Our Chef's Guide to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking 101

Our Chef's Guide to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking 101

We know it can be confusing to know what's what when it comes to what is gluten-free and what is not. We also know that it can be helpful to ask a pro, so today we're sharing some basics from our staff pastry chef on what will help you the most in your gluten-free adventures.  Take it away chef!

Hey everyone! I've been a professional baker for over 20 years and the advent of the gluten-free movement has been one of growth and change for many bakers. I've learned a lot and I want to share them with you here on the Organic Grains Blog.

Here are the basics...

Today we'll be covering:

  • Gluten free grains
  • Grains with gluten
  • Substituting gluten in baking (gums)
  • Gluten free Starches
  • Gluten Free Flour and Blending
  • Tips and Techniques of Baking with Gluten-Free Blends

Gluten-Free Grains, Grasses and Seeds

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • *Oats
  • Wild rice
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Teff
  • Quinoa
  • Flax seed
  • chia seed
  • sesame seed
  • sunflower seed

* Oats can be found gluten-Free but must be certified to be so. Check the labels carefully.

Grains with Gluten

Wheat including all varieties like spelt, khorasan wheat, faro, durum and products like bulgur and semolina contain gluten. Barley, Rye, Triticale and Oat* ( *unless certified gluten free) all contain gluten. 

Substitute Gluten in Baking

Gluten, a protein found in wheat flour, is what gives structure to baked goods. It gives breads, muffins, and cakes their soft spongy texture. To replace gluten, you'll need to use other thickeners like xanthan gum or guar gum in your baking. For each cup of gluten-free flour mix, add at least 1 teaspoon of gluten substitute. We tend to increase the egg content as well. 

Xanthan Gum 
This comes from the dried cell coat of a microorganism called Zanthomonas campestris. Available in grocery stores and gluten-free sections in 2 oz bottles. It is 100% natural and mimics gluten in baking. If you have a corn or soy allergy, look for brands that are soy and corn free.

Gluten-Free Starches and Flours and Their Uses

 Potato Starch This is a gluten-free thickening agent that is a nice thickener in soups and sauces. Mix it with a little water first, then substitute potato starch flour as you would cornstarch in a recipe. Half as much flour as called for to thicken.

Tapioca Starch/Flour This is light, white, very smooth flour that comes from the cassava root. It gives baked goods a nice chewy texture. Try it in white bread or French bread recipes. It is also easily combined with cornstarch and soy flour.  A refined starch that comes from corn, it's mostly used as a thickening for puddings, fruit sauces, and Asian cooking. It is also used in combination with other flours for baking.

Cornmeal  Cornmeal can be ground from either yellow or white corn. This is often combined with flours for baking. It imparts a strong corn flavor that is delicious in pancakes, waffles, or muffins.

Amaranth  was one of the staple grains of the Incas and it is known as kiwicha in the Andes today. It's a prolific growing plant. It is heralded as a super grain, meaning it has all the amino acids your body needs for growth in  the right combination. Amaranth contains about 30% more protein than most common cereals like rice, wheat, oats and rye! Pop it and you're addicted...like crack..but healthy. It's better for you than popcorn too!

 Amaranth is Gluten free. It's great cooked on the stove as a more nutritious replacement for grits. Simmer 1 part amaranth to 3 parts water on low, covered for 20-25 minutes. Amaranth makes a nice addition to breads, cakes and cookies when popped. How do you pop it? Put ¼ cup of amaranth in hot deep pan and stir until it pops until it quadruples in size. It will make about 1 cup.

Brown Rice Flour.  Made from unpolished brown rice,  Brown Rice Flour retains the nutritional value of the rice bran. Use it in breads, muffins, and cookies.

Buckwheat   Whole grain buckwheat can cook on the stove top in a ratio of one part buckwheat to 3 parts water. Simmer on low heat, covered for about 30 minutes. Buckwheat is not related to wheat at all and is 100% gluten free. A century ago Russia was by far the world leader in buckwheat use. Kasha, or buckwheat groat, is a well-known use of buckwheat for pilaf come to us from our Russian friends. With a strong flavor, rich in iron and a high concentration of all the amino acids, buckwheat is amazing in pancakes and great for a nice dense bread. It can be strong in flavor so get the hulled varieties. For breads and rolls, use up to 1 cup per recipe to impart a taste and texture that comes close to whole wheat. Use less when baking delicate cookies or pies. (¼ cup contains 6 grams fiber and 5 grams protein.) 

White Corn Flour. This flour is called a neutral flour. It is milled from corn but is not cornstarch or corn meal. It can be blended with cornmeal to make cornbread or muffins. It is excellent for waffles or pancakes.

 White Rice Flour This is excellent basic flour for gluten-free baking. It is milled from polished white rice. Because it has such a bland flavor, it is perfect for baking, as it doesn't impart any flavors. It works well with other flours.

Brown Flax Seed Meal is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Whole flax seed is not easily digestible so buy flaxseed meal (ground flaxseed) or make your own by grinding the seeds in a clean coffee grinder. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of flaxseed meal per recipe for baked goods or sprinkle it on yogurt or cereal for a nutritional boost. Store in the refrigerator or freezer. Flax seed meal can be soaked in warm liquid and used to replace egg in many recipes. One tablespoon flaxseed meal soaked in 3 tablespoons warm liquid is equal to one egg in baking for vegans. (2 tablespoons yields 4 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.)

Garbanzo Bean ( AKA the chickpea)  The flour is high in protein, calcium and fiber. Other bean flours additions are wonderful in gluten-free baking. Varieties available as flour include bean (navy, pinto and red) and soy. Garfava flour is a blend of flours made from garbanzo, fava and Romano beans. Unfortunately, certain bean flours, particularly garfava and chickpea, have an aftertaste that many find unpleasant, these should be used in relatively small amounts, less than 20 percent of your recipe’s total flour blend.


Millet     To cook the whole grain, use a ratio of 1 part grain to 3 parts water. Simmer 35 minutes or pressure cook 6 minutes. It is most often used in America as a bird seed filler yet remarkably well loved all over the world as "actual" people food.  Millet flour has a mild sweet nut-like flavor. The high protein flour is also high in fiber. For optimum results, don't use more than 25/5 millet flour in a flour blend. (¼ cup yields 4 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.)

Quinoa To cook quinoa on the stove-top, use  a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. Simmer 20 minutes, covered on low heat stove top. Pronounced Keen-wah, it originated in the Andean region of South America where it was successfully domesticated about 4000 years ago. We once heard this called the great “lost grain of ancient America.” Unknowing that there was a natural occurring coating containing bitter tasting saponins We made the grain without rinsing it...only once. Because it is cooked in the same way as rice we thought that the rinse was optional. we learned very quickly that the rise was not an optional stage for the bulk quinoa. Some you can purchase in small boxes and it says “rinsed”. If it does, then by all means don't rinse. Another very nutritious option that does not require rinsing is the sprouted versions of the grain.

 Quinoa comes in Black, Red and White varieties. It can be used any way you use rice and more! It's gluten free and loaded with fiber. It's a complete protein! flour, milled from a grain that’s native to the Andes mountains in South America, has high levels of calcium, protein, complex carbohydrates, phosphorous, iron, fiber and B vitamins. This flour is easy to digest and has a delicate, nutty flavor like wild rice. Mix it with other flours to increase the nutritional value of your recipes but avoid using it in large quantities (no more than 25 to 30 percent of the total flour blend), as it can overpower the flavor of your baked goods. (¼ cup yields 4 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.)

Sorghum  and Sorghum flour  is available in white and red varieties with a slightly sweet taste. It is high in protein, fiber, potassium and B vitamins. It works best when blended with other flours. Only use 30% in any flour blend for gluten-free baking should consist of sorghum. It is a darker colored flour so don't use it where you want a white appearance in the finished products. Use sorghum flour as an important part of high protein blends. (¼ cup yields 3 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.)

Soy Flour A nutty-tasting flour with high fat and protein content. It's perfect when used with a combination of other flours and in brownies. Use it with fruits and nuts to help mask the beany-flavor.

Teff is a grain (grass seed) that comes to us from Ethiopia. Whole seeds can be cooked  on the stove top  using 1 part teff to 4 parts water. Cover over low heat and simmered 15 minutes (or pressure cooker 2 minutes). It is believed to have originated in Ethiopia around 4000 BC.  In Africa, it's been reported to have over 2000 varieties.  Most often I use it in cookies, cakes, tortillas and flat breads. It is gluten free...and it contains all the essential amino acids. It also takes 150 grains of Teff to equal the size of one grain of wheat...so it's smaller than heck! Heck is small...So they're small...yet they pack a nutritional punch! There is a good amout of fiber, as you can well imagine. There's 2 grams fiber per ounce of grain (That's almost 10% of your daily needs in one ounce baby!). Plus it's a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper.

Gluten-Free Whole Grain Flour Blends and some Tips and Techniques of Baking with Gluten-Free Blends

Use a combination of flours. Usually not one single flour will do the trick for avoiding dense heavy results. Generally plan on no more than 30 % of each flour. Usually this means no more than 1 ½ cup of each flour for every 5 cups of blended flour. The exception: chickpea and millet. They have a strong flavor and will overpower the flavor of baked goods. For these you can use a lot less, about ¾ cup for every 4 to 5 cups of flour blend.

A good formula for healthy all-purpose flour:

  • 1½ cups nutrient- dense flour (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum)
  • 1 cup neutral flour (white/ brown rice flour, corn flour)
  • 1 cup starch (tapioca, corn, potato)
  • ½ cup alternate starch

Store high-protein flours in airtight containers with a wide mouth so you can measure over the container.

Refrigerate all gluten-free flours. Allow refrigerated flours to return to room temperature before you use them, unless the recipe states otherwise. Use a wire whisk to get rid of flour clumps before you measure.

High-Protein Flour Blend (MAKES 7 ½ cups)

  • 3 cups sorghum flour
  • 2 cup Brown Rice Flour 
  • 2 cup tapioca starch/flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch or Potato Starch
  • 2T xanthan gum
  • 1T sea salt

Blend well. Place in tightly sealed container and refrigerate.

Each ¼ cup contains 121 calories, 1g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 234mg sodium, 27g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 2g protein. Note that most power flours are interchangeable in equal amounts (not flax seed meal, chickpea or millet flour). Neutral flours are interchangeable in equal amounts. Flours are not interchangeable with starches, as they have different baking properties.

Chef’s Gluten Free Fresh Milled multi-grain flour

  • 24 oz sorghum
  • 12 oz buckwheat
  • 12 oz brown rice
  • 12 oz amaranth
  • 12 oz quinoa (pre-rinsed or sprouted variety is best and will not impart a bitter flavor to flours)

Measure by weight. Mix the grain together. Mill on finest setting. If you are not generally gluten free and are milling flour for someone who is, you may need to find out how sensitive they are to gluten. Generally, try to have one mill that is 100% gluten free. This will keep the flour from being contaminated. For those highly sensitive to gluten, this is very important.

Chef’s Super-Grain flour recipes

  • 5 cups of Chef’s multi grain flour (above)
  • 2 cups tapioca starch
  • 1 cup of corn starch
  • 2 Tbsp. xanthum gum
  • 1 Tbsp.  sea salt

Use cup for cup in your baking recipes.


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