Ultimate Guide to Alternative & Gluten-Free Flours

There is more to gluten-free baking than just reaching for the bag of all purpose gluten-free flour. A huge range of alternative flours can now be found at supermarkets and health food shops which can make your gluten-free baking so much more exciting.

Your cakes can have more flavour and a better texture than their wheat counterparts. You just need to choose the right flour and I’m here to teach you how. Goodbye to dry crumbly baked goods and hello to a world of truly delicious gluten-free bakes.

Collection of images of gluten-free flours with text overlay

I can’t believe that’s gluten-free!
This is the best cake I have ever tasted!

These are regular comments I get from customers, friends, family or overhear at a parties I have catered.

It’s true. Gluten-free cakes should not be dry, crumbly, pasty or gummy. Those issues only occur when the wrong flour has been chosen.

There are so many different gluten-free and alternative flours which are now readily available at supermarkets, your local health shop or Amazon. The freedom to experiment is endless. If you are new to gluten-free baking or using alternative flours then this Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free and Alternative Flours is a perfect place to start.

Little heaps of different gluten-free flours on a wooden board

Function of flour in baking

Flour is a powdery substance, ground from a larger source and used in baked goods to provide structure.

The most common flour used in baking is ground from wheat which has a neutral taste, meaning it can be used in sweet or savoury recipes and across many cuisines. You’ll know it as either plain flour or all-purpose flour (AP flour).

However, the true function of wheat flour lies in a powerful group of proteins found within its structure. When this group of proteins is introduced to a liquid they form gluten – a network of strong interlocking bonds which are highly elastic.

Due to the strength of these bonds gluten gives excellent structure to all manner of baked goods. The elasticity between the bonds mean the end results also have a wonderful soft and bouncy texture.

Blueberry Basil Lemon Drizzle cake on a plate on a wooden table

Removing gluten from baking

So what happens if we want to remove gluten from all our baked goods? In many cases we still need some sort of flour in our recipe to give our bakes structure.

Not always, see this post on 11 Flourless Bakes for amazing tips and recipes which don’t use any flour.

What flours can we use to replace wheat (rye and barley also contain gluten) and still achieve successful results?

We need to find flours that mimic the same function that gluten and regular flour provides in our baked goods.

Baker’s Tip: There are other ways to replicate gluten in baked goods, not just the choice of flour. For more information please read this Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Cakes which gives even more expert tips for successful gluten-free baking.

Function 1: Binding

The gluten in wheat based flours binds baked goods together using strong interlocking bonds so they don’t fall apart in some big crumbly mess.

Best gluten-free alternative flours for binding

The most effective flours to help bind and hold our bakes together are the starchy flours:

Best Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake on a cake stand on a wooden table

Function 2: Texture

Gluten gives cakes and bread a soft bouncy quality thanks to the elasticity of the gluten proteins.

Some bakers add xanthan gum to their gluten-free recipes which does an excellent job of assisting gluten-free flours with both elasticity and binding. However, this is not always the best choice as it can be a polarising ingredient.

Why I Don’t Bake With Xanthan Gum

Instead different gluten-free flours can provide a variety of textures. The trick is matching the correctly textured flour to the cake you want to bake.

Function 3: Neutrality

The beauty of plain white flour (AP flour) is that it tastes completely neutral. This is an advantage in any bake as you can use the flour universally.

On the other hand a huge boon in using alternative flours is that many of them have unique and delicious flavours which can enhance recipes and add depth especially to baked goods.

Function 4: Leavening

When these strong interlocking elastic gluten bonds are formed they react with the leavening agent in your recipe (yeast, baking powder or bicarbonate of soda) to cause gas bubbles which inflate these elastic bonds, making your cake or dough rise.

It’s not all good news though as gluten-free flours simply cannot fulfil this same function of leavening which is why you might have experienced flatter and denser bakes when using these flours.

At this point you will need to turn to other sources to help your gluten-free baked goods to rise. There are some excellent tips in my Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Cakes.

baker weighing flour in a glass mixing bowl

What is the best gluten-free flour to use?

So, now we know that alternative flours can fulfil almost the same roles as gluten. Plus, they taste better and they don’t make us sick. So what’s the catch?

I’m sorry, yes there is a catch and I’m sure you’ve noticed it.

There is not one gluten-free flour which can substitute regular all-purpose flour.

We need to use more than one gluten-free flour to do the same job as regular all-purpose flour.

If we put all our confidence in just one alternative flour then we might get some unpleasant results.

  • Sweet rice flour – too stodgy
  • White rice flour – too grainy
  • Coconut flour – too dry
  • Oat flour – too crumbly
  • Almond flour – too dense

If you want a balanced taste but also a chance to retain the right texture and binding qualities of wheat flour, this is where you will need to start blending flours.

“Hey, but don’t some brands like Bob’s Red Mill and Doves Farm do that for us already. That’s what ‘gluten-free flour’ in the supermarket is, right?”

Can I just replace regular flour with gluten-free flour?

Gluten-free flour which you buy in the supermarket is great. However, results can be variable. Each brand of gluten-free flour has a blend of different alternative flours involved.

Some contain more starches, some contain xanthan gum and some contain oat flour which many coeliac sufferers just can’t tolerate. So always check the labels.

There are some occasions where you can certainly just do a straight swap and use one of these gluten-free flour blends instead of regular flour. In these instances I would stick to recipes where there isn’t a lot of flour to begin with, like in a brownie or friand recipe.

Baker’s Tip – That said, you can have great success using these gluten-free flours in conjunction with nut flours. It’s an easy way to convert cake recipes from a non gluten-free recipe. I discuss how to do this in my guide to Nut Flours.

close up of a cut slice of whole lemon cake

How to create your own gluten-free flour blend

The different types of alternative flours can be split into two different categories:

  • Wholegrains – e.g. sorghum flour, teff flour, buckwheat flour
  • Starches – e.g. sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot

The wholegrains will give your bake excellent texture and flavour and the starches will help bind your bake together and give it structure.

I recommend the following rule to create the simplest blend:

70% wholegrain flours (1-3 different flours) :  30% starch (1-2 different flours)

sliced gluten-free irish soda bread on bread board

Gluten-Free and Alternative Flours – Taking it further

So now you are armed with some basic information.

  • Gluten is what gives cakes and bakes structure and texture.
  • You can’t always replace regular flour with gluten-free flour.
  • Different gluten-free and alternative flours provide different functions.
  • You often have to use more than 1 gluten-free flour in a recipe to achieve a similar result to using regular flour.
  • You have a solid ratio to start mixing your own gluten-free flour blend.

I bet you can’t wait to produce these amazing, delicious gluten-free cakes that I’ve been talking about! Although you might feel you need to have a little bit more in depth information about all these alternative flours.

Well, I’m not going to leave you high and dry. I’ve got you covered. Just follow the links below for everything you need to know about all your favourite Gluten-Free and Alternative Flours so you can bake with confidence.

The Ultimate Guide to…

For further reading I highly recommend Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours. It’s thanks to this book that I’ve become so passionate about gluten-free flours and it gave me the springboard I needed to pursue my knowledge and understanding of these really special ingredients.

The Ultimate Guide to Teff Flour

Teff Flour is a nutrient packed sweet malty gluten-free flour. 

overhead view of teff flour on a wooden board with spoons

What is teff?

Teff is an ancient grain which is inextricably linked to Ethiopia, it is the most important crop grown on native soil and forms the bulk of the country’s diet and nutrition. The teff grain is cooked up into porridge and used in savoury dishes, however the flour is mostly used for injera. This is a sour fermented flatbread widely used in place of cutlery to scoop up and hold food.

Teff is so incredibly important to Ethiopia that export of the grain itself is prohibited. Only teff products and finely milled flours are allowed to leave the country. As such teff is expensive to buy over here, as even though it’s now grown in other countries it is still a niche product. Teff is naturally gluten-free but be wary of ordering injera in your local Ethiopian restaurant as it has more than likely been cut with wheat to be made more economically.

What are the nutritional benefits of teff flour?

Teff is gluten-free which is great news for coeliacs and the gluten-intolerant but it is also high in vitamins and minerals and is somewhat of a ‘superfood’. It has excellent amino acid composition, it is high in fibre and calcium – a cup of teff contains as much as half a cup of spinach. Teff is rich in iron, high in protein (in fact it provides Ethiopians with two-thirds of their dietary protein) and boosts Vitamin C (rare for a grain). It is also full of the resistant starch which helps to regulate blood sugars.

overhead view of brown teff flour on a wooden board with a spoon

What is the difference between ivory teff flour and brown teff flour?

There are several varieties of teff including red teff which all have a similar texture. However the most common might might come across are:

  • Ivory teff – mild and slightly sweet flavour
  • Brown teff – earthy in taste

overhead view of ivory teff flour on a wooden board with spoon

How can you use teff flour?

Teff flour bakes up superbly but it can have a slightly grainy consistency. I use it more prolifically in chocolate recipes where the chocolate smoothes out the graininess somewhat. And if you use it alongside ground nuts the graininess also gets lost.

Teff flour is not a gelatinous flour so cannot mimic the qualities of gluten. It is possible to use it as the sole flour in recipes as long as you are pairing it with chocolate or ground nuts. Otherwise you are best to blend it in your bake with a more ‘sticky’ flour like sweet rice flour or tapioca flour.

The main reason for using teff flour though is its wonderful malty molasses-like taste. It is such a fine tasting, flour and like many alternative flours, if used in the right cake, will support and enhance the flavours rather than providing a neutral background.

What flavours pair well with teff flour?

Deep and rich flavours pair very well with earthy teff flour. Try it in a coffee cake or spice cake. Teff also gets on especially well with banana, caramel, oats, nuts, honey but especially chocolate, like in these Mini Chocolate Peppermint Bundts.

Teff flour is also the perfect flour to use in your Christmas Pudding as it goes so well with the richly spiced flavours.

For inspiration on how to use teff flour have a look at these gluten-free recipes:



The Ultimate Guide To Tapioca Flour

Tapioca flour is an incredibly useful starchy flour to have in your toolkit. It can be used as a thickener for sauces, pie fillings and gravies. It’s also an essential flour in gluten-free baking and gives an excellent crust and golden brown hue to your bakes.

Pin image which says The Ultimate Guide to Tapioca Flour

What is tapioca flour?

It is a light powdery flour ground from the dried starchy and tuberous root of the cassava plant which is native to South America. Tapioca flour is slightly different to cassava flour itself in that it is extracted from the starch of the cassava root whereas cassava flour is made from the entire root so is less processed. 

Along with sweet rice flour and oat flour, tapioca flour is one of the most useful gluten-free flours as it is invaluable in both everyday cooking and baking. I use a little here and a little there in my bakes and when making sauces so although it is a flour you may use often, you rarely need vast quantities of it.

What is the difference between tapioca flour and starch?

There is no difference and the names can be used interchangeably (unlike potato flour and potato starch).

Is it good for you?

It’s not the most healthy alternative flour you could choose as it’s made up of nearly all carbohydrates with little protein. However, it is a good source of iron and calcium so it’s not all bad.

We also can’t knock it for its incredible versatility in the kitchen.

an image showing tapioca flour on a board and in a mug

What is tapioca flour good for?

The main benefit is its thickening properties, due to the fact it absorbs and retains a high water content. When we remove gluten from our baking then one of the crucial elements that we lack is the binding properties of the gluten. Tapioca flour (similarly to sweet rice flour) is one of the ways we can mimic this binding and create bounce in our bakes. It saves our cakes from being a dry crumbly disaster.

Also, due to its light texture, it promotes springiness in your bakes. Tapioca flour also helps the browning of your baked goods and encouraging crusts to crisp, hence it is very useful when making pizza bases or pastry.

How can you use tapioca flour in gluten-free baking?

There is no protein in tapioca flour as it is a starch, like potato flour or cornflour. The starch helps mimic the binding properties of gluten and tapioca can be found in many commercial blends of gluten-free flour to aid in the structure and texture of bakes.

You can get the most out of tapioca flour in your baking by mixing it with whole grain or nut flours. A little goes a long way so it can be used judiciously but its role is by no means insignificant.

Best Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake on a cake stand on a wooden table

Can tapioca flour replace all purpose/plain flour?

It’s not a great 1:1 substitute for baking cakes or cookies as too much of it can cause bakes to go gummy. However, it can be used to replace flour on a 1:1 ratio when making sauces or gravies.

Is it good for frying?

Yes, it is. Since tapioca flour gives an excellent crust and also browns very well it’s great to use instead of all purpose flour as a coating for frying. I include it in my recipe for Crispy Salmon Nuggets to give a lovely golden hue to the coating of the salmon.

Close up of Salmon Nuggets on a plate with dipping sauce

Is tapioca flour better than cornflour (cornstarch)?

Tapioca and cornflour (cornstarch) are both starches and so perform similar functions. Tapioca flour definitely provides a smoother more velvety texture. However its slightly sweet flavour is a little more pronounced and gives more of a sticky bind than cornflour. In this Piccalilli recipe I use the best of both worlds when thickening the sauce for the best taste and texture.

Piccalilli is a must-have addition for any festive table. A beautiful trio of purple cauliflower, romescu and white cauliflower preserved with autumn vegetables in delicious curried spices.

Brazilian Cheese Bread Rolls

Although as mentioned above tapioca flour isn’t a great gluten-free 1:1 flour, there is one particular bake in which tapioca flour shines. This recipe is certainly reason enough for stocking up on tapioca flour forever more. These Easy Gluten-Free Cheese Bread Rolls (also known as Brazilian Cheese Bread or Pão de Queijo) are incredible with tapioca flour as the main ingredient.

It highlights all the best qualities of tapioca flour. The bread rolls are crisp and golden on the outside and deliciously chewy on the inside.

Brazilian Cheese Rolls {Pão de Queijo}

Looking for more uses for your tapioca flour?

Hey, why not try making your own tapioca pearls for bubble tea. It’s easier than you think.

Where can you buy tapioca flour

It’s not difficult to get hold of tapioca flour in the UK. You can often find 100g pots of Doves Farm Tapioca Flour in the supermarket but it’s quite costly and doesn’t give you very much. You can find more varied brands in health food shops in bags of about 500g. The cost depends entirely on the brand you purchase. 

BUY HERE >>> Gluten-Free Tapioca Flour

If you’ve loved learning about tapioca flour then you might like to view other posts in this series: