Know Your Flour: Traditional and Gluten-Free
A Guide to Alternative Flour
Whether you use traditional or gluten-free flour, you’ve probably noticed that all flours are not the same. Made from grains, nuts, legumes, roots and seeds, they vary in texture, flavour, density and nutritional make-up. Knowing the qualities of different flours will help you choose the best for the bread, cake, muffin, cookie, pastry, pasta, or sauce you want to make.
Traditional Flours (Flours that Contain Gluten):
Barley Flour – Fiber-rich and lower in gluten than wheat flour, barley flour has a natural sweetness and a flavour of malt. Good as a complement to white and whole grain flours. Use about 50% barley flour to the overall flour blend. Barley flour is good in quick breads, muffins and cookies. Contains gluten.
Kamut Flour – High in protein, fiber and B vitamins, kamut is an ancient grain also known as Khorasan wheat or Oriental wheat. With a smooth texture and a nutty, buttery flavour, kamut, is good in bread, pancakes, cookies and baked goods. Used similarly to modern wheat. Contains gluten.
Oat Flour – High in protein and fiber, oat flour adds taste and whole-grain flavour to baked goods. Although oats are gluten-free, they can be cross-contaminated when grown in rotation with wheat. If this is a concern, look for oats labelled “gluten-free”. Oat flour is good in cookies and in bread when combined with a high-protein flour such as wheat flour (about 30% oat flour to the overall flour blend).
Rye Flour – Related to barley, rye is rich in fiber, low in gluten and is a source of iron and nutrients. Hearty and somewhat dense with a distinct flavour, rye is good in peasant-style bread (about 25% rye combined with 75% wheat flour) and in crackers. Contains gluten.
Spelt Flour – Spelt is an ancient wheat variety with a nutty sweetness. High in protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals, this whole grain flour works well in breads, quick breads, cookies and crackers. It is often substituted for a portion of the flour called for in wheat flour recipes (starting in proportions of about 25% spelt). The gluten in spelt breaks down more easily than in wheat flour, so it is important not to overmix to avoid a crumbly texture. Contains gluten.
Triticale Flour – Cross-bred from wheat and rye, triticale flour is high in protein, with a robust flavour and chewy texture. Triticale has a mild taste of rye. Used for hearty yeast breads, often as a substitute for wheat or rye flour. Contains gluten.
Wheat Flour – There are many kinds of wheat flour. Whole wheat flour is made by grinding the full wheat berries, and is high in fiber and protein. Good for hearty breads. White flour, refined to remove the bran and the germ, produces light, well-structured baked goods, with less nutritional value than whole wheat. White flour comes in a variety of milled forms (all-purpose flour, pastry flour, cake flour) and produces a wide range of baked goods. Good in yeast breads, quick breads, muffins, cakes, cookies and pastry crust. Contains gluten.
Amaranth Flour – High in protein, amaranth is an ancient grain with a nutty, complex flavour. Because it is dense, amaranth works best when combined with wet ingredients, such as eggs or dairy. Amaranth browns quickly. Avoid crumbliness and a bitter aftertaste by combining 10% amaranth with wheat or other gluten-containing flour. Good in quick breads, cookies and brownies. Store amaranth flour in the refrigerator.
Arrowroot Flour – White, flavourless, and powdery, arrowroot offers little nutrition, but has a silky quality that adds lightness to dense baked goods. Used interchangeably with cornstarch, potato starch or tapioca starch. Add up to 25% arrowroot to flour mixtures. Good as a thickener for sauces, soups and gravies. Also used in gluten-free cakes, cookies and biscuits. Store in a tightly sealed container.
Bean Flours – These include chickpea (garbanzo bean), soy, navy and pinto bean flours. High in protein and fiber, bean flours have distinct flavours that can leave an aftertaste. Bean flours add structure to baked goods. For best results, combine with other flours, using 30% bean flour. Unsuited to lightly flavoured baked goods. Bean flour works well in baked goods with strong flavours such as chocolate, spices and brown sugar. Good for spice cakes, muffins and breads.
Buckwheat Flour – In spite of its name, buckwheat is not wheat. It comes from a plant related to sorrel and rhubarb. Also called Kasha. Buckwheat flour has a nutty flavour and a bluish colour. Dense and very absorbent, buckwheat will work well in mixtures that have a lot of moisture. Good for pancakes and dense fruity cakes. Traditionally used for soba noodles.
Coconut Flour – Technically a nut flour, coconut flour is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. It has a slightly sweet flavour of coconut. Made from dried coconut meat, this flour is often well-tolerated by people with food allergies. Use up to 20% coconut flour as part of a flour blend. Coconut flour generally needs equal parts liquid to flour to produce good results. Used in cakes, cookies and as a coating for fish or chicken.
Corn Flour – Corn flour is high in fiber and B vitamins and has a somewhat coarse consistency. Corn flour comes in various forms: yellow or white finely ground cornmeal, or Masa Harina, milled from hominy. Corn flour is good for coarse breads, muffins, pancakes, desserts, and as breading for deep-fried foods. Corn flour can be blended with rice, sorghum, buckwheat or amaranth flour for baked goods. Masa Harina is used for corn tortillas.
Cornstarch – Cornstarch is fine and powdery. It is flavourless and adds a light, airy quality to baked goods. Cornstarch can be substituted interchangeably with arrowroot or potato starch. Good for thickening sauces, gravies and soups. Cornstarch is often a component in gluten-free flour blends.
Kasha Flour – Kasha is another name for buckwheat.
Millet Flour – Millet is an ancient grain that adds a tan or yellowish hue to baked goods. Mildly sweet, high in protein and easy to digest, millet lends structure to baked goods. Good in yeast breads, flatbreads, pizza and cereals. Use about 25% millet to the overall flour blend. Millet has a short shelf life and can easily become rancid. Store in the freezer.
Nut and Seed Flours – Nut and seed flours include flaxseed flour, chia seed flour, pumpkin seed flour, and flour ground from any kind of nut. You can make your own nut and seed flours with the food processor. Nut and seed flours are powdery, protein-rich, and add a nutty flavour to baking. Best combined with wet ingredients like eggs, or when used as a component in gluten-free flour. Good for cookies, pastry dough, and tortes.
Pea Flour – Pea flour is similar to bean flour, but does not leave an aftertaste. Rich in protein, it adds structure to baked goods, but can also add a greenish colour if green pea flour is used. Use pea flour as 30% of the total flour blend. Adding too much pea flour will make baked goods starchy. Good in breads, pizza, and spice cakes. Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Potato Flour – Potato flour has a mild flavour and a smooth texture, and can add a crispy outer crust to gluten-free baked goods. Potato flour holds water and helps produce a moist interior in breads. This ability to hold moisture can add to the shelf life of baked goods. Potato flour contains vitamin C, minerals, and fiber. Good in gluten-free yeast breads, pancakes, and as a thickener for sauces, soups and gravies.
Quinoa Flour – Highly nutritious, with an earthy flavour, quinoa flour adds a complete source of protein to baked goods. Use quinoa flour as up to 50% of a flour blend. Good in cakes, cookies, breads, and pancakes.
Rice Flour – Possibly the most commonly used gluten-free flour. Brown rice flour is higher in fiber than white rice or sweet rice (which is blander and has more starch). Mild and somewhat gritty, when used alone, rice flour can produce grainy or crumbly baked goods. Best combined with higher protein flours to attain more structure and smoother texture. Rice flour is good in cookies, pastry crust, biscuits, and gluten-free breads. Store in the refrigerator.
Sorghum Flour – Sorghum flour comes in red or white varieties and has a vaguely sweet taste. Dark in colour, it adds a whole-wheat type of appearance to baked goods. Sorghum flour is high in fiber, protein, minerals, and B vitamins, and adds structure to gluten-free baked goods. Use sorghum flour as 25 to 30% of a flour blend. Good for breads, muffins, cookies, and pancakes, and especially for darker, denser baked goods.
Soy Flour – Soy flour is a kind of bean flour.
Tapioca Starch – Tapioca flour is a starchy powder that comes from the root of the cassava plant (sometimes called manioc or yuca). Although it does not have a great deal of nutritional value, it can be used to enhance the natural flavour and texture of baked goods. In gluten-free breads it can help create a crispy crust and an interior consistency like regular bread. Good as a thickener for soups, sauces and pies.
Teff Flour – Teff is a traditional Ethiopian grain with a dark colour and a mild, nutty flavour vaguely reminiscent of cocoa. Teff is a source of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin C. Heavier than wheat flour, teff is suited for denser baked goods; teff does not rise well in yeast breads. Good in spice cookies, brownies, pancakes and flatbreads.