Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Explaining Gluten Free Flours

By no means will this be considered a comprehensive look at alternative flours but I would like to clear up some confusion that I have noticed on other cooking blogs and internet research sources.  Some of these "experts" don't seem to have ever used gluten free flours in recipes or even seen them in person.  There are so many sites with "half true information" or "misleading information about gluten free flours, it is no wonder that newly gluten intolerant people get so overwhelmed.  I looked at a dozen blog sites and research sites and got half a dozen different answers and descriptions.

Well,  here is what I know and have discovered while actually buying, using, and experimenting with alternative flours. I am not claiming to be an expert.  I am still learning and cooking, playing and experimenting, and sharing what I have learned with you.

Rice Flour:
So many sites list rice flour as an ingredient without distinguishing "which" rice flour was used.  There are 3(three) distinctly different rice flours commonly found on store shelves and each has a very different result when used in recipes.
~Brown Rice Flour -  Brown rice flour is, well, brown.  It tends to be a whole grain wild rice. Some sites say that it has a gritty texture in baked goods.  I don't notice this. I use it in most recipes as part of my flour mix. (a few turns in the food processor can make it a finer texture)
~White Rice Flour - White rice flour is, well, white and a bit granular in my opinion.  I used it often when I first started cooking gluten free but quickly found that it made things taste funny and gave a sandy texture to my baked goods. Shawn said it tasted like things had sawdust in them. I no longer buy or use White Rice Flour.
~Sweet Rice Flour (Mochiko) - Sometimes called glutinous rice flour. Sweet rice flour is finely ground and powdery.  It can be made from white rice or brown rice but tends to be white in color.  I love it!  I use sweet rice flour for most of my recipes.  It tends to have a natural stickiness similar to gluten (not as stretchy and elastic but any little bit helps in gluten free cooking).  Sweet rice flour is also great for thickening sauces and gravies.

Potato flour:
I have only seen a distinction between potato flour and potato starch on one site.  Most sites list them as being the same thing and or interchangeable.  I can tell you that these are not interchangeable in recipes and a distinction needs to be made between them.
~Potato Flour - Potato flour is dehydrated, cooked potatoes, ground into a powder.  It is dense and heavy, and a bit yellowish brown in color.  I use this more in pastry, noodles, etc.  It adds an excellent moist crumb to cookies and cakes.  In cookies, I sometimes substitute instant mashed potatoes for potato flour with excellent results.
~Potato starch - Potato starch is pure starch.  It has been removed from the potato through a filtration process and has the consistency of cornstarch.  A superfine white powder.  I mostly use potato starch for dusting my rolling board when rolling out doughs for certain recipes.

~EDIT: I now use potato starch in all of my bread recipes, and for thickening soups.  It's one of my Fav4.

Buckwheat Flour:
There are many sites that list buckwheat as a "low gluten" flour.  Buckwheat is considered a grain even though it is botanically a fruit.  The most up to date information available is that buckwheat does not contain gluten and can be enjoyed by Celiac patients.  There is always the possibility of cross contamination during processing so it is always a good idea to look for "certified gluten free" products in my opinion. (Manufactured in a facility that does not process wheat or barley and tested for gluten.)

Quinoa Flour:
The "ancient grain".  Quinoa, like buckwheat, is considered a grain while being botanically a fruit.  I enjoy quinoa flour added to my bread recipes and cake recipes.  It gives baked goods the smell and taste of wheat flour to me.  Since i began using quinoa, my breads taste like bread.

~EDIT: I rarely use quinoa flour anymore.  Mostly due to taste.

Millet Flour:
Millet flour is one of my favorites.  It adds a light and spongy texture to my recipe's. (most notably my brownies) Millet flour adds a slight sweet taste to recipes and a creamy, almost buttery coloring.  I recommend millet flour for most of your all purpose flour mixtures.

Garbanzo & Fava Bean Flours:
These bean flours tend to be dense and strongly flavored.  I barely and rarely use them.  One recipe that I always use them in is my chocolate chip cookies.  The density and strong flavors are a turn off to me in most other recipes. Not on my list of recommended flours.

Tapioca flour:
Tapioca flour (also known as Tapioca Starch) is great for gluten free baking.  I use it in most of my cake and bread recipes.  It tends to give light springy texture and crispy crusts to my baked goods.  It is a finely ground powdery flour with a consistency that is a cross between cornstarch and cake flour.  I always keep this on hand.

Like I stated earlier, this is in no way intended to be a comprehensive list of gluten free flours.  This is a list separating and defining commonly used gluten free flours.  This is what is on my kitchen shelves at the moment (except for the white rice flour).  This article is intended mainly to differentiate and describe the different flours I use and ones that are commonly mistaken or misprinted in recipes.

I hope this helps out a little when learning to cook gluten free.  I will always list exactly the type of flour used in my recipes.  I suggest buying at least one bag of all the gluten free flours you can lay your hands on and trying them out for yourself.  You will quickly become an expert at mixing your own flours for taste and texture.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  2. Thank-you for this info. I am trying to prepare food for my daughter whom seems to do much better without gluten and I had no idea that there were so many differences! Of course this fact explains why some of the things I made were not really "up to par"! Thanks again!

  3. Very welcome information! I have Hashimoto's thyroiditis and am intolerant of gluten. This gives me a good start with home baking because I didn't have a clue about all the different flours. Thank you!

  4. This is wonderful! I needed this so much. Very new to gluten free eating and this helped out so much!

  5. What do you think about Almond and Coconut flour?

    1. I love almond flour in cupcakes and cookies. I only recently bought coconut flour, but so far I like it.

  6. I'm curious! You say that you like Quinoa flour because of the taste and smell and it taste like bread. But then you say that you don't use it anymore because of taste. Huh? I have never used it but do see a lot of recipes for it. I realize this is an old post, but hopefully you can answer. Thanks!