most people tolerate quite well. Just be sure to find it organic or nonGMO as it is usually made from fermented corn sugar (where to find).
All Purpose Gluten Free Flour
Now that you have a good idea of the various gluten free flours and binders and how to use them, let me suggest an easy, all purpose gluten free flour to get you started on your gluten free baking adventure!
If a given recipe calls for 1 cup of wheat flour, substitute with this all purpose gluten free flour mix maintaining roughly the same proportions if you need more flour:
- 3/4 cup rice flour (remember that white rice flour is easier to digest)
- 3 Tbl arrowroot flour (where to find).
- 1 Tbl tapioca starch
- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (where to find)
This gluten free flour blend can be used as a quick and easy substitute for wheat flour in just about any recipe.
Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread Flour
Please note that while this combination for whole grain bread flour contains some added starch, it is in the form of plantain flour (or tapioca starch if preferred), both of which are healthy forms of resistant starch for the gut. This recipe for gluten free banana bread is a good one to try with this blend.
Substitute the following proportions for each cup of wheat flour:
- 5 Tbl sorghum flour
- 4.5 Tbl plantain flour or tapioca starch (where to find)
- 3 Tbl teff flour
- 2 Tbl millet or quinoa flour
- 1.5 Tbl brown rice flour
- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (where to find)
Gluten Free Pound Cake and Muffins
Here’s another combination to try that works well for gluten free pound cake. Instead of 2 cups of wheat flour use:
- 1 1/4 cup white rice flour
- 1/2 cup sorghum flour
- 1/4 cup arrowroot flour (where to find).
- 1 tsp xanthan gum (where to find)
Sift 2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp sea salt with this gluten free flour mix and then blend in 1 cup melted butter beaten with 1 cup sucanat, 4 eggs, plus 2 tsp vanilla and you have your batter for gluten free pound cake!
For muffins, try this gluten free flour mix instead of 2 cups wheat flour. Adjust proportionally for more or less flour:
- 1 1/4 cups brown or white rice flour
- 1/4 cup sorghum or millet flour
- 1/2 cup arrowroot flour (where to find)
- 1 tsp xanthan gum (where to find)
The best way to figure out what combination of gluten free flours you like best is to experiment! Hopefully, these guidelines plus the easy gluten free flour mix substitutions suggested above will get you well on your way to years of successful gluten free baking.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sources and More Information
Going Gluten Free by Becky Mauldin ND
The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic (It’s Not the Gluten)
The Good Gluten You Can Probably Eat Just Fine
Gluten Free Teff High in Nutrition
The Dirty Little Secret About Gluten Free
What? White Rice Better than Brown?
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