I started going gluten-free twenty years ago. At that time it was out of a desire to add more variety to my family’s diet rather than a necessity. So I didn’t mind that finding gluten-free ingredients was difficult. I started out experimenting with different flours. One Waldorf teacher I knew used to simply substitute spelt (not gluten free but often used in place of wheat for people who desire variety or have a wheat allergy) for wheat flour and all the recipes she made turned out pretty well. I started to branch out and quickly realized that every flour has it’s own personality and you cannot simply substitute one for the other.
Recently being gluten free became a necessity for me and I was happy to find that things have changed quite a bit from when I first started experimenting with different grains. It is now quite easy to find alternative grains either in the regular grocery store, natural grocery store or online. The variety of alternative flours available has expanded beyond spelt and amaranth (which were the common substitutes 20-years-ago) to embrace flours such as rice, almond, sorghum and even millet.
And the best part is – you don’t need a special recipe book to use these new flours. Here are some general guidelines for substituting ingredients to either make a recipe gluten-free or to add more variety to your baking.
- Any recipe with tolerate a 25% substitution. If you are just looking to add some variety or interest to your baking (or you are making a recipe that calls for a different kind of flour and you are out of that type of flour) you can substitute any flour in that recipe for another variety.
- There are many substitutes for plain white or plain wheat flour. This is what many traditional recipes are based on. So to avoid buying a different cookbook for everything you can simply find some reliable substitutes. These will not be a substitute flour. Usually, when seeking a substitute for white or wheat flour in a recipe you will need a mixture of ingredients to produce the same results. I have included two recipes below. I prepare these recipes in bulk ahead of time so they are always available.
- Learn the personalities of each flour. I use over twenty different kinds of flour. Each one has it’s own personality. By knowing these you can make additional substitutions very easily. For example, rice flour is very light and tends to produce a more sticky batter. This is why making bread only from rice flour is not recommended. However, this might be a very good flour to substitute when looking for a flour to thicken a gravy or sauce. I have included some tips below.
White Flour Substitute
You can substitute this for white flour in ANY recipe without any change in the results. If a recipe does need to be modified by making this substitution it is usually easily done. Occasionally you may need to add bit more flour or liquid.
4 Cups Sweet Rice Flour
4 Cups Brown Rice Flour
2 Cups Tapioca Flour
1/4 Cup Arrowroot
Wheat Flour Substitute
You can substitute this for wheat flour in ANY recipe without any change in the results. If a recipe does need to be modified by making this substitution it is usually easily done. Occasionally you may need to add bit more flour or liquid.
3 Cups Sweet Rice Flour
3 Cups Millet Flour
3 Cups Sorghum Flour
2 Cups Tapioca Flour
1/4 Cup Arrowroot
This is a picture of my flour/baking cupboard…
There are many more flours available than the ones listed below. This list just gives you an idea of what to look for when trying out different flours. Is it heavy or light? Does it have a distinct taste or not? Does it have a distinct color or not? Does is hold baked goods together or make them crumbly?
Amaranth: Strong taste. Works well in recipes that also use brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup. Don’t substitute more than 1/2 cup per recipe because of the strong taste and tendency to brown easily.
Corn Flour (not corn starch): Heavy flour. Works well in heavy recipes like pancakes, waffles, or muffins. Combines well with sorghum, rice, amaranth or other lighter flours.
Millet: Do not substitute this for more than 25% of the flours in any recipe. Slightly nutty flavor. Is good for adding firmness, unlike rice flour which is much lighter.
Gluten-Free Oat: This should be 30% or less as part of any flour blend. It also adds firmness to recipes like millet but has a lighter taste.
Rice Flour: This fine flour can be used for cookies or other lighter recipes where you don’t want a heavy taste like from corn flour or a nutty taste like from amaranth. This flour is light and unobtrusive. However, you cannot substitute 100% for recipes with regular flour or your baked goods will crumble from lack of structure with this light flour.
Sorghum Flour: Often people say this tastes like wheat flour. It has good structure but it does add a brownish or yellowish color to baked goods so if you are making something like a light vanilla cake you might not want to use this. This flour should not be more than 30% of any recipe.