The Well Stocked Gluten-Free Pantry (Part One): Grains and Flours

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Grains and Flours that do not have gluten are different in flavor and texture compared to their gluten-containing counterparts. I have enjoyed experimenting with many of these flours. They each contain different properties, such as their density, and their nutty, sweet, or savory flavors. Often combining two or three of these flours will help to bring out the best in each other. To create a lighter, softer texture in baking, these flours are often used in combination with starches (more info on this coming soon!). And gluten-free recipes almost always include a binder (more on this soon too!), which acts similarly to the gluten in wheat, and holds the flour together once it has baked. Following is a list of gluten-free grains and flours, and how they can be incorporated into everyday cooking and baking.

Buckwheat originated in Asia, and grows well at high elevations and in short growing seasons. It is now grown and eaten throughout the world . While buckwheat has the word wheat in its name, it is not related to wheat, nor does it contain gluten. Buckwheat Groats, also known as kasha, can be eaten like rice or oatmeal. It is more commonly eaten as a savory dish, and can be cooked with a ratio of 1 part buckwheat to 2 parts water for approximately 15 minutes. Buckwheat Flour has a mildly nutty flavor, and offers a nice texture to baking. It can be used on its own, but I find it pairs nicely with other more neutral flours. It can be substituted one cup minus 2 tablespoons for one cup of wheat.

Corn is a familiar grain, and one of the largest crops grown in North America. It is also one of the most widespread GMO (genetically modified/ engineered) crops on the market. Look for certified organic, and if possible, certified non-GMO. Corn Flour is made from finely grinding the entire corn kernel. It is a light flour, and can be substituted cup for cup in a recipe containing wheat. Corn Meal is also lighter than many other gluten-free flours, and like corn flour, is ground from the entire corn kernel. However, corn meal is much coarser, and it seems to need more liquid when including it in a recipe.

Millet is a grain common in Asia and Africa. It can be cooked and enjoyed like rice or quinoa, with a ratio of 1 part millet to 2.5 parts water, and takes approximately 30 minutes to cook. Like quinoa, it must first be rinsed under running water to remove any bitterness. It is also higher in protein than most other grains.  It is one of the least allergenic grains, and very easy to digest. Millet Flour produces light baked goods, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavor; often, only 3/4 cup of millet flour is needed to replace 1 cup wheat.

Oats are another commonly grown grain in North America. Although they do not contain gluten, they seem to cause problems for some with Celiac and gluten-intolerance. Special care should be taken to find certified gluten-free oats and oat flour since cross-contamination with wheat could be a risk. Finding certified organic oats is also becoming easier. Oats are processed most commonly in four ways: old fashioned rolled, steel cut, quick cooking, and instant. They take more or less time to cook, from old fashioned being the longest, to virtually instant.  Oat Flour offers a familiar, slightly earthy, nutty flavor to baked goods. I especially enjoy the combination of oats and buckwheat together in baking. To replace 1 cup of wheat, use one cup, minus 2 tablespoons.

Quinoa originated in South America and much of it is still grown there today using centuries old practices. Quinoa is high in protein, and very easy to digest. It can be used in savory and sweet dishes, and cooked like rice, at 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. Rinsing quinoa before cooking, under running water, is a must to remove any bitterness.  Quinoa Flour can be substituted cup for cup with wheat flour, and can be combined or used alone. I find this flour works well with chocolate and spices, which balance out the grain’s naturally nutty, slightly bitter flavor.

Rice is one of the most commonly grown and eaten grains throughout the world. There are many different types of rice to choose from, and can be incorporated into many different savory and sweet dishes. The ratio of rice to water depends on the type of rice being cooked. A quick rinse before cooking is recommended to remove any excess starch. There are many rice brands grown in North America, some of which are certified organic. Considering that rice has had its share of issues (think, high levels of lead detected in rice grown in China) it isn’t a bad idea to look for rice grown close to home. Rice Flour can be found in three varieties. Brown, white, and sweet, also known (unfortunately) as glutinous. Brown and white rice are interchangeable, and can be substituted 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons, for one cup of wheat. The texture is very crumbly on its own and really needs to be used in combination with another flour or starch. Sweet rice flour creates a lighter, more delicate dish, although it is still crumbly if used on its own.

Sorghum is also grown in Africa and Asia. Sorghum Flour has a very similar texture to wheat flour, and can be replaced one to one with wheat flour. It can be used alone, or in combination with other flours. It is also considered to be a sweet flour, and reducing the sugar in a recipe is suggested when baking with sorghum flour.

Teff is a less familiar grain, native to the African country Ethiopia. It is a tiny grain, packed with nutrition and protein. It is eaten cooked like rice, or porridge, 1 part teff to 3 parts water. The grain can also be eaten uncooked like a seed. Teff Flour is a soft, light flour that can be replaced one to one with wheat flour. It can be used on its own or in combination with other flours.

There are many different flours and flour combinations that can be used in the gluten-free kitchen. In the past several years, many brands have made the effort to make gluten-free flours more readily available. I have experimented with some of these flours, while others are still on my to-do list. I would love to hear your experiences cooking and baking with gluten-free grains and flours, and which ones are your favorites!

While this is an overview of these gluten-free grains and their profiles, I do not intend for this to be a comprehensive documentation of these foods. Nor is this meant to be construed as medical advice regarding health or diet.

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