How to Use Gluten-Free Flours

Get tips for using gluten-free flour for baking, thickening sauces, and dredging proteins. Learn how to make your own and how to keep it vegan.

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When it comes to cooking with gluten-free flour, it’s an absolute jungle out there. The internet, health food stores, and even conventional supermarkets provide an ever-expanding dizzying array of options.

If you’ve experimented with gluten-free flours, you probably already discovered there is no one flour that does it all in terms of texture and taste, nor is every “all-purpose” flour mix suitable for all purposes. Frequent pitfalls include gummy, dry, and/or sandy textures. Sometimes gluten-free flours or mixes give flavors that are bitter or “beany.”

The science of gluten-free is complex, especially in the realm of baking. In the absence of wheat gluten – which provides structure and holds moisture in baked goods – we need to create a suitable equivalent. Sometimes that equivalent is simply a gluten-free flour or flour mix paired with eggs. In this case, eggs provide the structure that GF flour lacks.

But what about vegan applications? Generally, what we do is combine gluten-free flour or flours that have no power to bind (such as rice or sorghum flour) with a binding, absorbent starch (tapioca starch, potato starch, or arrowroot) and sometimes even guar or xanthan gum. The good news is: in the correct proportion, with some experimentation, adjustment, and a good recipe, you can achieve impressive results.

So which flours are you likely to see in the marketplace? The most common are brown or white rice, oat, buckwheat corn, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. There are also bean (fava, chickpea, soy), nut, coconut, and even wine flours. The most common starches you’ll see include: corn starch, arrowroot, potato starch, and tapioca starch.

For thickening sauces, we rely on starch, not gluten. I find rice flour – white or brown – perfectly suitable for this purpose. Starches, such as arrowroot or tapioca, are sometimes used, but I find they make sauces too gelatinous.

For dredging proteins – tofu, tempeh, or bean burgers – a wide variety of gluten-free flours will suffice, but I like millet, oat, corn and rice flours.

For baking, you can experiment with the multitude of “all-purpose” gluten-free flour mixes you find in stores, or you can make your own. With commercial, all-purpose mixes, you’ll probably want to start by using the manufacturer’s recipes as a jumping-off point and, once you’re comfortable with the mix, experiment further.

Are you the DIY type? Here are two good flour mixes to try:

—The mix we use at Natural Gourmet Institute: 2 cups white rice flour + 2/3 cup potato starch + 1/3 cup tapioca starch flour

—An easy, versatile mix: 1:1 ratio of sorghum flour and tapioca starch