From Grains to Greatness: Navigating the World of Gluten-Free Flours

10 January 2024 

Everything You Need to Know About Cooking & Baking with Gluten-Free Ingredients

Whether you’re new to a gluten-free diet or not, the wide world of gluten free flours can be intimidating. There are so many options on the market (with each claiming different benefits and uses) that it can be hard to know where to begin. GPA Wholefoods is here to guide you.

When most of us picture ‘flour’, we’re thinking of wheat flour, which is naturally rich in gluten and incompatible with a celiac diet. If you’re looking to cut out gluten, you’ll also find that barley and rye flours also contain gluten — not ideal for anyone with gluten sensitivity of any kind.

To keep those tummies happy, it’s best to turn to our range of gluten-free flours. In this blog, we’ll break down how gluten works, our tips and tricks for cooking and baking with gluten-free flour, and discuss the best ways of using some of the more uncommon gluten-free flour varieties.

How Does Gluten Work in Cooking & Baking?

When you embark on a gluten-free cooking and baking journey, it’s helpful to first understand how gluten works before you try and bake without it. This is particularly true for baking; cooking without gluten is usually a process of ingredient substitution, but baking is a whole different ball game.

What is Gluten?

Put in the simplest terms, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It provides elasticity and is the ‘glue’ in traditional flours. This protein can cause damage to the small intestine in people with celiac disorder.

Why Are There Different Types of Traditional Flour?

Different types of cooking and baking will require different types of flour. Tailored to specific purposes, different types of wheat flour will vary in how much gluten they contain. For example, bread and pizza suit a chewy texture, so bakers will use gluten-rich flour. On the other hand, a good cake will have a delicate crumb and as little chewiness as possible, so a low-gluten flour is better. 

The same can be said for gluten-free bakers and cooks — you should have multiple types of gluten-free flour in your fridge and pantry to cover all the different types of cooking you’ll do.

Gluten Helps Dough Rise

If you’re making yeast-based dough, you’ll struggle to get a good rise without gluten. As the yeast feeds off the sugars in your dough, it creates gas. When this gas is trapped by the sticky sheets of gluten, the dough will begin to rise. This creates that airy, light texture that you’re looking for in bread. In gluten-free baking, you’ll need to use baking powder instead of yeast to get a good rise (or be satisfied with a denser loaf).

Gluten Creates Doughy Doughs

Gluten is the glue in traditional flour. The moment you add liquid to the bowl, wheat flour starts developing sticky, elasticky bonds. This is that ‘stretchy’ factor you’ll see in most breads — particularly in pizza dough. It’s the gluten that allows chefs to fling pizza dough around in the air, stretching it into shape. When cooking with gluten-free flour, you’ll need to account for this reduction in stickiness.

The Benefits of Cooking & Baking with Gluten-Free Flour

Beyond the health benefits for gluten-sensitive guts, there are a few very good reasons to consider baking with gluten-free flour.

  • Gluten-free flour can’t be overmixed, as there’s no risk of developing too much gluten.
  • Gluten-free recipes don’t need to be kneaded, as you can’t develop gluten — no matter how hard you try.
  • Many gluten-free flours (like tigernut or coconut) have delicious flavours that enhance the taste of your cooking.

Tips & Tricks for Working With Gluten-Free Flour

Trust in a Tin

As gluten acts as a glue, doughs made with gluten-free flour won’t be able to hold their shape. With this in mind, always bake your gluten-free recipes in tins. For bread, try a classic loaf tin, and for rolls, a muffin tin is always handy.

Proper Protein

Gluten is the primary protein in wheat flour, so if you’re subbing in gluten-free flour, it can be beneficial to add an extra source of protein. When baking, this might mean adding an extra egg or substituting half a cup of water in a bread recipe with liquid egg whites. Adding a whole egg to bread will enrich the dough, giving you a crispier crust.

Stickiness Substitute

Without gluten, you’ll be missing that all-important sticky factor. To add stretch back, it’s a good idea to add something to your dough that increases the stickiness. Some recipes will suggest xanthan or guar gums, but these ingredients can be unkind to the gut. Ground flax or chia will give you that same result and will boost your gluten-free pizza and pie crusts.

Weighty Decisions

Because gluten-free flour is often very fine, measuring via volume (think cups and tablespoons) might not yield consistent results — especially if you’re adapting a traditional recipe. Instead, get out those trusty kitchen scales and measure your gluten-free flour using weights.

Lots of Liquid

Gluten-free flour naturally absorbs more liquid than wheat flour. With that in mind, most of the gluten-free recipes you’ll come across will ask you to add more liquid than you’re expecting. Just go with it! A looser batter is ideal, as is extra baking powder to lighten the dense texture.

Rest & Relaxation

Now here’s something traditional bakers might not have thought much about: resting your batter. While you can’t over-knead or overwork a gluten-free batter, you do need to allow time for it to rest. A lot of wheat flour alternatives have a grittiness to them that will completely go away by giving your batter 30 minutes (at least) to hydrate and soften. This is especially important for pancakes and cookies, which won’t spend as long being baked.

Time Is of the Essence

As we’ve discussed, gluten-free batters and doughs contain more liquid than traditional recipes. This translates to a longer time in the oven (or pan) to make sure your tasty treats are cooked through. You’ll know you’ve pulled your baking from the oven too soon if you notice a mushy, gummy, unpleasant texture.

Types of Gluten-Free Flour at GPA Wholefoods

Cassava Flour

A do-it-all classic, cassava flour has a mild flavour and gives a light texture to baked goods. This celiac-friendly flour can be turned into everything from pasta to tortillas to chips. Cassava is brilliant in paleo baking thanks to its sticky, starchy texture — turning out delicious crepes, banana breads, and even pie crusts. Plus, it’s typically high in fibre, potassium, and Vitamin C, and also contains some iron, calcium, and protein.

Tigernut Flour

A hard-to-find type of gluten-free flour, GPA Wholefoods is proud to stock tigernut flour. Use this tasty root-vegetable flour in place of almond flour, perfect for anyone who can’t eat nuts or wheat. Great for making friands, flourless chocolate cakes, tortes and more, this alternative flour is a baking wunderkind. Tigernut has a natural vanilla-y flavour, which will add depth to your desserts.

Sweet Potato Flour

A nutritional hero, sweet potato flour can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which our body converts into vitamin A. Fairly low in protein, sweet potato flour will provide a delicate crumb, making it perfect for cakes, biscuits, brownies, pancakes and more. Plus, it can be used to thicken sauces or to make instant mashed sweet potato.

Green Banana Flour

Another uncommon alternative flour, green banana flour is made from unripe bananas. This is quite different from regular banana powder, which is made from sweet, fully-ripened bananas. This flour is full of good bacteria and is a superb supporter of your digestive health. Ideal for raw ‘baking’, green banana flour has a very mild flavour even before cooking. Green banana flour works most effectively when used as part of a blend with a high-protein flour like cassava, to avoid a dry and crumbly texture.

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