Gluten-Free Flour: Baby Your Belly
If gluten is a no-no for you but you're jonesing for your favourite baked goods, there are many gluten-free ingredient options available on the market to help you recreate your doughy delights. We put some gluten-free flours up against each other in a bread bake-off.
Gluten: What’s the Big Deal?
Gluten plays an important role in baked goods, pastas, and other foods. It makes dough elastic and stretchy, helps it rise, and also helps create its light and fluffy texture.
Unfortunately, about 1% of the population is allergic to gluten (called Celiac disease), and many more are gluten-sensitive. If you suffer from stomach issues, skin problems, and any number of other potential allergic reactions, gluten could be the culprit. Cutting it out of your diet will alleviate, if not eliminate, these symptoms.
Gluten-Free Flour Basics
The selection of gluten-free products available on the market grows wider each day. For flour mixes, there are generally four different types to choose from:
Grain flours, made from rice (white, brown), sorghum flour, teff, quinoa, and amaranth.
Protein flours, made from bean (soybean, navy bean, garbanzo, fava) or millet.
Nut meal flours, made from almond, hazelnut, walnut, filbert, and chestnut. They can be heavy in baked goods if used alone but are good to combine with lighter flours to create a texture that mimics wheat flour.
Starch flours, made from rice starch, potato starch, tapioca starch, arrowroot, cornstarch, and kudzo
Other flours include vegetable flour, montina flour, mesquite flour, and buckwheat flour (which contains no wheat).
- Most flours also include a binding agent like xanthan gum or guar gum gives the flour the elasticity of gluten. You may want to also have xanthan gum on hand separately since some recipes call for extra amounts of this powerful emulsifier/thickener.
Most of the time, cooking with gluten-free flours is about trial and error. Some flours may work better in cakes and pastries, and others better in cookies or pastas.
For a cookbook test, we pitted the cookbook’s own gluten-free flour mix against a selection of prepared gluten-free flour blends in a bread bake-off and asked 100 people to tell us which they preferred. We tested:
- Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose GF Baking Flour
- The Pure Pantry Organic All-Purpose Baking Mix
- Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Flour (Available at Williams-Sonoma)
- Westpoint Naturals Gluten-Free flour mix
- GF flour blend from the cookbook Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking
We used the same bread recipe and baked 5 loaves of bread each with one of the flour mixes. After 100 taste testers, there was a clear winner:
- Bob’s Red Mill was preferred by 14% of testers
- The Pure Pantry earned 16 %
- Westpoint Naturals got 17% of votes
- Cup4Cup earned 36%
- Our cookbook flour blend earned 15% of votes
OUR TOP PICK
For our taste test, and for our cookbook test, we learned that gluten-free baked goods will never taste the same as the real thing, so it’s important to adjust your expectations. As for the flour that was able to get closest to its gluten-full rival, Cup4Cup was the top pick among testers.