Gluten is the proteins found in certain grains. Not all grains contain gluten – wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten. When flour and water are combined, and kneaded into dough this gives the elasticity which provides structure to bread and other baking and helps them rise.
Many people today are intolerant to gluten. Our gut is very sensitive and gluten is known to really irritate this. This is also one of the reasons why I recommend holding off on giving babies grains (read more on this here). In addition, many foods containing gluten (including the flour itself) can be really processed.
Below are my top three recommendations for gluten substitutes however as gluten does add that elasticity the binding of these alternatives will have a slight different affect but well worth having a go with!
Almond meal, almond flour or ground almond (all these names refer to the same product) is simply made from ground sweet almonds. Almond meal is a great high protein, low carb alternative to normal baking and is both gluten and wheat free. As you would expect it adds a real nutty taste and tends to be quite moist. As there is no gluten you will generally need more ingredients to help bind it like eggs or bananas. Almond meal is my personal favourite gluten-free alternative. I find it really easy to use and is very nutrient dense. You can make almond meal yourself but when I have finally have time to have a shower by myself again (with no little people watching) in the morning I will consider doing this. In the meantime, check out my Carrot and Walnut Muffins made with this which is a great snack for babies and toddler alike! I include this in my Starting Solids Guide as a way to introduce ‘nuts’ to infants (provided there are no known allergies).
Coconut flour is made from coconut solids which have been ground into a very fine powder. This product is increasingly being sold in health food shops and your local supermarkets. Like the almond meal it is gluten and wheat free and is higher in fibre (5g/tbs compared to 2g/tbs in whole-grain flour or 0.8g/tb in white flour). It is particularly high in good dietary fat – remember your body needs fat for your immune system, vitamin absorption (of fat soluble vitamins), and as a long lasting fuel source.
I personally find coconut flour slightly more temperamental to work with. Not for a good baker of course – more for me who is baking with 2 children hanging off my legs and barely time to pull ingredients out of the pantry let alone measure everything properly. So just have a play around with it check out my Coconut Flour Cookies!
I first came across gluten-free flour a wee while back when I was 21 (‘wee-while has many interruptions). I went through a number of abdominal surgeries and was left with a severe case of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – and got thrust into the world of gluten-free flours and baking. What was back then something you had to go to a health food shop to buy is now pretty much in all supermarkets. You may be surprised to know that general gluten-free flour is actually a mixture of a number gluten-free flours including rice flour, tapioca flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, or buckwheat flour. Some of these are also sold separately too. It is highly recommended that you use a stabliser like xanthan or guar gums when using gluten-free flour – I made this mistake the first time when baking with these! I am less included to use this flour as it is not as nutrient dense than the previous two but it does often work better with more sweet baking.
Hope that helped shed some light on gluten-free flour alternatives!
All this talk of baking makes me want to get into the kitchen….
xxx Dr Julie Bhosale