Luckily, substituting ingredients is becoming second nature for me now, but baking still throws me. I’m gaining ground though as I branch out with more alternative flours. I thought I would share some of my successes here about which gluten-free and refined sugar-free substitutes really work!
First of all, if you are new to the gluten-free way of eating, you will probably spend a small fortune to begin with (especially if you want to bake or bread anything) on little packages of alternative flours.
I didn’t go out and buy mine all at once- I accumulated them over the past six months and am still working on “collecting” them as I learn about them and come across them in stores. In fact, no one store has them all, that I have found. Some I have found at Whole Foods, some from weird discount groceries that I never would have suspected to have any sort of “health” food at all, and some from tiny corner health and vitamin shops. Most of them are Bob’s Red Mill, but not all. A few I have broken down and ordered through Amazon.com (I don’t recommend ordering food through Amazon unless you really can’t find it locally, since shipping on foods from them is totally ridiculous!)
Here is a list of the flours I have on hand so far:
Coconut flour- Very absorbent!! I use this one in almost all baking now. The rule of thumb with this one is if you are converting a gluten recipe, reduce the measurement for flour by 80%. Even then, you may end up with a concoction that is a bit too dry and chewy. I think coconut flour is best when used in conjunction with other flours because it does have quite a toothsome texture all on its own.
Teff flour- I just learned of this one- it is AMAZING to bake with- very dark color and lends a slight caramel taste to foods. Great for banana bread and cookies, etc. The texture turns out baked goods almost like refined white flour.
Millet flour- I have this one, but haven’t used it yet! I will update this after I experiment!
Tapioca flour- I very much dislike the taste of tapioca. It tastes fishy to me. No one else in my family minds and they even like the Chebe-style biscuits make primarily from this, but I have to disguise it well in things myself. It does bind things, so works well if you use a little in baked goods. Most spices overcome the flavor, so it’s not hard to cover up the taste. The consistency is very gelatin-like if you use a lot of it.
Arrowroot- used as a thickener. It is called both arrowroot starch and arrowroot flour. They are one and the same. I was confused for a long time about this!
Almond or Hazelnut flour- You can also have almond or hazelnut meal. I think the flour is ground a little bit finer. This is EXPENSIVE if you buy it in the store. I soak my nuts (any kind) and then dehydrate them for a few hours, depending on the size of the nut, and then grind them myself. I don’t have a problem with them going rancid because I go through them really rapidly and store in an air-tight jar, but you could also store them in the fridge, of course, or just grind as needed. I find that walnut flour is my favorite.
Bean flours- These are the first flours I purchased. I bought a case of the fava/garbanzo flour and I totally regret it. The first thing I made was a pancake-type bread and it tasted okay and was texture-wise fine, but anytime after that that I have used the flour, I am unable to stomach the taste at all and get severe tummy upset if it’s disguised in any foods. This is just me. My general recommendation now is NOT to buy a case of any flour (or anything else for that matter) unless you have tried it and love it first. Duhhhhhh.
Potato starch- a thickener, NOT a flour!
Potato flour- different from potato starch! Used as a flour, NOT a thickener
Brown rice flour- just what it says. Produces a heavy result when baking.
White rice flour- ditto above.
Sorghum flour- I have used this once. It is supposed to have a sweeter taste than most flours. Still experimenting and will get back to you!
Quinoa flakes- One of the newest additions to our kitchen. I have some recipes for muffins, but haven’t yet tried them. This is on my to-do list!
Cornmeal- Great for gluten-free breading, especially for fried squash, okra, and fish. (Do you see the Southern in me coming out!?) Unfortunately, I am having issues with eating corn, so this is out for me.
Cornstarch- Different from corn meal! Very satiny consistency and is used as a thickener for gravies, etc.
I think that about covers the flours that I have used or own, so far. Teff is definitely my new favorite in the bunch because it definitely feels like a familiar texture to work with in baked goods.
Now for some substitutions:
For cornstarch- Sub arrowroot or gelatin (powdered plain gelatin, like Knox brand- easy!) I have heard that chia works too, but I do not have experience yet with chia. Same with flax meal.
For cornmeal- Sometimes you can sub nut flours. I have subbed rice flour too. The texture is definitely going to change when you sub anything for this.
For all-purpose baking flour- Sorry, you have to work this out yourself for the time being. There are recipes out there to make your own, but I haven’t experimented with them yet.
For eggs- Soaked chia seeds, flax, and a whole host of other things you can find doing a basic internet search (from gelatin mixtures to apricot puree…)
For nut butter- seed butter if you can tolerate it
For sugar- Honey if it needs to be smooth, but depending on the context, you may have a runnier/thinner result than anticipated (like in cookie batter) If it’s on top of something, then you can sprinkle some date flour. Date flour doesn’t dissolve though, so beware if you are mixing it into something! Molasses is a good substitute in some cases and maple syrup can work too. I always err wayyyy on the side of too little sweetener now that we rarely use it. I have even made peanut butter cookies and pancakes that needed no syrup or sweetener of any kind and my family gobbled them down. Ripe bananas work wonders for sweetening up things. If you eat less sweet, your taste buds adapt! *Beware of agave and corn syrups or other sweeteners that go straight to the liver for processing. Always eat any sugar (even fruit!) with protein to slow down those sugars in your bloodstream!*
For milk- It depends on the recipe, but sometimes you can substitute water. Other times, rice milk, soy milk, hemp milk, nut milk or coconut milk. Coconut milk is the substitution of choice in my house! It is especially good for making ice-cream. If you can tolerate it, goat milk works too. Some brands taste less “goaty” than others, so experiment.
I don’t recommend the processed milks for several reasons- soy is so harmful anyway with the pseudo-estrogens and whatnot, but also the packaging could be toxic and you’re consuming a very highly processed food with these.
For butter- I often substitute coconut oil. If it’s savory and for frying, I will use lard. Ghee works too. We still use a LOT of butter, but I was dairy-free for almost two years and living without butter is totally do-able.
For oil- This is one you probably know already, but in baking, you can substitute any pureed fruit like applesauce for the oil. Olive oil is okay used cold, but it’s not the best for frying. For frying, use a high-heat oil like safflower or go with butter, lard, or coconut oil instead.
For savory recipes that don’t involve baking, it is usually a bit simpler. If it calls for pasta, there are pastas on the market now that are gluten-free and still very good in taste and texture, made of rice, quinoa, and corn. Or you can change it up and substitute something like rice, quinoa, potatoes, or even beans! We made pizza beans one night- just put everything in with some kidney beans that you would typically have on a pizza, heat and eat.
The key is really to experiment. The problem with this is that you do feel like you have wasted time, effort and money. I always cringe when I spend a long time on food and use up my precious local raw honey and soaked and toasted organic nuts, etc only for the recipe to flop and I have to throw it all out. But I do console myself some with the fact that I am learning and trying these things and having them flop is really the only way I can really understand how the foods work together. The good news is, I do have more successes than failures!
With any of the flours, make sure you are getting organic if possible. With corn and potatoes especially, you want to be sure that if they are not organic, that they are not GMO (genetically modified.) Bob’s Red Mill packaging will tell you this and will also tell you if the flour is gluten-free.
*This post has been linked to Simply Sugar and Gluten Free
Please visit them for more great gluten-free recipes!