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Gluten-Free Flours – An Introduction

Shelly McRae

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. These grains are ground into flour and used to make breads and baked goods. It is the gluten in wheat flour that makes bread doughy and baked goods light and fluffy.

For those who suffer from Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, the only treatment is a gluten free diet. Flours made from any grain containing gluten must be avoided. Fortunately, there are a number of flours available that are gluten-free.

Rice Flours

White rice flour is derived from raw rice. The husk is removed and the grain ground to a fine powder. Brown rice flour is made from rice kernels; the whole grain is ground into flour.

Brown rice flour is higher in protein content than rice flour. It also has a slightly nutty taste to it.

Bean Flours

Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, make for a robust flour with a slightly sweet taste. Garbanzo bean flour is grainier than its rice counterparts, and is high in protein and natural fats.

Soy flour is made from soy beans. The flour is finely textured and high in protein. However, it is not uncommon for those intolerant of gluten to be sensitive to soy and soy products.

Other beans, such as fava, mung or the Romano bean may also be ground into flour, though these are not as readily available as garbanzo and soy flours.

Vegetable Flours

Potatoes and corn can both be processed into flour. Potato flour has an earthy taste and holds up well in bread making. Corn flour is used in quick breads and such common foods as cornbread and tortillas. Both flours are nutritious and have an agreeable taste.

Tapioca flour is made from the root of the cassava plant and is high in carbohydrates, calcium and other essential nutrients. It is commonly used to add texture and sweetness to baked goods.

Pseudo-cereal Flours

Though its name implies otherwise, buckwheat flour is gluten free. It’s derived from the buckwheat plant, a fruit-bearing plant that acts like a grain and is related to the rhubarb plant. Buckwheat flour has a strong, almost bitter flavor to it and is best used in small quantities.

Quinoa flour is ground from the berries produced by the quinoa plant. Quinoa berries are thought of as a grain, though the plant is actually related to the spinach family. High in nutritional value, quinoa flour imparts a nutty flavor suitable for such foods as almond cake.

Gluten Free Flour Mixes

Due to the lack of gluten and the fine texture of these flours, using them in various combinations yields better results than when used individually. To make rice bread, for example, a combination of white and brown rice flours, potato flour and tapioca flour may be used. The rice flour provides bulk, the potato flour consistency and the tapioca flour adds chewiness to the bread.

Other ingredients used include cornstarch, corn meal and xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is derived from bacterium, similar to yeast, and is used to add volume and stability to gluten-free foods. In the absence of gluten, a mix of these alternative flours can still result in tasty and nutritious breads and baked goods.

Please also see PanaChiaGluten Free Pasta; and Gluten-Free Products.

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