Don’t you just love working with different kinds of flours? I do. Each grain expresses different flavors and textures. Ta da! The best flours to use when you need to avoid wheat.
I’ve divided the nine into wheat-free flours – for those of you who like to have the variation but who don’t necessarily need to make gluten-free baked goods – and gluten free wheat-free flours.
One of our culinary students at Bastyr, Benita Baird, is a very skilled gluten-free baker. So much so that she already has a job prior to graduation! I have added Benita’s two cents throughout. Neither Benita nor I are particularly fond of wheat-free, gluten-free baked goods that employ bean flours. We find them too beany, which sounds redundant but I can’t think of another way to express it.
1. Barley – Here’s a nice change from wheat with enough gluten to hold a cookie or muffin together (but not enough to make a loaf of bread). Barley flour has a slightly sweeter taste than wheat, but produces a similar texture.
2. Kamut – This grain is an ancient form of durum wheat that flourished in Egypt 5000 years ago. About 2/3 of those with wheat allergies can tolerate kamut. This grain has a more delicate texture than standard wheat and products made from the flour have a golden color. I like using it to make bread or using some as part of the dough for bread.
3. Spelt- This durable grain has enough gluten in it to make nice yeasted bread. A hybrid of emmer, the grain originated in SE Asia and was brought to the Middle East 9000 years ago. Its thick husk protects it from pollutants. Spelt is higher in protein, fat and fiber than wheat.
Wheat-free AND gluten-free flours
4. Almond meal – Benita finds almond meal or almond flour a little bland and pricey for what you get. Fair enough. I have had some good luck making gluten free cookies and muffins by combining freshly ground almonds with freshly ground sweet brown rice flour (you have to have a flour mill). There’s enough fat and moisture when ground fresh to keep the baked good from having that dry gritty texture and I didn’t need to add the gums.
5. Buckwheat flour is great, says Benita, “because it forms a gelatinous aspect much like xanthan or guar gum, meaning those don’t need to be used! Savvy gluten-free bakers take advantage of this and find gums innecessary when using buckwheat flour. I don’t usually use the pre-ground flour unless I’m making something that I want to scream BUCKWHEAT. Instead, I buy raw (or untoasted) buckwheat groats and grind them as needed in the coffee grinder. The flour is very soft, absorbent, fairly neutral in flavor and has a color comparable to whole wheat flour making it one of the most all-purpose gluten-free flours out there.” Buckwheat is an awesome grain too because it’s is high in fiber and low in calories and fat. It is also rich in lysine, not present in most grains.
6. Hazelnut flour – Benita says this is the flour to buy if you are willing to spend a little extra to get a lot extra. She loves working with hazelnut meal because it adds a buttery, rich quality to crumble toppings and pie crusts. It’s not very absorbent, however, and Benita warns it should mostly be used for texture and flavor in baked goods and not as a main flour.
7. Rice flour is the main go-to flour for gluten-free bakers. We have a gluten-free flour recipe on Cookus (click here) that centers around rice flour. This grain needs a little sumpin’ sumpin’ to make the baked good stick together so we add some potato starch, tapioca flour and xanthum gum. Sweet brown rice has a higher fat content than regular rice flour which means the flour mix won’t require as much of the extra gums or flours and as mentioned before, I have had good outcomes combining sweet brown rice flour with almond flour.
8. Sweet potato flour – my new heart throb flour. Stay tuned because not only are we going to show you how to make some Chocolate Lava Mini-cakes using this flour but also we’re giving away two boxes of it. What’s it made out of? Just dried ground sweet potatoes – so the nutritional profile is out of this world. My sourdough starter gets all jazzed up when I feed it some sweet potato flour. If the baked good has some ground nuts in it, you will probably not need any tapioca or gums. If not, you might add a teaspoon of tapioca flour to the mix. And I guess it goes without saying that you’re going to get a beautiful pale orange color. The “sweet potato-ness” doesn’t come through enough to overwhelm – just a hint. Adding this flour adds a slight spongy texture to the food.
9. The teff grain and flour from it are what is used to make the Ethiopian flat bread injera. You know that bread that has a stretchy texture to it? Well that stretchiness comes in real handy when making wheat-free (or even non wheat-free) baked goods, especially if you’re using a base of rice flour or other flours and need something to give the dough some stickiness. We use it in the Gingerbread Molasses Cookies on Cookus Interruptus. My friend Mary uses teff flour in her brownies where the sticky stretchy makes gooey goodness. This flour can’t stand alone to make a cookie or cake. Best if used as an added flour for texture.