By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Personally, I think gluten-free baking is harder than regular baking if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s harder to keep things together — cookies, muffins, etc. seem to fall apart easier if you don’t cook them for the right amount of time. Like coconut pancakes for example, they take 10 minutes per side which is much longer than a regular pancake!
This is not surprising when we remind ourselves that the main function of gluten is structural and helps to form structure of baked goods.
To help guide you through your gluten-free baking, here are the most common gluten-free flours to have in your cabinet, and how to use them.
1. COCONUT FLOUR
Coconut flour is a slightly heavier flour as it has more fat and calories, but fewer carbohydrates than some other flours (so it can be a good option for people who follow a paleo diet or who have diabetes). Coconut flour is used in a wide array of different gluten-free baked items including pancakes, batters for fried foods, cookies, pizza crusts, cakes and muffins.
Per 2 Tablespoons: 60 calories, 2 gm fat (2 gm saturated fat), 8 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fiber, 2 gm protein; coconuts also contain iron, potassium and phosphorus which plays an important role in bone health.
2. ALMOND FLOUR
Almond flour is similar to coconut flour with a higher fat and calorie content, but like coconut flour, it also has fewer carbohydrates. This flour is a good choice for people with diabetes and who may be following a more paleo-style diet. I find that this flour is often used for sweeter baked goods including cookies, pancakes, brownies, muffins, breads, cakes and scones, but we even use it in vegetable burgers (see recipes below)!
Note: Almond flour (or meal as it’s sometimes called) can be purchased as flour or can also be made by food-processing or grinding raw almonds.
Per 1/4 cup: 160 calories, 14 gm fat (1 gm saturated fat), 6 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fiber, 6 gm protein; almonds also contain calcium and magnesium that are important for healthy bones amongst other things and vitamin E that acts as an antioxidant in the body.
3. QUINOA FLOUR
Quinoa flour, because it’s made from a grain, is lower in calories than almond and coconut flours, but is higher in carbohydrates. Because quinoa is a complete-protein, this flour provides a complete source of protein. Quinoa flour is lighter to work with and cooks more like regular wheat flour as compared to coconut and almond flours. Quinoa flour is used in gluten-free cookies, pizza, muffins, pasta and cake.
Per 1/4 cup: 110 calories, 2 gm fat (0 gm saturated fat), 18 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fiber, 4 gm protein; quinoa also contains manganese that plays an important role in forming superoxide dismutase in the body, magnesium and phosphorus that are important for bones and other processes in the body and folate that plays and important role in making DNA and red blood cells.
4. CHICKPEA (Garbanzo Bean) FLOUR
Garbanzo bean flour comes from the chickpea (garbanzo bean) and is lower in calories and fat than almond, coconut and even quinoa flours. Like quinoa flour, chickpea flour cooks more similarly to regular gluten-containing flours as it is less dense than some other types of gluten-free flours. Chickpea flour is often used in more savory, gluten-free items including pizza, tortillas, flatbread, fritters and crackers. To make a complete protein source, blend chickpea flour with rice flour in baked goods.
Per 1/4 cup: 89 calories, 1.5 gm fat, 0.2 gm saturated fat, 13 gm carbohydrates, 2.5 gm fiber, 5.1 gm protein; chickpeas also contain B vitamins including B6 an folate that are important for DNA replication and cell rejuvenation as well as energy production.
Recipe that uses chickpea flour:
Jumbo Chickpea Pancake from Oh She Glows
5. HAZELNUT FLOUR
Hazelnut flour, or meal as it’s sometimes called, is a popular gluten-free base for baking. Similar to almond or coconut flour, hazelnut meal is heavier and has more calories and fat than some other flours, so it takes longer to cook with. Hazelnut meal is often used in brownies, cookies, cakes, and other similar baked-goods.
Note: Hazelnut flour can be purchased as flour or can be made by food-processing or grinding hazelnuts.
Per 1/4 cup: 180 calories, 17 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 5 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fiber, 4 gm protein; hazelnuts also contain similar minerals as other nuts including calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, but hazelnuts also contain vitamin K that plays an important role in clotting and important amino acids that boost immunity, skin, hair and nail health.
6. TEFF FLOUR
Teff, a grain from Ethiopia that is used to make teff injera, is a complete plant-based source of complete protein, and is similar to quinoa flour when it comes to using it in baked goods. Teff flour is also used in pizza and cookies.
Per 1/4 cup: 113 calories, 1 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 22 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fiber, 4 gm protein; teff also contains minerals like calcium, magnesium and manganese along with vitamin C and trace minerals copper and aluminum.
So which should you choose to have in your cabinet?
I often recommend to have a flour that is higher in fat like almond or coconut, and a flour that is lighter and can act more like a regular flour like quinoa or garbanzo; that way you’ll be prepared for making recipes on the fly.
Once you get more accustomed to using gluten-free flours you can make your own choices as to which ones you want to have readily available and those that you prefer to use. My kitchen is always stocked with quinoa and coconut flours.
Learn more about gluten and healthy swaps to make if you are sensitive to it.