Nutrition Talk: Gluten-free flours and blends
Gluten-free baking can be finicky at the best of times. It used to be that you had to buy many kinds of different flours and try to mix them together yourself to come up with something that would make baked goods that were slightly better in texture than cardboard or rubber. More and more GF flour blends are showing up on the market now that you can swap 1:1 for regular flour in recipes. Great, right? Maybe.
Many of the 1:1 flours that are out there are very starchy and low in fiber and nutrients. Many of them are far more carb and calorie dense than you might think. Sometimes you might want to make a recipe where texture and appearance are more important than nutrition, in which case you might need to sacrifice nutrition. This is fine sometimes, but I think nutrition should be a big consideration most of the time. So how do you choose the best blend? And what if your recipe calls for several different GF flours, but you don't have them?
Choosing the best flour:
There are a few things to consider: taste, texture, and nutrition.
- Taste: Consider the dish you're making, and how delicate the flavours need to be. Some GF flours have a bit of a taste to them - I'm thinking buckwheat, quinoa, and bean flours in particular. If you're making something savoury or chocolate with lots of flavour, this shouldn't matter, but if you're making something like shortbread, you might not want a "beaney" taste.
- Texture: Different flours are going to have different textures. Some absorb liquid like crazy and require extra liquid, some are better for light textures, some chewy, and some quite dense. Some can be a little on the grainy side, in which case they are best blended with other flours. Here's my take on GF flour textures:
- dense, chewy, moist: Nut flours (almond meal, other ground nuts)
- hearty with some texture: buckwheat, bean flours, oat flour, coconut flour
- grainy - brown rice flour
- middle ground (not too grainy, not too fine) - millet, amaranth, quinoa
- smooth - sorghum, sweet white rice
- very fine consistency - starches (potato, corn, tapioca), white rice flour, arrowroot, teff flour
- Nutrition: GF flours vary hugely in nutrition content. Some are very starchy with little fiber or nutrients, while others are higher in fiber and quite nutrient dense. Some are high in calories and fat (usually healthy fats). The very starchy flours tend to produce really calorie and carb-dense finished products because they're so fine. I generally find it's a balancing act between optimal taste and optimal texture, which is where blending comes in to play. I tend to be the kind of person who will sacrifice a little taste for the benefit of nutrition, so I tend to skip the starchier and go for the heartier flours more often (within reason).
My favourite flours from each perspective:
Taste: nut 'flours' like ground almonds, ground walnuts, teff, sorghum flour, oat flour, coconut flour
Texture: This depends on the end-product I'm making, but my go-tos are teff, sorghum, and oat
Nutrition: Bean flours, oat flour, buckwheat, teff and quinoa flours are higher in fiber and protein. They also tend to be made from whole grains or legumes, which means they retain most of their vitamin and mineral content.
What I use in my kitchen most often:
- Oat (certified GF or wheat-free)
- Pre-mixed blends (Pamela's, Bob's, and Cloud 9 are some faves)
Choosing a pre-mixed blend:
Like the GF flours, pre-mixed blends can either be more starchy and fine, or more hearty and dense. I usually keep one of each kind around. Have a look at the list of flours to see what's in it to get a sense of the overall flour. If you see more ingredients like nut flours, buckwheat, and bean flours you're going to have a heartier end-product (and also more nutritious!). If the list of ingredients is more starches and white rice flour, it's going to be finer and better for delicate flavours like shortbread and sugar cookies (and less nutritious!).
My personal opinion is to go somewhere in the middle (best of both worlds). I also keep my favourite flours on hand and blend them into the mixes as I want to, either to up the nutrition content of a recipe, or to improve taste and texture.
If you want a good place to start for starchier flours (with finer texture) try:
- Pamela's all purpose GF flour
- Pamela's Baking and pancake mix
- Bob's GF 1:1 baking flour (blue label)
For something a little heartier and nutritionally sound (but still produces good texture) try:
- Bob's GF All-purpose blend (1st ingredient is garbanzo bean flour)
- Cloud 9 all purpose baking mix
Have other faves? I'd love to hear them! Leave a comment below to share.
Making flour substitutions:
If you want your recipe to turn out, it's best to swap similar flours for similar flours. For example: swapping garbanzo bean flour for tapioca starch might give you a more dense, mealy end product.
Swap hearty for hearty: nut flours for other nut flours (you need extra water if you're subbing coconut flour); or bean flours for other bean flours (garbanzo, soy, lentil, any other bean). Don't sub nut for bean or vice versa because the fat and moisture content is quite different.
Swap starchy for starchy: any starch, arrowroot, tapioca, white rice, sweet white rice
Swap dense for dense: buckwheat, oat
Swap middle ground for middle ground: millet, corn (flour, not meal), sorghum, teff, quinoa
Questions or comments? Leave a comment below.