Are you one of the more than 1 million Australians who eat gluten-free food? With so many alternatives to wheat now available, it’s time to investigate what they are, what to do with them and what they can do for us!
Almonds are often referred to as nuts, but they’re actually the seed of the fruit of almond trees. Almond meal is almond ground into a flour-like texture.
Best used for: Making flourless cakes and friands, and as a base for stuffings and crumbles. Nutritional properties: It is low in carbohydrates, and high in protein, fat and fibre. It is also a great source of vitamin E, calcium, manganese and magnesium.
Find it in... Almond meal is widely available in supermarkets and health food stores.
Amaranth is a high-protein grain with a strong, distinct flavour. The flour is made from ground amaranth seeds and is best used as part of a flour blend.
Best used for: Amaranth flour can be used to make flat breads, biscuits and slices. When puffed, it’s also used to make breakfast cereal and muesli.
Nutritional properties: It is a great source of protein, fibre and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and manganese.
Find it in... Most likely to be found in health food stores.
Arrowroot is virtually tasteless and is made from a tropical American plant. It contributes ‘stretch’ and chewiness when used in baking.
Best used for: It makes a gel, so it is useful for thickening fruit sauces, but is not suitable for cheese or savoury sauces.
Nutritional properties: It doesn’t pack much of a nutritional punch, as it’s almost pure carbohydrates, with virtually no protein or fat.
Find it in... Arrowroot can be found in supermarkets.
Besan and gram flour
These are names for flours made from roasted chickpeas, often used in Indian cooking. Besan (gram) flours are ideal substitutes for soy flour.
Best used for: they have a strong taste, so are best as part of a blend of gluten-free flours.
Nutritional properties: Besan (gram) flours are low in carbohydrate, high in protein, fibre, copper, folate and manganese.
Find it in... Most likely to be found in Indian grocery stores.
Although ‘wheat’ appears in the name, buckwheat is not related to wheat at all! It is a seed with a strong nutty flavour, and is the main ingredient in soba noodles.
Best used for: making crepes and pancakes. It can also be incorporated into a cereal or muesli mix.
Nutritional properties: It is high in both protein and fibre, low in fat and a good source of iron, zinc and selenium.
Find it in... Most likely to be found in health food stores.
Chestnut flour and meal
Nutritionally, chestnuts are closer to a grain than a nut. They are also seasonal, similar to fruit, and have a sweeter flavour.
Best used for: Replacing other nut-based flours, as it is lower in fat and not a tree-nut allergen. Chestnut meal is ideal for dishes that require a grainier texture.
Nutritional properties: Chestnut flour is low in fat and an excellent source of fibre. It’s also a good source of vitamin C.
Find it in... Most likely found in gourmet delis.
In some countries (including Australia), flour made from wheat can still be called ‘cornflour’, but gluten-free cornflour must be made from maize (another name for corn).
Best used for: It has very little taste and protein, and is a great addition to a wheat-free flour blend for baking. It can also be used to thicken sauces and stews, to coat meat and used in batters.
Nutritional properties: Cornflour doesn’t contain much, other than carbohydrates.
Find it in… Widely available in supermarkets.
Cornmeal (also called polenta) is ground corn, but not as finely ground as cornflour. It has a grainy mouth-feel.
Best used for: Making cornbread, or as an alternative to breadcrumbs. It’s also a fantastic substitute for mashed potatoes when cooked in milk to thicken. When cooked more firmly, it sets to make a slice for lunch or fingerfood bites.
Nutritional properties: Low in fat and carbohydrates, it is also a source of protein and fibre.
Find it in… Polenta is widely available in supermarkets and health food stores.
Millet is not a grain, but a grass. It is a wheat-free staple in African, Indian and Asian countries, but not commonly used in Australia. It has small, round, yellow kernels that swell when they are cooked.
Best used for: Millet can be ground and used in a flour mix, or used to make porridge. The grains can also be cooked like rice and used in salads and savoury side dishes.
Nutritional properties: Millet is a very good source of manganese and protein.
Find it in… Available from healthfood stores.
Potato starch flour
This is a very fine white flour with virtually no flavour. It is made by grinding potato to a pulp, and removing the fibre and protein through water-washing.
Best used for: It has elastic properties and is useful for blending with other flours for baking. It substitutes well for tapioca flour, or arrowroot. If used to thicken sauces, it will become a little ‘stretchy’ or gel-like.
Nutritional properties: Potato starch flour is very high in potassium and is fat-free.
Find it in… It is available in Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets.
Pronounced ‘keen-wa’, it is now increasingly available as a whole grain and flour, and in pasta and breakfast cereals. It has a slightly bitter taste.
Best used for: The whole grain can be cooked like rice and used as a basis for salads or savoury side dishes.
Nutritional properties: Quinoa has been described as ’the most nearly perfect source of protein from the vegetable kingdom’ by the National Academy of Science. It is also a great source of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, folate, vitamin B6.
Find it in… Look for it in health food shops and supermarkets (in either the health or pasta aisle).
Rice flour is a major contributor to a wheat-free flour blend and is essential in any wheat-free pantry. The texture can range from fine to gritty. Glutinous rice flour (which is gluten-free) provides elasticity and has a neutral taste.
Best used for: As a thickener for sauces and gravies.
Nutritional properties: Rice flour contains very little fat and fibre, but does contain protein. Brown rice flour is also available and can be used in wheat-free baking to increase the fibre.
Find it in… Rice flour is readily available in supermarkets, health food stores and Asian groceries.
This is a high-protein flour made from soy beans. It can have a strong flavour, which can be bitter. Bitterness decreases with cooking, but it’s best to purchase debittered soy flour, if possible.
Best used for: A small, but important, part of a wheat-free flour blend.
Nutritional properties: While soy flour is quite high in fat, it’s also high in fibre, and a good source of thiamin, iron, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese.
Find it in… It is available in health food shops.
Tapioca flour (cassava)
Also called cassava flour, this is made from ground, dried pearl tapioca (small white balls of the cassava root). It has little flavour and is useful in a wheat-free flour blend. Its elastic properties give a chewy texture to baked goods.
Best used for: It makes a good substitute for potato flour and arrowroot.
Nutritional properties: It has virtually no fibre, protein or fat.
Find it in… Asian grocers and some health food stores.
At a glance
The best choices for...
Porridge: Millet, quinoa
Pancakes/crepes: Buckwheat flour
Baking: Almond flour (for cakes, friands and crumbles), Amaranth (for flat breads, biscuits and slices), Arrowroot (for ‘stretch’), Cornmeal (for cornbread), Tapioca flour (for a chewy texture)
Coatings/batter: Maize cornflour
Wheat-free flour blends (these are good for mixing together, to create different consistencies and tastes): Potato starch flour, Soy flour, Besan (gram) flour, Millet, Maize cornflour, Tapioca, Rice flour