I’m not much of a baker, but I do have a penchant for baked goods from time to time; and the thought of not being able to indulge in some of my favorite goodies, strikes fear through my entire being. I can imagine the diagnosis of Celiac, for most, feels like a life sentence in prison with no baked goods.

After an email from a loyal and recently diagnosed reader, who asked me to cover some of the basics of gluten free, I accepted the call of duty. With Celiac disease being one of the most common chronic health disorders in western countries, affecting over 3 million Americans, I would assume that the aforementioned reader is not alone.

So what is Celiac disease? By definition Celiac disease is…

“A disease in which chronic failure to digest food is triggered by hypersensitivity of the small intestine to gluten.”

Which can result in symptoms of intermittent diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating; and never feeling quite “right”. But now, more than ever, people are becoming more and more proactive in finding ways to live a delicious life despite this diagnosis.

The most important thing to remember when cooking and baking without the use of gluten is that there is no one all purpose flour; instead it’s more of a combination of several to create the desired result. These days one can easily source pre packaged gluten free baking mixes, but honestly, you are paying for the packaging; as they’re generally a combination of flours and starches with xanthan gum for binding power. With that said, some folks find that xanthan gum upsets their digestion, so proceed with caution. In any event, I think it’s far more fun AND bespoke to mix flours to order, customized to the application- I suppose that’s the chef in me. And although initially this method can become quite costly, in the long run, you save…trust me!

The key with anything in the kitchen is experimentation, this way you will come to better understand each flours unique properties. Here is my…

Gluten Free Flours List

Almond Meal: A potent source of protein and calcium, this four is made, as one would expect, from ground blanched almonds and is pale yellow in color. The flavor can be described as warm; and it adds a nice amount of moisture to baked goods, when used alone or in combination with other flours.

Brown Rice Flour: Simply, this is whole grain brown rice ground; and is full of nutrients such as the female essential B vitamins and iron. A caveat, this flour spoils quickly and should be stored in the refrigerator to extend its life span. It’s also available in superfine, which would be my choice when making pastas and pie crusts.

Buckwheat Flour: This flour comes in two varieties, light and dark, so keep that in mind when planning your menu. Light buckwheat has the most neutral flavor but less nutritional merits than it’s darker cousin. The dark variety produces a more earthy and rustic final product; and boasts a mild grassy flavor, which is most certainly an acquired taste. However, it also comes complete with omega fatty acids, potassium and iron.

Chickpea Flour: High in protein and folic acid, chickpea flour is made by grinding whole dried chickpeas and is an essential sundry in Indian cuisine; from thickening sauces and coating fried food to making bread, this flour is a must have. It produces different textures from egg-like to cake-like, it all depends on the application. It can also be found referred to as besan or gram flour.

Potato Flour: Crafted from the entire potato, potato flour is a perfect addition to gluten free culinary creations; providing a moist and neutral flavor in addition to vitamin B6, potassium and calcium.

Quinoa Flour: I have so much love for this diminutive grain! This flour draws many comparisons to brown rice flour in taste and texture; and varies in color depending on which variety of quinoa has been used. And as if it bears repeating; but this flour is a nutritional powerhouse, exulting protein, fiber, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, iron, copper, manganese, folate (phewf) and more!

Sorghum Flour: Sorghum is a staple grain in Africa, finding itself well utilized in things from beer to bread. Available in two varieties, sweet white and regular; with regular being used more in a breakfast cereal type dishes, Sweet white boasts a flavor profile and texture to that of brown rice flour. I have found that the two can be interchanged, so fear not if cannot locate one or the other.

Xanthan Gum: Lastly, xanthan gum, although slight scary sounding can be a useful binder to have on hand; and with this, a little goes a very long way.Xanthan Gum finds itself in ice cream, salad dressing and sauces; and is popular due to the fact that minute amounts provide incredible binding capabilities. However, I am a bit leery of it. Eggs are an excellent and gluten free binding agent, so I would defer to that before turning to xanthan; but that’s my opinion, and I am sure many have fared excellently with xanthan gum.

Well that certainly was a lot; but I simply wanted to highlight that gluten free doesn’t mean taste free. In fact, it provides an opportunity to use some pretty nutrient dense options in the kitchen. So with that, I’d say it’s time to get cooking!