A guide to gluten-free flours

gluten-free flours

When you eliminate gluten, dairy, eggs and soy there are a few ingredients that are essential for successful baking.

Let’s first take a look at what flours I use in my recipes:
Sorghum, tapioca, potato starch, millet, buckwheat, fine brown rice flour, coconut flour, almond meal, corn starch, and the list goes on. Each of these serves a purpose, either for flavor, the body of the baked good, the mouth feel, the browning, the texture, how long it stays fresh, etc. We’ll start the discussion in this post and continue it as this blog progresses so it’s not overwhelming.

Today let’s focus on the three most commonly used flours and starches.

  • Sorghum
  • Potato flour
  • Tapioca flour

alternative flours - potato sorghum tapioca-ready

Sorghum

Sorghum is fantastic! Wheat contributes flavor and gluten, so when it’s removed, there are many properties that are missing from the finished product. Sorghum has a great flavor and it helps create the smoother textures that most of us prefer.

Sorghum originated in Africa thousands of years ago, and spread through the Middle East and Asia through trade routes, such as the Silk Road. Traditionally, it has been used as a cereal food in pancakes, porridges, beer and flatbreads. Today, sorghum remains a staple food in India and Africa, and is globally the fifth more important cereal crop remains. Here in the U.S., it’s growing in popularity and is the third most important cereal crop. The flour that we use to cook and bake is made by grinding the whole grain kernel.

Sorghum flour not only has great flavor, high in protein, antioxidants, iron and dietary fiber, it’s a powerhouse of nutrition. The starch, protein and fiber take relatively longer to digest, which is helpful to those with diabetes.

Potato Starch

Potato starch is starch extracted from potatoes. The cells of the root of the potato plant contain starch grains. To extract the starch, the potatoes are crushed, releasing the starch grains from the destroyed cells. The starch is then washed out and dried to powder. Potato Starch is often used as a thickener for sauces, soups, and stews because it tolerates higher temperatures than cornstarch when used as a thickener. In baking, it provides a natural way to add moistness and lightens the dough and makes it airier.

CAUTION: Potato Flour is a completely different product that is used in very small amounts to add chewiness. We will talk about that in a later post. Please be sure to use the exact ingredient that each recipe calls for.

Tapioca Flour/Starch

Tapioca flour, also known as tapioca starch, is starchy white flour that has a slight sweet flavor to it. Tapioca is one of the purest forms of starch food and is made from the starch extracted from the South American cassava plant (also called the manioc plant). When the roots are initially harvested, they have to be processed to remove toxins. The starch is then extracted from the root by washing and pulping the mixture over and over while separating off the liquid.

Why we use it: Tapioca flour helps bind gluten free recipes, improves the texture of baked goods and helps with browning. It also helps add crispness to crusts and chewiness to baked goods. Tapioca flour has no taste or smell and never discolors, making it great as a thickener in sauces, pies and soups. It can also be used to replace corn starch (use 2 Tbsp tapioca flour for each 1 Tbsp corn starch). Lastly, it never separates when refrigerated or frozen. You should use this in combination with other gluten free flours for best results.

In fact, you should use all of these gluten free flours I talk about in combination with others for best results. We’ll continue to talk about this as we introduce more types of flours.

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