Wheat seems to show up absolutely everywhere, even in places you wouldn't necessarily expect it such as sauces, corn and potato chips, playdoh, even food coloring. Going gluten-free has become increasingly popular for a variety of health-related reasons, and doing away with products containing gluten may help you or your family member find better health habits. Unfortunately, many commercial gluten-free products contain lots of filler ingredients or simply rely on large amounts of sugar to make the product more palatable. Cooking and baking at home allows you to modify or try out any recipe you want, subbing in the appropriate gluten-free flour. Finding the right gluten-free flour substitute can be a little tricky when first venturing beyond America's favorite grain. Whether you or a family member has gluten sensitivities or just wants to take a break from wheat, there are numerous gluten-free flour options, so keep an open mind and a hungry belly and try out different ones until you find a few that work in your favorite recipes. While this guide is by no means exhaustive, read on for a look at several popular and versatile gluten-free flours including rice, buckwheat, almond, oat, and sorghum.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not actually wheat or even a grain at all. It’s a plant, and its grain-like seeds are eaten (some call it a pseudocereal). Rich in iron and high in protein, buckwheat actually used to be a popular crop in the US. It is still popular in Russia and France, where it is used in pancakes or pancake-like blinis. Buckwheat is also a common ingredient in soba noodles, one of my favorite Japanese staples. Our favorite banana bread recipe (it’s vegan too!) uses buckwheat too.
Almond flour, aka almond meal, is a delicious and hearty flour substitute that is especially popular in Paleo and raw recipes, like this blueberry tartlet. You can make your own almond meal/flour by blitzing almonds in a high-powered blender (use the “dry” blades in a Vitamix) or food processor until they make a fine flour. Make sure whatever container you blend them in is totally dry or you will end up with almond butter instead! Almonds have plenty of healthy fats so they are great for making decadent pie crusts and baked goods including muffins or the vegan version of Girl Scout cookies. Almond flour (even homemade) can be a bit on the expensive side, so I don’t use it on a weekly baking basis.
Rice flour features prominently in one of my favorite gluten-free cookbooks, Babycakes Covers the Classics. The cookbook uses this neutral tasting flour for a variety of cakes, muffins, and other sweet and savory treats, like jelly donuts. You can also use it to make homemade teething biscuits. There is brown rice flour as well as white rice flour, and I use brown almost exclusively. Rice flour is not too heavy, so it works well at keeping baked goods light and airy.
Oat flour is extremely easy to make. Just blend some gluten-free oats in a blender or food processor until they turn into a flour. Oat flour, especially if you make it at home, is very affordable. It can be a little dense, so I often recommend mixing it with a lighter flour when cooking. These oat flour-based (and oat topped) PB & J bars are a great addition to school lunches or after-school snacks.
Sorghum flour is made from a cereal grain that can be traced back to Africa 5,000 years ago. Actually part of a family of grasses, sorghum makes a sweet flour, which should come as no surprise since another use for sorghum is to make it into a syrup. In certain parts of the country, sorghum syrup actually substitutes for maple syrup. Sorghum’s light and sweet taste is wonderful for baked goods, such as cornbread, but you need to mix it with other flours in order to keep your treats from being too dry and crumbly.
6. Arrowroot flour and potato starch flour
These flour substitutes are often known as powders and are better when used as thickeners and not as the main flour ingredients. They definitely come in handy for both sweet and savory recipes, like pumpkin donuts or carob pudding. Arrowroot is tasteless and is commonly used for adding thickness to sauces and puddings. Like potato starch, it can also be used as a substitute for cornstarch. Just make sure you don’t cook it for too long or it starts to break down. Potato starch flour is made from (surprise) potatoes, but it is very fine and doesn’t have a strong taste.