We can’t all be the same (thank goodness) so I know sometimes we need to substitute a flour or starch in a recipe or in a flour blend. Substituting gluten-free flours and starches isn’t difficult at all once you learn the properties of each one.
Here, I give you an overview of the most often used flours and starches in gluten-free baking. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, so if you have one you’d like me to cover, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to add it to the list.
The most important guidance I can give you about subbing a gf flour or starch is this: substitute from the same “flour group”. My groupings below are based on the nutritional profile of the flour or starch, its known properties and my own experience it.
Note: I do not use nut or soy flours due to my nut and soy allergies, but I have used them in the past prior to developing those allergies, so I still include them here for those of you who need them.
Flours made from higher protein pseudo-grains, nuts, seeds or beans/legumes:
Examples: amaranth flour, garbanzo 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 denser finished product, add structure and nutrients due to protein content, sometimes require more liquid ingredients in a recipe, can add a more intense flavor to baked goods (especially bean flours).
- 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 (bloating, gassiness) 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.
Flours commonly used in gluten-free recipes and blends. I think of these as “common” base 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.
- I find white and brown rice flours are interchangeable, and I use brown rice flour exclusively for the (small amount of) added nutrients, so you decide what you like best.
- Some of you express concern over arsenic levels in rice. You can learn more in my article, “Yes, there is arsenic in your rice!“
- 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 inherently contain gluten, they are often cross-contaminated – either from growing and harvesting in the field to the processing plant – so if you use oat flour, be sure it is certified gluten-free. Of course, not everyone tolerates gluten-free oats well. To learn more about oats on a gluten-free diet, read this article.
Starches lighten up gluten-free baked goods. They are necessary in most recipes when we want to mimic gluten-filled results.
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. For more on weighing ingredients visit my Gluten-Free Baking by Weight page.*
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 is a unique ingredient with its own special properties, so it gets a group of its own and its own unique post.
For more the facts and tips, see Tips for Baking with Coconut Flour.
In case you do not click over there for the tips, just an FYI, I do not recommend substituting coconut flour 1:1 in any recipe. Coconut flour absorbs a great deal of liquid in a recipe, so you’ll need plenty of (extra) moisture when using it.
Other Points to Keep in Mind about Gluten-Free Flour Substitutions:
- The moisture level in a recipe may need to be adjusted depending on the type flour substituted in a recipe.
- Altitude makes a difference in baking, whether you substitute an ingredient or not. If you’re at a high altitude, you may want to check out this page on high altitude baking from King Arthur flour. I think it’s a well written, informative piece. (I do not reside in a high altitude location, so we’ll let the experts advise on that topic.)
Gigi’s Gluten-Free Flour Blends
Note: these are not “for sale” products. They are recipes I share with you here on the site, free of charge.
I have created numerous gluten-free flour blends. I do not offer substitutions for flours and starches in my blends. It is a blend. It was created to behave a particular way, consistently, across a wide variety of recipes. Please understand, by changing any part of the blend, you are likely going to get different results from those intended. However, that’s not to say you cannot experiment and make necessary changes to suit your own special diet.
Gigi’s Everyday Gluten-Free Flour Blend (Gum-Free) If you’re just beginning your gluten-free journey, this is a great blend with which to begin! The most similar store bought blend to this one is King Arthur Multipurpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend. It is also gum-free and I have tested it in ALL the recipes here on the blog. It works just as well as my Everyday blend in all of them.
Gigi’s Grain-Free Nut-Free Flour Blend (Gum-Free)
You may also like this recipe for Homemade (Grain-Free) Baking Powder. It comes in handy if you run out and in your grain-free baking.
Related articles and useful resources:
Reducing Fat in Baked Goods:
Leavening Agents in Baking:
Acids in Baking
Gums in Baking (Xanthan and Guar):
Other Nifty Tid-Bits to Help with Your Baking Endeavors:
This is not an all-inclusive resource, but a pretty thorough one, if I do say so myself. I hope you enjoy it!
This page is updated periodically, so bookmark it and come back soon.