Making your favorite foods with alternative flours

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It came as a big shock to me a farmer’s daughter who married into a wheat-farming Family when, as a solution to my lifelong battle with recurring sinus infections, my doctor said, “Don’t eat wheat.” I had no idea how to replace wheat in my favorite bread, pizza, pasta and desserts, and I didn’t know anyone else who avoided wheat.

Today, I know I’m one of millions who can’t eat wheat and that there are many ways to make my favorite foods without it. So, why is this all-American food toxic for some of us … and who is “us” anyway?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), wheat is one of the top eight food villains in the U.S. Although wheat has several proteins, it is the gluten protein that troubles nearly three million people with an autoimmune condition known as celiac disease. In those who suffer from the malady, gluten (also found in barley, rye and spelt) blocks nutrient absorption and can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and various forms of cancer. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet for life.

Amazing grains

The good news is that a wide variety of flours ground from amaranth, arrowroot, beans, buckwheat, corn, potato, rice, sorghum, tapioca and teff can stand in for wheat flour in favorite recipes. These flours produce delicious dishes if you know when and how to use them.

I bake with all of these flours, but I’ve simplified things for your gluten-free baking by developing an all-purpose flour blend that is quite versatile (see below). It uses sorghum flour, which is light tan, neutral in flavor and high in important protein and fiber. Potato starch and cornstarch are white and lighten the texture of baked goods. Tapioca flour encourages browning of crust and adds a “toothsome” texture.

The final 1/2 cup of flour is what makes this blend so versatile. For a neutral blend to use in any baking, grind white (gluten-free) cornmeal into flour with a small, clean coffee grinder. For hearty, homemade bread or muffins, try amaranth instead of corn flour. If you like beans, try using flour made from garbanzo/fava, white or navy beans. Always add xanthan gum to baked goods.

Each of these flours has unique properties and nutrient profiles. They absorb moisture at different rates, some are darker in color, and some have a more distinct flavor. You’ll find more information about how to use each in my Cooking Free: 200 Flavorful Recipes for People with Food Allergies and Multiple Food Sensitivities (Avery, 2005; ISBN 1583332154) and nutrient content profiles for each in Gluten-Free Diet by Shelley Case, BSc, R.D. (Case Nutrition Counseling, 2002; ISBN 1894022793).

People react adversely to wheat in degrees. While some have severe and sometimes fatal allergies to wheat, others are intolerant of wheat and can experience fatigue, headaches, pains, rashes, stomach distress or the chronic nasal congestion that led to my recurring sinus infections.

Tips for gluten-free baking success

* Use a flour blend rather than a single flour in baking.

* For best success, use recipes specially designed for gluten-free flours.

* Xanthan gum prevents baked goods from crumbling and falling apart. Use 1/2 teaspoon in cookies; 1 teaspoon in cakes; and 2 teaspoons in bread.

* Store gluten-free flours in a dark, dry place. All ingredients should be at room temperature, including flours, unless the recipe specifies otherwise.
Flour Blend

1-1/2 cups sorghum flour

1-1/2 cups potato starch or cornstarch

1 cup tapioca flour

1/2 cup flour from amaranth, beans,
or corn *
* From your health food store

4.5 cups. Per cup: 404 calories; 14 calories from fat; 2g fat; 0g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol; 102g carbs; 2g fiber; 4g protein; 0mg sodium; 15mg calcium; 2mg iron

Make all your favorite foods by replacing the wheat flour with this gluten-free blend. Just add xanthan gum, and be prepared to hear, “My compliments to the chef.”

About the author: Carol Fenster, Ph.D. is founder and president of Savory Palate, Inc., a publishing and culinary consulting firm. She has written six ground-breaking cookbooks on the gluten-free lifestyle, including her newest Cooking Free. Visit her at

Reprinted with permission from Cooking Freeby Carol Fenster, Ph.D. Contains no gluten, dairy or eggs.

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