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! My name is Stephanie Petersen, and I’ve been a professional baker for over 28 years. 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 some things with you on the Organic Grains Blog as their chef and recipe developer. I hope this gives you some insights to help you on your gluten-free journey.

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

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

Grains with Gluten

close up on a person holding wheat grains in their hand

Wheat, spelt, Einkorn, Khorasan wheat, faro, durum, and products like bulgur, farina, and semolina, contain gluten. In addition, barley, Rye, Triticale, and Oat* ( *unless certified gluten-free) contain gluten.

Substitute Gluten in Baking

Gluten, a protein found in wheat flour, gives structure to baked goods. It provides bread, muffins, and cakes with a 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 the gluten-free flour mix, add at least one 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 Xanthomonas 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 soy and corn-free brands.

Gluten-Free Starches and Flours and Their Uses

 Potato Starch 

This gluten-free starch is an excellent thickener in soups and sauces. Mix it with a bit of 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 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 from corn is primarily used as a thickening for puddings, fruit sauces, and Asian cooking. However, it is also used in combination with other flours for baking.


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

a metal measuring cup of uncooked amaranth with some of the grains spilled out in front of it


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 excellent 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. See the full tutorial here. A favorite is using the amaranth as grits in savory recipes like this cheese grits recipe here. When popped, amaranth makes an excellent addition to bread, cakes, and cookies. So how do you pop it? Put ¼ cup of amaranth in a 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 bread, muffins, and cookies.

close up on raw buckwheat groats


Whole-grain buckwheat can cook on the stovetop in a ratio of one part buckwheat to three parts water. Simmer on low heat, covered for about thirty minutes. See the full tutorial here. 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. Unhulled buckwheat has a strong flavor, rich in iron, and a high concentration of all the amino acids, buckwheat is excellent in pancakes and great for a nice dense bread. It can be strong in flavor, so get the hulled varieties we carry here. This variety is milder in flavor and much better for those wanting to ease their family into the world of buckwheat. For bread and rolls, use up to 1 cup per recipe to impart a taste and texture that comes close to whole wheat. Use less buckwheat flour when baking delicate cookies or pies. (¼ cup contains 6 grams fiber and 5 grams protein.)

White Corn Flour

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

 White Basmati 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. The taste of the Basmati rice flour is more decadent than regular white rice flour. Organic Grains mills this flour fresh to order, so the flavor is always new.

Brown Flax Seed Meal 

Brown Flax Seed Meal is high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Whole flaxseed is not easily digestible, so buy a 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. Flaxseed meal can be soaked in warm liquid and used to replace egg in many recipes. For example, one tablespoon flaxseed meal soaked in 3 tablespoons warm liquid is equal to one egg in baking for vegans. (2 tablespoons yield 4 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.)

Garbanzo Bean ( AKA the chickpea

This flour is high in protein, calcium, and fiber. Other bean flours additions are excellent in gluten-free baking. Varieties available as flour include bean (navy, pinto, and red) and soy. Garfava flour is a blend of flour 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.

a whole bunch of little tiny millets in an aluminum bowl


To cook the whole grain, use a ratio of one part grain to three parts water. Check out our full tutorial for this process here. Simmer 35 minutes or pressure cook 6 minutes. It is most often used in America as a birdseed filler yet remarkably well-loved worldwide as “actual” people food. Millet flour has a mildly sweet, nut-like flavor. The high-protein flour is also high in fiber. For optimum results, don’t use more than 1/5 millet flour in a flour blend. (¼ cup yields 4 grams fiber and 3 grams protein.)

close up of white quinoa in a metal measuring cup


To cook quinoa on the stovetop, use a ratio of one part quinoa to two parts water. Simmer 20 minutes, covered on the low heat stovetop. See the full tutorial here. Pronounced Keen-wah 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 a naturally occurring coating containing bitter saponins, We made the grain without rinsing it…only once. Because it is cooked the same way as rice, we thought the rinse was optional. However, we quickly learned 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. In addition, it’s a complete protein! Flour, milled from a grain 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.)

close up of raw sorghum in a metal measuring cup

Sorghum and Sorghum flour

Sorghum 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. Instead, use sorghum flour as an essential part of high protein blends. (¼ cup yields 3 grams fiber and 4 grams protein.)

Soy Flour

Soy flour is 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.

Raw teff grains in a metal measuring cup


Teff is a grain (grass seed) that comes to us from Ethiopia. Whole seeds can be cooked on the stovetop using 1 part teff to 4 parts water. Cover over low heat and simmer 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. I often use it in cookies, cakes, tortillas, and flatbreads. 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 amount of fiber, as you can well imagine. There are 2 grams of 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 in baked goods. 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 is chickpea and millet. They have a strong flavor and will overpower the taste of baked goods. For these, you can use a lot less, about ¾ cup for every 4 to 5 cups of the 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, cornflour)
  • 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 using 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)

Blend well. Place in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate.

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

Chef’s Gluten-Free Fresh Milled multi-grain flour

Measure by weight. Mix the grain—mill on the most refined 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. Usually, 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.

We Think You'll Like