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Sweet Rice Flour is the secret weapon you need to know about. It also goes by its alternative name ‘glutinous rice flour’ although it contains no gluten. However its nickname gives you an indication of the kind of role this flour will play in your cakes and kitchen adventures. It is an invaluable gluten-free flour.
We’re now full steam ahead on our series on Gluten-Free Flours and I hope it's given you the confidence you need to embrace your gluten-free kitchen. If you want to start at the beginning then go back to my first instalment where we discuss on how to get started in gluten-free baking.
In this chapter in our series we are going to be casting our net a little wider and looking at a flour that isn’t well-known at all in western baking and I doubt you will already have in your larder. However if you are gluten-free or want to bake for friends and family that are gluten-free then this is a flour you are definitely going to want to get to know.
Today we’re investigating sweet rice flour. Until I started gluten-free baking I’m not sure I had ever heard of this flour, it’s certainly not the easiest to get a hold of, but now I find it completely indispensable in both my baking and my gluten-free cooking.
Sweet Rice Flour vs. White Rice Flour
The first thing to note is that this very fine and powdery flour is a totally different ingredient to regular ‘white rice flour’ which you can happily buy at most large supermarkets these days in the gluten-free aisle. The two products unfortunately are not interchangeable as they play completely different roles in our baking.
- White Rice Flour gives lightness and crunch to a recipe. It's lovely in batters or shortbread.
- Sweet Rice Flour is ground from short grain glutinous ‘sticky’ rice and is just that, soft and sticky. In fact short grain glutinous rice is the same rice that sushi is made from, so you get the picture, it likes to bind together.
Sweet rice flour is a starchy flour which can usually be found in Asian baking. The most familiar of the Asian sweets, mochi, is made from sweet rice flour and if you have ever tasted delicious treats like mochi ice cream then you are in for a good idea of the taste and effect sweet rice flour can have in our gluten-free cakes.
Why should we use Sweet Rice Flour?
The best reason for using sweet rice flour in baking is its binding properties. When we remove gluten from our cakes we are removing the essential component needed for gluing our cake together. During the bake gluten swells, forming an intricate network of gluten strands which provide cakes with their elasticity. This is what gives delicious sponge cakes their bounciness and prevents dry crumbly cakes.
Sweet rice flour has a high starch content which enables the proteins in the flour to glue together. If you have tasted mochi you will know that it has a discernible chewiness. If we harness this chewiness in the right way then we can use the sweet rice flour to mimic the elasticity of the gluten and make our gluten-free cakes incredibly soft and moist.
So sweet rice flour will give our baking excellent binding, moistness and a distinctive sweet taste. What could go wrong?
What are the disadvantages of using Sweet Rice Flour?
Basically for all the reasons that sweet rice flour is an excellent alternative flour are also the reasons that you really don’t want to go overboard in its usage. The moisture that sweet rice flour gives our bakes needs to be kept in check lest your cake loses its sponginess and just becomes really wet and chewy.
I spent ages over this Pumpkin Bread trying to get the right texture, I started off with far too much sweet rice flour and kept pulling back until the flour did its job without overwhelming the cake. The texture of this cake is now perfect and its addictiveness is all thanks to the genius of sweet rice flour.
The wonderfully distinctive sweet taste of this flour which is delicious in moderation can suddenly overwhelm a cake if used in excess and if you’re not judicious in its usage you’ll soon find all your cakes taste the same whether they are pumpkin, vanilla or banana.
How much sweet rice flour should you use?
I soon learnt that to gain all the benefits of sweet rice flour you can’t rely on this flour alone in your cakes and you need to blend it with other gluten-free flours to achieve perfect gluten-free cakes. Sweet rice flour is usually the main flour I use in any of my gluten-free flour blends but I try not to use more than about 40% in the overall blend for light and fluffy results that don’t taste overwhelmingly of sweet rice flour.
How to use sweet rice flour in savoury dishes
Sweet rice flour is the most hard-working flour in my kitchen. Not only is it invaluable in many of my cake recipes but it is also close to hand in many of my savoury recipes too. It is the best gluten-free flour for making delicious smooth and cohesive sauces.
Sweet rice flour has a quality that stops liquids for separating so is a wonderful thickener for gravies and sauces without being gritty or grainy or having an overwhelming taste. Our Sunday Roast Beef would not be the same without a wonderful gravy and you can easily substitute the wheat flour in your regular gravy recipe for the same amount of sweet rice flour. Or head on over to this recipe on how to make the perfect gluten-free gravy. Also try it in your white sauces or anything you use a roux for including cheese sauce, béchamel and gumbo.
Pro Tip: Do note, if you add acidity to sweet rice flour it exacerbates the thickening qualities of the flour. So be wary of adding too much lemon juice, buttermilk or other acids if you are using a large quantity of sweet rice flour in your recipe.
Where to buy sweet rice flour?
Well, it's not easy to buy in the UK actually, so having pumped you up all about it I'm now about to completely deflate you. It is possible to pick up sweet rice flour in Asian supermarkets but it is not certified gluten-free so for the coeliacs among us and those that have a very strong intolerance it is not ideal.
The most reliable place to buy gluten-free sweet rice flour is Amazon.