Going gluten free is becomingly increasingly popular; there is a huge selection of flours that you can use to replace your flours for cooking & baking. So what options are available & how do you use them?
Why Go Gluten Free?
Gluten is a protein compound found in some grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It is made up of two proteins (glutenin & gliadin) & certain people have a reaction to the gliadin element.
The gluten acts like a glue & some people struggle to digest it. In some cases, the body sees the gluten as an invader & attacks it which can cause holes to form in the small intestinal lining. This is the case in those diagnosed with coeliac disease. Gluten sensitivity can also cause a wide range of symptoms such as malabsorption of nutrients, bloating & stomach pain. The only way to avoid these problems is to cut gluten out of the diet.
It has also been shown that gluten can cause issues in some people who do not have gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease. These people find that eliminating gluten from their diet leads to an improvement in their health too hence the need to find alternatives to feed the family!
There is now a huge range of gluten free flours on the market & it can be quite daunting to many people. They can not all be used as a direct substitute for wheat flour as many have other properties & they also might affect the overall flavour. Here are some of the most common wheat flour alternatives & some ideas on how to use them.
Almond flour (or almond meal) is made from ground almonds & can be easily made at home. It is very popular in recipes but do remember it is derived from nuts so may not be suitable for day care or school lunchboxes. Almond flour is high in protein & minerals & can easily substitute wheat flour in recipes such as in bread, muffins & crackers.
If you make your own almond milk, you can take the almond pulp left over when you drain the milk away & make it into almond flour. This can be done using a dehydrator or spread the pulp out on a baking tray & place in an oven on his lowest setting for around 4-8 hours until it has dried out.
Coconut flour is rising in popularity – especially amongst those who follow a paleo diet. It is not derived from nuts so avoids any nut allergy issues. Surprisingly, coconut flour is high in fibre which is an important part of a healthy diet. It is also high in protein but is a low carbohydrate option. It is made from the flesh of the coconut which is then dried & ground to produce the flour.
Coconut flour has a very soft, fine consistency so can make things quite soft & crumbly. It is not a direct replacement for wheat flour though so do not replace the wheat flour with the same amount of coconut flour! This is because it is highly absorbent so you need less coconut flour compared to wheat flour plus more eggs than in the recipe.
Coconut flour can be used on its own in baking or you can mix it with another flour & use it that way instead. It can be used in baking & also used when making burgers & meatballs to name a few.
Buckwheat is very nutritious containing a whole host of minerals & vitamins & is also said to reduce the risk of high cholesterol. It is derived from a seed so, again, avoids any issue associated with nuts making it ideal for lunchboxes.
It has a nutty taste & can be used for pancakes, bread & is a good substitute for wheat flour. Do take care, however, as it is heavier & denser so it will not rise as well as the wheat flour.
As the name suggests, chickpea flour is made from dried chickpeas! There are many names for chickpea flour (e.g. gram flour, besan & garbanzo flour) which can make it confusing! It is high in protein & carbohydrate & is great in bread, pancakes & as a thickener.
As the name suggests, rice flour is derived from ground rice so can be easily made at home using a food processor. There are both white & brown rice flours available with the brown rice flour having more fibre & also a nuttier taste & denser consistency.
Rice flour is very nutritious containing a wide range of vitamins & minerals. It is also a light & fluffy flour & tends to make things quote crumbly so is great for baking things like shortbread & cookies. It is a good thickener and great in batters (e.g. in pancakes & tempura).
This flour is a high protein alternative to wheat flour. It is also high in many other nutrients including B vitamins, iron & omega 3 fatty acid. It is great for muffins & pancakes & has a distinct taste in baked goods.
You can not only use quinoa flour in baking as it will create a very crumbly product. Therefore you should mix it with another flour to help overcome this issue.
This is a more unusual flour! It is derived from green bananas & is high in starch which may reduce risk of obesity & diabetes.
Banana flour does have a slight banana flavour but it is not overpowering. It is quite similar to wheat flour so makes a good gluten free alternative in baking but it is not a direct substitute to wheat flour as you will need less. You can also use it as a thickener in sauces & soups too!
Spelt Flour – Take Care!
Spelt flour is commonly seen in the shops but it is not actually gluten free. In fact spelt flour contains a different form of gluten that is easier to digest. It is also high in protein & can be pretty much used as a direct substitute for wheat flour making it an increasingly popular choice.
There are many ways that you can carry on baking & cooking whilst avoiding gluten. Although the array of gluten free flours available may seem daunting, take small steps & try one or two to see how you find them & also how you feel. You will quickly discover what you enjoy & you can create the most delicious, gluten free delights for family & friends!