Guide to Substituting Gluten Free Flours & Starches for Baking Success

Gluten-free baking success begins with the right flour blend. Because each of us is unique in our dietary needs, not every blend will work for everyone. That's where substitutions come in handy. 

This beginner's guide to substituting gluten-free flours and starches will help you swap out what you can't have in a given blend recipe and use a flour or starch you can safely consume.  Sure, gluten-free baking is a bit of trial and error, but it is not impossible. It's not even difficult, once you learn a few basic rules. Dig in, experiment, and above all else, have fun!

The following are suggestions for Substituting Gluten-Free Flours and Starches. The listing of flours and starches are not all-inclusive. 


Substituting Gluten-Free Flours and Starches

When substituting gluten-free flours and starches, there is a better chance of success if you substitute from the same “flour group”. My groupings, below, are based on nutritional profile of the product, its known properties and my own experience with the product.

Protein Flours

Flours made from higher protein pseudo-grains, nuts, seeds or beans/legumes:

Examples: amaranth flour, garbonzo or fava bean flour, green or yellow pea flour, buckwheat flour (it’s not wheat, it is actually a groat and from the same family as rhubarb), millet flour, quinoa flour, almond meal (or other nut meal), sunflower or pumpkin seed meal, soy flour.

General characteristics: yield a more dense finished product, add structure and nutrients due to protein content, sometimes require more liquid ingredients in a recipe.

Notes:

  • Learn more about amaranth here.
  • Quinoa flour imparts a distinct taste in baked goods – not necessarily a bad taste, but one for which some may need to develop a taste. Some individuals express concern over saponins and quinoa. Learn more about this topic, and quinoa in general, here.
  • Bean flours impart a bean flavor in baked goods. They can also lead to tummy problems if you’re not used to eating lots of beans and you over-indulge in foods prepared with bean flours.
  • Green pea flour yields green baked goods. I like using it for baking St. Patrick’s Day treats, naturally colored green. I love this Gluten-Free Green Pea Flour Bread I created!
  • Yellow pea flour yields very golden colored baked goods. This is not necessarily a negative. A bit of yellow pea flour in plain vanilla cake layers makes them look extra-appealing and golden.
  • I do not use soy, bean or nut-based flours or meals in my baking, so you will not find recipes here calling for them. (I am allergic to soy, tree nuts and peanuts, and I do not find bean flours palatable.) However, I did use nut meals after going gluten-free and prior to developing my tree nut allergy, so I am familiar with their properties (although I don’t really miss using them in my baking).

Base Flours

Flours commonly used in gluten-free recipes and blends. I think of these as “common” flours.

Examples: brown or white rice flour, sorghum flour, gluten-free oat flour.

General characteristics: these flours tend to make up the bulk of most gluten-free flour blends. They are mild in flavor, generally easy to work with, but have a low protein content and are not as nutritious as the protein flours.

Notes:

  • I no longer use white rice flour; I find white and brown rice flours are interchangeable, so you decide what you like best. 
  • Sorghum flour reminds me of graham flour (whole wheat), so works well in recipes for gluten-free “graham” crackers and hearty gluten-free breads.
  • While oats do not contain inherently contain gluten, they are often cross-contaminated, so if you use oat flour, be sure it is certified gluten-free (Bob’s Red Mill makes a variety of gluten-free oat products). Of course, not everyone tolerates gluten-free oats well. To learn more about oats on a gluten-free diet, read this article.

Starches

These are what lighten up our gluten-free baked goods. They are necessary in most recipes for gluten free baked goods when we want to mimic gluten-filled items.

Examples: cornstarch (non-GMO corn products are available from companies like Bob’s Red Mill), tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour; these are the same product), potato starch (this is NOT the same as potato flour, you can learn more here), arrowroot starch (also called arrowroot flour and arrowroot powder; these are all the same product).

General characteristics: Starches tend to make up a significant portion of gluten-free flour blends and mixes. Different starches behave in different ways. For example, tapioca can make baked goods tough and a bit dry, but browns nicely. Potato starch doesn’t do much for browning, but it bakes up nice and light. (This is why you see these two used together quite often…the best of both worlds, we’re trying to capture.)

Now that we have a thorough listing of the various flours and starches and their “groups”, you can substitute by selecting a similar flour from the group the flour you need to sub for is in. Example: a recipe calls for sorghum flour, so you will select either oat or rice flour.

*Here is where I have some news for you… The most accurate substitutions are done by weight. I’m not covering weighing ingredients here, but look for an article coming soon on Baking by Weight. *

Meantime, if you aren’t up the learning curve on baking by weight, you can have success by selecting flours from the same group and measuring your ingredients accurately. For how to do that, read my article, “Real Gluten-Free Flour Power“.

Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is a unique ingredient with its own special properties, so it gets a group of its own.

I do not recommend substituting coconut flour 1:1 in any recipe unless the recipe developer recommends it. It really absorbs liquids in recipes, so you’ll need plenty of moisture when using it. Some folks also believe you need lots of eggs to successfully bake with coconut flour, but that’s simply not true. (Maybe they didn’t experiment enough yet.)

I use quite a bit of coconut flour in my baking and love it. Some recipes on the site call for it, and, soon you’ll see a “Baking with Coconut Flour” section on the blog where I’ll tell you all about how to bake with coconut flour with and without the eggs

Other Points to Keep in Mind about Gluten-Free Flour Substitutions:

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