One of the most challenging food items to deal with is flour. It’s such an integral part of our diet, that it invades virtually every meal and snack we eat. When you can no longer eat foods that contain wheat flours, everything you put into your mouth becomes a potential food hazard. Fortunately, the manufacturing sector is becoming sensitive to those people who are wheat / gluten intolerant and a broader variety of food products are becoming available. Still, much confusion seems to swirl around the word flour.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary offers “any fine powder” as one of the definitions of the word “flour”. The other definition it offers is “a meal or powder obtained by grinding and usually sifting cereals, especially wheat”. In modern times, we have come to think of the word wheat and flour as synonymous. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of other alternatives.
Wheat is a cultivated grass, just like corn and rice. These are used as food products throughout the world. I was recently informed by my own gastroenterologist that my DNA contains the gene that indicates the potential to develop a sensitivity to wheat, just like 40% of the population. Some grasses, specifically wheat, barley and rye, contain a protein called gluten. This protein causes an irritation, sensitivity or allergy for some people, just as nuts do for others. In his book “Are you Gluten Sensitive?”, paediatric gastroenterologist, allergist and nutrition consultant, Dr. Rodney Ford, calculates that one in ten people are gluten sensitive. That’s 10% of the population. He goes on to suggest that many others are not diagnosed as gluten sensitive for a variety of reasons. That’s a lot of people.
When I first started eating gluten free, I was confused about the names of flours. As my research has progressed, I have been able to identify different types of foods that are available as flours. That’s helped me to develop the recipes that keep my diet interesting and flavourful. About eight months ago, while working with an allergist, I made the connection between my allergy to grass and my digestive problems. That allowed me to take my diet to the next level, by restricting the amount of grains that are gluten free, but still members of the grass family. At that point, it became imperative to divide flours into categories: gluten containing grass flours, gluten free grass flours and flours from other plants. I have been able to further sub divide the flours from other plants into ground nut flours, seed flours, legume flours and root or vegetable flours.
This is some of the information I have amassed through extensive reading and careful research. If it contains any inaccuracies, omissions, or errors please bring it to my attention, so I can correct the information. I am not a specialist of any kind, just one woman searching for a way to better understand the foods I eat, so that I can recover my health.
The Grass Family of Plants:
Gluten Containing Grasses or Grains:
- Barley Pearls
- Rye Flour
- Wheat Flour – all varieties
- Spelt / Dinkle Flour ( a species of wheat )
- Kamut Flour ( a species of wheat )
- Durum Flour ( a species of wheat )
- Graham Flour ( a type of whole wheat flour )
- Semolina Flour ( is a purified middling product made from ground wheat starch or endosperm, unless otherwise specified as rice or corn semolina )
- Triticale Flour ( a hybrid of wheat )
- Malt ( barley and other grains that are steeped, germinated and dried for use in manufacturing beer, hard liquor, vinegar and sugars such as maltose, glucose, fructose and sucrose )
- Bulgur ( also called burghul, a cereal food made from several different wheat species, but most often from Durum wheat )
- Couscous ( wheat pasta – spherical granules made by rolling and shaping moistened semolina wheat, then coating them with finely ground wheat flour )
- Orzo ( a rice shaped pasta made from semolina flour )
Gluten Free Grasses or grains:
- Corn / Maize Flour or Meal
- Millet Flour
- Rice Flour – all varieties, white & brown
- Glutinous Rice Flour ( also know as sticky rice or Mochi )
- Wild Rice Flour ( the seeds can be cooked whole or ground into a dark flour )
- Sorghum Flour
- Teff Flour – dark and ivory
- Sugar Cane
- Job’s Tears / Hato Mugi / Coixseed / Adlay / Adlai ( barley like in appearance, grain that is gluten free and can be ground into flour)
Seed Flours: ( Gluten Free )
- Buckwheat Flour – light & dark ( A traingluar seed from the Polygonaceae plant family. It is not a grass, grain or cereal )
- Amaranth Flour ( a seed used as a grain – Amaranth is a genus of plants )
- Quinoa & Red Royal Quinoa Flour ( seeds used as a grain from a species of goosefoot of the Chenopodium plant family )
- Chia / Salvia Hispanica ( the seeds are ground to make flour – Lamiaceae plant family )
- Flax ( ground seeds – Linaceae plant family )
Root and Other Vegetable Starches: ( Gluten Free )
- Potato Starch ( is created when the starch is mechanically and chemically extracted from the cells of the potato – lighter, no taste, better thickener in sauces and gravies )
- Potato Flour ( is created by cooking the potatoes in their skin, dehydrating the pulp and then grinding it into flour – heavier, has potato flavour, poor thickener, better in baking )
- Sago Flour / Pearls ( created from the dehydrated and ground pith of the stem of sago palm trees )
- Kudzu Flour ( the roots contain starch which is processed to form a flour )
- Arrowroot ( is made from the edible starch found in the root of West Indian arrowroot plant – Maranta arundinacea plant family )
- Corn Starch ( is made by mechanically extracting the starch from the corn kernals & modifiying it for specific purposes. It is a gluten free grain in the grass family )
- Tapioca Flour / Pearls ( is made from the cassava plant – also known as yuca, manioca, boba – comes in two forms: flour & pearls, just like Sago )
- Agar Agar ( is derived from seaweed and comes as a dry powder or in a gelatinous form. It is used as a thickening agent )
- Taro / Dasheen ( is made from the root of the Taro plant which is dried and ground like potatoes )
- Sweet Potato Flour ( is made from white sweet potatoes )
- Yam Flour ( produced from grinding dried yams )
Legume Flours: ( Gluten Free )
- Peanuts are a member of the legume family of plants – Legume Fabaceae
- Chickpea Flour / Garbonzo / Gram / Besan / Channa ( made from dried and ground chickpeas )
- Dal Flour ( is made from split peas )
- Lentil Flour
- Lupin Flour ( has been suspected of causing allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to peanuts )
- Fava Flour ( made from dried and ground broad beans )
- Garfava Flour ( is a blend of chickpea and broad bean flours )
- Soy Flour ( is made from roasted, ground soy beans )
- Urid Flour ( is made from mung beans that have been processed )
Nut Meals or Flours: ( Gluten Free )
- Almond Meal or Flour
- Hazelnut Meal or Flour
- Peacan Meal or Flour Flour
- Walnut Meal or Flour
- Chestnut Flour ( made from roasted, ground chestnuts )
- Acorn Flour ( if making your own from wild acorns do the research as this requires a special process )
- Coconut Flour ( made from processed coconut meat )
The world we live in is very cosmopolitan. It is now common to have access to a wide variety of ethnic foods both in grocery stores and restaurants. Sometimes the names of flours used to make these foods are related to a specific country, region, language or culture. It can be challenging to know if the foods are safe for us to eat in relation to our special dietary needs. For that reason, I have included the names of as many flours as I could find and their original food form.
Tips For Cooking and Baking with Special Flours:
- Many gluten free flours are very delicate and will go rancid quickly. Keep them in sealed containers in the refrigerator or freezer. Label them carefully with their name and date.
- When adding a new flour to your pantry, make sure to learn all you can about it’s unique flavour, texture and properties. Tasting a small amount, smelling it and rubbing it on your skin or between your fingers will tell you a lot about how to use it.
- When combining gluten free flours for baking, there is a specific ratio that works well – 2 parts mealy flours to one part starchy flours e.g. 1 cup almond meal + 1 cup quinoa flour ( mealy flours ) added to 1 cup tapioca flour ( starchy flour ). You can break the flours down even further e.g. 1/2 c. almond meal + 1/2 c. quinoa flour + 1/2 c. teff flour + 1/4 c. ground flax + 1/4 c. sweet rice flour plus 1 c. tapioca flour.
- When blending gluten free flours, meals and starches add a binding agent (or two) to compensate for the lack of gluten. Guar Gum is a common binding agent but can cause digestive upsets in some people. The more expensive Xanthan gum is easier to digest for most people, but is also an excellent binder. Gluten free gelatine is also added to some recipes, in addition to guar gum or xanthan gum, to enhance the binding properties of gluten free flours
- You can sour milk to replace buttermilk in a recipe, by adding lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk. Add 1 Tbsp of either to a cup of milk, stir well and set aside for 15 minutes.
- If you need an easy egg substitute in a recipe, add 1 Tbsp. of ground flax mixed with 3 Tbsp water for each egg required. You can also buy a product called Egg Replacer.
- Make your own nut meals and flours by slowly roasting nuts in the oven, allowing them to cool and grinding them in a clean coffee mill or powerful food processor. A medium to low oven ( 325F – 350F ) for 5 to 10 minutes will toast them to a golden brown. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn and turn bitter.