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Gluten-free flours: what are they, and how do we use them in cooking?

Tiziana Colombo: per voi, Nonnapaperina

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Tiziana Colombo

Have you ever thought about how many types of flour exist?

I’ll give you an overview of gluten-free flours in this article because they are crucial for celiac disease patients and those with difficulties with gluten absorption. More so because there is sadly no treatment or medication that may bring about recovery for this kind of illness.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the lives of celiac and intolerant people must be different from others’. It’s possible to keep the symptoms fairly well at bay and even eliminate them completely. The secret is a diet that rules out gluten completely, but one might wonder where gluten is found.

Does this imply giving up all foods like pizza, pasta, bread, etc.? Thanks to gluten-free flour or gluten-free cereals, the answer is, without a doubt, no. Wheat and soft-wheat flour are not the only available options. Both those with celiac disease and those who do not have access to a wide variety of alternative flours. Does gluten exist in wheat flour? Yes, it does.

Flours that are naturally gluten-free but all the same tasty and “efficient” like the traditional ones. I’ll cover them below, dividing them into categories: cereals, pseudocereals, legumes, dried fruits, tubers, and fresh fruits. Finally, I’ll also give some tips to make the most of them and revise the idea of “surrogate” when using gluten-free ingredients in any type of recipe.

Naturally gluten-free flours from cereals

Which are the gluten-free flours? Below, I’ll talk about gluten-free cereals, providing a list to keep on hand. Flour is a versatile product that can be made from many different ingredients. Obviously, the most suitable food category to make flour from is cereal. Luckily, there are many cereals that are naturally gluten-free. You can prepare anything with it, from cakes to sandwiches, with completely natural flours. Here is a list of the most important cereals that don’t contain gluten.

Corn. Cornmeal is probably the most common among gluten-free flours. After all, it’s characterized by a taste different from wheat flour but, all the same, very pleasant. It’s also rich in nutrients, especially calcium, which is good for your bones and other organs.

Rice. Ground rice is the second-most-used gluten-free flour after cornmeal. It’s characterized by a good amount of starch, which comes in handy in some recipes, it also has an abundance of vitamins and minerals. In some cases, it doesn’t offer great qualities for baking, therefore, it’s often paired with cornmeal.

Sorghum.  It is an African plant that is a mainstay of the diets of Magrebi, Sub-Saharians, and Ethiopians. It’s characterized by an extraordinary amount of vitamins and minerals. Sorghum meal is great for bread-making and stands out for its rather rustic taste.

Millet. Millet flour is rich in proteins, since these make up as much as 12% of its structure. It also contains a lot of lipids, which don’t increase the calorie intake much. Among vitamins and minerals, vitamin A and potassium stand out. Does millet contain gluten? No, it doesn’t.

Teff. This term indicates a gluten-free cereal of African origin that has always been a staple in Ethiopian and Eritrean diets. It stands out for its great protein supply (12g per 100g) and abundance of vitamins and minerals. It’s great for bread-making since it contains a sort of natural yeast called symbiotic.

Fonio. It’s an ancient gluten-free cereal of Subsaharan origin that recently came back into vogue for its capability of thriving even in quite dry terrain. It boasts a peculiar nutritional profile since it’s low in protein as well as fat. However, it’s also rich in minerals that are often missing in other flours: calcium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese. Moreover, it contains many essential amino acids.


farine senza glutine

Gluten-free flours from pseudocereals

Excellent gluten-free flours can be made from even pseudocereals. Disclaimer: Although pseudocereals are plant-based foods that resemble cereals in flavor and texture, they fall under other categories. Personally, I advise using gluten-free flours that are organic.

Quinoa. Quinoa flour is considered a superfood since it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein. After all, it’s very similar to legumes. It’s also characterized by a good amount of antioxidants, which have an anti-tumor function because they fight free radicals.

Amaranth. Amaranth flour is a peculiar food, although it is not very suitable for baking. It provides great amounts of iron, calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. It’s rich in beneficial acids such as aspartic and glutamic. Protein supply is not the highest (it is equal to 4%).

Buckwheat. Gluten-free buckwheat flour is getting increasingly popular lately. It’s especially appreciated for its mineral supply, with selenium and zinc as its stars. It also has a good supply of vitamins A, B, and J. The glycemic index is low, which suits the diets of people who suffer from diabetes. Is buckwheat gluten-free? Yes, it is.

Hemp. Hemp flour is made from the hemp plant’s seeds, but these can actually be considered pseudocereals given how they react to grinding and their nutritional profile. Hemp flour is rich in carbohydrates and isn’t particularly high in anti-tumor substances or fats (luckily). It stands out for having fewer calories than the majority of cereals and having exceptional baking properties.

Legumes and dried fruit flour

What are gluten-free flours? Even dried fruits and legumes can be processed into gluten-free flours and used to make bread, pasta, and other baked goods. Yes, not all of them, but a significant portion. Legumes are typically classified as having a relatively high protein content. After all, at least in mainstream cuisine, several of them have been and still are utilized as meat replacements.

They have a unique concentration of minerals, especially iron, which is essential for blood oxygenation and can treat the symptoms of several long-term illnesses like anemia. They produce mediocre bread; in fact, it’s not unusual to discover bread recipes using these flours in folklore.

The most appreciated legume flours are from chickpeas and lentils. The first excels in protein, the second stands out for its completeness and especially for its iron supply.

The same goes for dried fruits. In this regard, chestnut, hazelnut, and walnut flours are to be mentioned. Their main feature is the presence of good fats, which protect the vascular system and heart.

They specifically aid in reducing harmful cholesterol. Both magnesium and phosphorus are abundant in it. The former promotes cognitive capacities, whereas the latter is engaged in numerous cognitive processes.

Separate discourse for almond flour. In this case, the bread-making qualities aren’t great, but its delicate taste makes it perfect for pastries. Even coconut and banana make good gluten-free flours for pastries.

Regardless of celiac illness or food intolerances, a lot of regional Italian dessert recipes call for almond flour. Additionally, almond flour contains a lot of vitamin E, an antioxidant and anti-tumor agent.

You may not know that lupine flour is also gluten-free and is great for sweet and salted recipes. It has a great amount of protein and fiber, a low glycemic index, and helps reduce bad cholesterol levels. Another great flour for people with celiac disease is soy flour, which is rich in vegetable protein, fiber, and isoflavones. Therefore, it’s in the low-glycemic flour range. A must-try.

What are the tuber-based gluten-free flours?

In some cases, gluten-free flour can even be found in tubers. The first item that springs to mind is probably potatoes, but there are other options that are equally fascinating. They are frequently praised for their high starch content, which in some instances can reach “extreme” levels. This is not a defect; in fact, it is useful for various preparations, but it somewhat reduces the bread-making abilities.

Cassava. Although very nutrient-dense, cassava flour is very low in protein. It is particularly high in starch, which makes up roughly 85% of its weight. It can even be used for breading baked goods that don’t need raising, like the Italian piadina. Given its delicate and slightly aromatic flavor, meat and vegetables are frequently served alongside it.

Potato. It’s among the most known and consumed foodstuffs on Earth, but its flour is quite uncommon. It’s not to be confused with the more widely available potato starch, which is obtained through a different process and used in equally different recipes. While starch is used to support other flours when thickening the mixture for cakes, potato flour is used almost like regular flour.

Tiger nuts. Tiger nut flour is used in the same way as other tubers. However, it stands out for some of its nutritional properties. Specifically, it’s rich in vitamins C and E. The former strengthens the immune system, and the latter helps prevent cancer. It also supplies a good amount of minerals as well as substances that protect the heart and blood circulation (by lowering cholesterol). Tiger nut flour is mostly used on the Iberic Peninsula, especially in cake making.

Gluten-free flours from fresh fruits

Gluten-free flours can also be found in fresh fruits. They obviously need special processing, which is nearly always drying. The end effect encourages support in patisserie rather than use in bread-making. They can even create combinations that have a flavour that is airy, delicate, and pleasing.

Coconut. Coconut flour is widely used in patisserie. It doesn’t work well on its own, but it creates amazing synergies with thicker flours. It stands out for its slightly sugary taste as well as its remarkable nutritional profile. In fact, it’s rich in potassium (which is good for blood circulation) and vitamin C, which is a blessing for the immune system.

Banana. Banana flour might imply sweetness. Given that the fruit is used when it’s still green and practically immature, it’s actually rather neutral in this aspect. In any case, both the performance and the flavour are excellent, especially when you need to prepare a sensitive mixture (e.g. for pancakes).

Carob. Because it was not consumed as food, this fruit was once thought to be a waste. It’s actually excellent and nourishing when processed properly. Carob specifically has a chocolate-like flavour. It also contains a lot of minerals like calcium, iron, and phosphorus, which are rather uncommon in diets made from plants.


How to make the most of these gluten-free flours

Using whole wheat flour is easy and convenient. Usually, people learn how to cook and knead with this type of flour. The same can’t be said for other types, which are almost taboo for a lot of people. For this reason, some precautions are necessary when approaching alternative, gluten-free flours.

But which precautions? The first suggestion is to respect the peculiarities of each flour type. If we think of gluten-free flours as surrogates for traditional ones, the result is rarely satisfactory.

In fact, you risk making a bad copy of the dish. Therefore, it’s necessary to understand the peculiarities of each flour and treat them accordingly. Ground rice is normally very delicate from an organoleptic point of view, in fact, it doesn’t boast excellent bread-making qualities.

Therefore, it works best when combined with another flour that performs well without overpowering the flavours of the other ingredients. Rice that has been ground is the ideal candidate in this case.

The second piece of advice is to not restrict gluten-free flours to those with celiac disease. As I’ve already stated, this kind of flour should not be viewed as a substitute but rather as a stand-alone item. In other words, they can be used in recipes that are safe for everyone, including those who are not celiac. In conclusion, this kind of flour is a fantastic way to mix up your diet because it offers delicious and unique flavours.

Giving up a favorite meal that was a part of countless buddy meals and aperitifs might be psychologically upsetting. This occurs when we have to cut off some cherished foods from our diets that may have happy memories attached to them.

If you can relate to these lines, I have some encouraging news for you: you can overcome this traumatic experience with dignity. I can attest to this because I was in a similar circumstance back in 2011. I quickly received diagnoses for intolerances to gluten, lactose, and nickel.

My entire world came crashing down. My intense love for cooking inspired me to update my cookbook and develop “free” recipes. My main goal was to reintroduce my favorite foods to the table, particularly lasagna.

There are many other flours that can be home-ground, and I can tell you that these recipes with” homemade” flours are gluten-free and still give great satisfaction. On this website, you can also find many ideas with teff flour and potato starch, and more are yet to come! With these flours, you can make gluten-free products to rival bakers and confectioners! They’re all flours you can use to make amazing recipes. Making homemade gluten-free bread is easy, making it right is not so much. To get gluten-free bread with a crunchy crust, you need patience.

Important note: Always remember to check the packaging and read the labels. During the manufacturing process, from processing to packaging, contamination can often occur. Flour and gluten are a real nuisance!

Gluten-free flours: how to? Making homemade flour is always a great idea! Read this post, and you’ll find there’s always a good reason to go for homemade flour (even the gluten-free one).

Let’s answer some questions. Does Manitoba flour contain gluten? Yes, it does. Gluten-free Manitoba does not exist. Does rye contain gluten? Yes, it does.

Which cereals contain gluten? Wheat, spelt, rye, barley, kamut triticale, bulgur, couscous, and oat. Of the last two, there are gluten-free options (such as rice couscous), so always check when purchasing. Does bran contain gluten? Yes, it does. Does durum wheat semolina contain gluten? Yes, it does. Great, certified organic gluten-free flours exist.

Kamut and celiac disease. Like any other cereal, kamut flour does have gluten, even in small quantities. If it is not processed, it can be easily digested, even by people with a slight gluten intolerance. Since it is known that kamut contains gluten, we must state that it is acceptable for lactose- and nickel-intolerant individuals.


Faq farine senza glutineFrequently asked questions about gluten-free flours

Now let’s address the most frequent questions about gluten-free flours and, more generally, about gluten-free cereals.

    • Does corn contain gluten?
      No, corn naturally lacks gluten.
    • Does buckwheat contain gluten?No, buckwheat contains no gluten, therefore, there are no problems in this matter. Be careful about any possible contamination or mixtures of different flours, though.
    • Does rye contain gluten?
      Rye, a very common cereal in areas with a mild climate, contains gluten. For this reason, rye flour can’t be used in recipes meant for people who are intolerant to gluten.
    • Is there gluten in rice?
      No, rice is naturally gluten-free. Furthermore, because starch can glue ingredients together, ground rice is a good choice for mixtures.
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