Let’s Talk Gluten-Free Flours & Starches
Although various gluten free flours and starches may be similar in appearance and texture, they are distinctly unique in how they taste, their nutritional value and the chemical reaction they produce. This affects how each flour and starch is best used in baking.
A good example of this would be the difference between cornstarch and tapioca starch. They both look very similar and are starches but the difference between these two starches comes down to temperature. When cornstarch is added to a liquid, it starts to gelatinize and becomes a nice translucent thickener. Tapioca starch works in the same way but will start to break down when exposed to high temperatures. So, if the recipe needs to be boiled, or will be baking for an extended period of time, then cornstarch would be the best choice. When baking gluten free, it is always best to use a mixture of gluten free flours and starches to create a pleasing texture, taste and appearance. Knowing the various gluten free flours and starches that are most commonly used in gluten free baking and how each of them functions will make it easier to create your own gluten free flour blends and recipes.
Below are some of the most common gluten-free flours and starches broken down by type, where they fall on the protein scale, the percentage of protein, the role they play in baking, and the temperature at which starch gelatinizes.
The below chart is what I use to help determine which flour or starch to use for a recipe and/or when testing out new gluten free flour blends.
Table of Flours and Starches
My Favourite Gluten-Free Flours and Starches
White Rice Flour actually works more like a starch when used in baking. It has slightly less protein than brown rice flour and absorbs less water, creating a lighter, airier crumb. It has a neutral, clean flavour and for this reason it is often the base for many gluten-free flour blends.
Brown Rice Flour has a similar colour and flavour profile to whole wheat flour. The protein percentage is slightly higher compared to white rice flour and it retains more moisture.
Sweet Rice Flour. Also called ‘glutinous’ rice flour has a mild flavour that adds a chewiness to baked goods. This flour needs to be used in moderation as it creates a very sticky texture.
Corn Flour (US)/Maize (UK) is a yellow or white powder (depending on the corn used) that has a slightly sweet, clean flavour. Corn Flour is made by grinding down whole corn kernels. Note that in the UK they call corn flour maize flour.
Sorghum Flour. Is a cereal grain and has a slightly nutty, sweet vanilla flavour.
Oat Flour has a subtle sweet, nutty flavour and is made by grinding whole oats into a fine powder. Oats are naturally gluten free but often during the milling process there can be cross-contamination with other grains, including wheat. To ensure your oats are gluten free look for the gluten free label or certification on the bag.
Tapioca Starch. Also called tapioca flour, comes from the cassava root and has a slightly sweet flavour. It functions like a starch and is a great thickener.
Cornstarch (US)/ Cornflour (UK). Is a white chalky powder that is nearly flavourless. It is often used as a thickening agent and helps to create a smooth texture in batters and doughs. Cornstarch is obtained from the extraction of starch from corn grains. Note that in the UK they call cornstarch cornflour.
Potato Starch. Not to be confused with potato flour, a different product, potato starch has a neutral flavour and aids in creating a tender texture. Potato starch is made from the extracted starch of whole, peeled raw potatoes which are then dried. Potato Flour is a fine white powder that is similar in appearance to whole wheat flour. Potato flour is made from whole, peeled dehydrated potatoes
Gluten-Free Flours and Flour Blends
Now that we know that Gluten is made up of proteins and that these proteins are what gives baked goods their elasticity, structure and cohesiveness. We can see why it’s so important to use gluten free flours that also have a high protein content. A starch is also needed to provide balance and work with the proteins to create a lighter crumb structure.
There are plenty of great gluten-free flour blends on the market these days and they make gluten-free baking much easier and accessible for everyone. Gluten free flour blends are generally created with a goal to find the right amount of protein-based flours and complimentary starches. Depending on the recipe or type of recipe you are making then not only do we need to account for the right combination of protein and starch but what flavours they are contributing to the recipe. *knowing the best combinations for specific recipes will be covered within each section of the course.
Below is a list of some of the gluten free flour blends I recommend that can be purchased in most general supermarkets (within North America).
- Bob’s 1 to 1 Baking Blend
- Bob’s Gluten Free Bread Flour
- Cup4Cup gluten free flour
- BetterBatter gluten free flour
If you do want to experiment with making your own gluten free flour blend I would highly recommend using the Table of Flours & Starches and sticking to the ratios below that will keep your flours, starches and binders within a set percentage to maintain balance. That ratio is 60-70% Flours, 20-30% Starches, and 10% or less binders. For example, if I needed 100g of gluten free flour blend the combination would like something like this:
GF Flour Blend 1:
Contains 70% flour, 25% starch and less than 10% binder
70g White Rice Flour
25g Potato Starch
5g Xanthan Gum
GF Flour Blend 2:
Using a combination of flours and starches. Still maintaining 60-70% flour and 20-30% Starches.
40g White Rice Flour
25g Corn Flour
20g Potato Starch
10g Tapioca Starch
5g Psyllium husk