In this gluten-free age, the flour marketplace has changed so much in recent years that bakers can choose from a dizzying array of different flours that depart from traditional wheat.
Why so many choices? One of the biggest influences is the gluten-free movement, with consumers avoiding gluten, the main protein in wheat, for a variety of different reasons. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten to control their symptoms; for others, gluten-free is more trend than necessity. Also, companies such as Bob’s Red Mill have been popularizing a broad selection of “ancient grains” and non-wheat flours.
What’s good about these flours? They contribute deeper flavor and color than white or whole wheat flour. Each has its own distinct flavor profile that is best suited for certain baked products over others. Also, many consumers are looking for artisanal-style baked goods that have interesting flavors and textures.
What are some of the challenges? Alternate flours generally cannot replicate the texture and flavor of wheat flour in yeast breads because yeast breads rely on the structure of gluten in order to rise. Flours that can satisfactorily substitute 100 percent are wheat relatives that also contain gluten, namely, Kamut, rye and spelt; these are not suitable for customers who truly need to avoid gluten.
What are the best uses? Baked goods that utilize other leavening agents such as baking soda, baking powder and eggs – brownies, cookies, quick breads, muffins – can be recreated using one or more gluten-free flour products. Depending on the flour, the finished product may taste nearly the same. It’s best to seek out reliably tested recipes as a starting point from industry giants such as Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour. They also offer information on flour substitutions and baking tips. Be sure to test any new recipes thoroughly as gluten-free recipes often require adjustments in flavoring, sweetness, and ratio of liquid to flour.
Can flours substitute one for one in place of white or whole wheat flour? It depends on the flour. King Arthur’s Measure for Measure and Bob’s Red Mill’s All-Purpose 1-to-1 are formulated to stand in for conventional flour. Their neutral flavor and texture profile are suitable for many baking and cooking applications because they contain a combination of flours, starches and gums that replicate the elasticity of wheat-containing baked products. Single-grain flours milled from quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and other whole grains may perform differently. Products made with gluten-free flours may require higher amounts of leavening agents.
What about shelf life? Because ancient grain and nut flours naturally contain oils, they should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent the oils from becoming rancid and to keep away pests like grain moths that love whole grains and whole grain flours. “We recommend using all of our products within 6 months of the “Best By Date” noted on the package,” says Bobbi Welch, Recipe and Product Assistance, Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods. “Products baked with gluten-free flour may dry out a bit more quickly so enjoy them within a day or two. Most baked items can be cooled completely and stored at room temperature in a resealable container. Any leftovers should be frozen well-wrapped to prevent freezer burn.”
What else is important to know? A truly gluten-free facility must completely segregate conventional and gluten-free production with separate equipment and storage. Baked goods that are mixed and baked using regular equipment can be called wheat-free but should not be labeled gluten-free.
Sources for additional information:
Bob’s Red Mill, www.bobsredmill.com
Culinary Collective, www.culinarycollective.com
King Arthur Flour, www.kingarthurflour.com/guides/baking-with-ancient-grains/