Have you noticed how gluten free food is so very often devoid of flavour? Why is this so?
The sad fact is that most gluten free food uses starch based flours. Starch based flours a have little or no flavour of themselves. That is the nature of a starch.
Take some typical starch based ingredients found in typical general purpose gluten free flours – tapioca, corn, rice, and potato. These starches are tasteless.
Which is sad because of rice, potato and corn have quite wonderful flavours of their own, but once they are refined, the flavours vanish.That is typical of processed and refined foods.
Not only that, but the nutrition disappears along with the flavour. But that is another story!
So, is it t possible to bake gluten free and yet still obtain great flavour? And can we also get a nutritious result? The answer is definitely yes!
You can add sugar…but why would you do that?
Sadly a lot of commercial gluten free food has a lot of sugar added to impart flavour. This is why the principle ingredient of most gluten free cake mixes is refined white sugar.
That’s right… there is more whole sugar than actual gluten free flour in the vast majority of gluten free cake mixes.
Since there is a growing awareness of the dangers of excessive sugar intake, the high sugar road would appear to be the least intelligent choice for the health conscious.Any reduction in refined white sugar intake is a move in a positive direction.
Any reduction in refined white sugar intake is a move in a positive direction.
But not all gluten free flours are starch based, and not all are lacking flavour. So the first method for great gluten free cooking is to
1. Use flours with intrinsic flavour
This means selecting flours which have a high flavour content in and of themselves. Since flavour and protein levels usually go hand in hand, these flours typically also have much higher protein levels and that is great news from a health perspective.
Flavour comes from the interaction between protein and carbohydrate. When there is no protein the foods’ are typically flavourless.
Add protein and you automatically add flavour. Some examples of intrinsically flavoursome flours are an almond meal, coconut, Besan and Fava flours.
Almond meal has a delicate and well, ‘nutty ‘ flavour. Not surprising for a nut!
Almond meal also has some other great virtues. In cakes it tends to increase moisture and enhance crumb texture. Almond meal can also be added to smoothies, bread and biscuits so it is versatile.
However, the current consensus is that we should not overdo any food type and that means eating no more than half a handful of nuts per day.
However, when we eat baked foods with an almond meal we can be consuming relatively high amounts of nuts without realising it. So it is easy to over do it.
Oh, and to state the obvious…nuts are not great for people with nut allergies.
Frankly, almond meal is also not great from a nutritional perspective. It contains 6g of protein per 100gms and has, surprisingly very little fibre (2g). That’s way better than the zero protein found in tapioca, but it is still not very high.
Almond meal does, however, have one great redeeming quality and that is that it places almost no glycemic load upon the body, so it is perfect for those with sugar diabetes.
Cocoanut is a sensational gluten free flour from every perspective. It is very high in protein, at 19% protein. Coconut has also very high levels of fibre which is fabulous for gut health 100gms of coconut flour has a whopping 39 grams of fibre.
Coconut flour is also rich in saturated fats which are the very best fats for your health. Cocoanut flour imparts a delicious background flavour. And that flavour does not drown out other flavours! We think it is hard to improve on coconut flour.
But almond meal and coconut flour tend to be pretty pricey…so is there a cheaper alternative to obtain high nutrition and great flavour? Well, why not try…
Much overlooked, the sorghum flour comes in a red and white variety. The red variety has a slightly bitter taste which is even more pronounced when the red husk is retained in the flour.
Often used like Teff flour and allowed to ferment slowly over several days after adding water
The white sorghum is sweet and very creamy in texture. A perfect ingredient for cakes.
Sorghum flour has 50% more protein than almond meal and 450% more fibre ( which is great for gut health). Sorghum flour is inexpensive and has a great flavour which enhances many baked goods.
Is typically made from the Kabuli chickpea. It has a naturally strong flavour. The Indians use this flour for a whole variety of foods and it is especially common with dessert dishes.
However, the flavour is distinctive and people are often somewhat divided about whether they like it or not. It is very common in Middle Eastern dishes such as falafels and hummus.
But the chickpea has some crowning virtues..very high protein at 24% and lots of fibre. It is also low in carbohydrates and like all legumes, the carbohydrates are complex and are digested slowly which means a very low Glycemic index. (Hummus has a glycemic index of around 22).
Fava Bean flour
Almost impossible to find. In Australia and many Western countries, it is mainly fed to cattle at feedlots, but the fact is that the flour has a mellow nutty taste when baked and is exceptionally high in protein. Protein varied between 28% – 33% , depending on climatic conditions.
Faba bean flour is super high in fibre and rich in all kinds of micronutrients which is why we use it in our cake mixes. And great news for those suffering from food allergies, fava bean flour is not allergenic.
Fava flour bakes a little differently to other gluten free flours in that it requires a lot of water and this means long slow cooking times at medium heat. Hard to find but well worth the effort.
It is certainly our favourite gluten free flour. Fava Bean flour is also when used in combination with other gluten free flours.
2. Blend different gluten free flours
Be adventurous in your gluten free baking. The fascinating aspect of gluten free baking is that single flours seldom work well. Complex flours work best and each flour adds its own unique attribute.
So for example, small amounts of rice flour may add flexibility to a pancake recipe, tiny amounts of soy flour completely soften crumb texture. Almond meal adds a nice bulk and structure to crumb, whilst sorghum and coconut flours add moisture.
Tapioca increases sweetness. So it is worthwhile experimenting with different gluten free flours as small additions can make all the difference.
3. Add natural flavour components
With citrus peel, whole fruit, nuts, berries, cocoa products and spices You can take a somewhat bland flour and transform it into something very flavoursome.
The great thing about this approach is that all the ingredients mentioned are natural and are good for you. Citrus peel has gone out of fashion to some extent lately but is full of flavour.
Recipes which use whole fruit have enormous flavour components.
Walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts are favourites to enhance chocolate And the great thing about nuts is that by roasting them, the flavour intensifies considerably.
Berries are very good for you and by adding a handful into your baking, you can enjoy intense flavour out of all proportion to the quantity added.
Cocoa is another natural ingredient which is relatively cheap and yet packs a powerful punch. The dark, intense cocoa powders are especially appealing to the male palate.
4. Add butter
The French have a saying that anything cooked with butter tastes better”. Adding butter to almost any baked foods imparts a wonderful flavour. Disregard the current fad with polyunsaturated fats…there is powerful historical evidence that the best fats are saturated fats and the worst are trans fats.
No animals recognise margarine as food. Even cockroaches and rats won’t eat it!. So why would we use it use it in our cooking? The making of margarine is a food horror story.
Many vegetable oils are extracted with solvents such as hexane. Most are extracted under extreme pressures and temperatures which destroys much of the food value. Just use plain old butter.
The fats are used by the body for every hormone, our brain health and saturated fats are also as carriers for many vitamins throughout the body.
Remember, Fats do not make you fat. Refined carbohydrates and refined sugars make you fat.
5. Ferment with yeast or yoghurt
Adding a tablespoon of yoghurt into your flour mixture and leaving it in the fridge for several days, results in a wonderful complex sourdough flavour which complements bread, cakes and biscuit recipes.
Fermented foods are also really good for you.
Yeast adds a distinctly homely flavour to baking. Add a teaspoon of dried yeast to give your baked goods an added dimension. You would be surprised how a little yeast and a few hours rest time will do to the overall richness of flavour.
Cooking with gluten free flours does not have to be a flavourless of nutritionally bereft experience. Avoid the gluten free starch based flours like the plague and instead, swap over to quality protein rich flours.
Blend flours together and try fermenting your basic dough mixtures. And don’t be shy of natural flavours and spices to add flavour, rather than reaching for the sugar jar!
Baking with gluten free flours can be challenging. Be prepared to use the strategies outlined above to give you a more flavoursome result.
Also, bear in mind that you need to consider carefully the actual nutritional value of gluten free flours as the majority of gluten free flours have little or no value from a health perspective.
Avoid starch based gluten free flours, unless you use them in very small amounts to enhance the overall flavour or baking.
We trust that by using these strategies, you will be able to obtain truly flavoursome and nutritious results from your home baking.
Use legume or pulse flours such as fava bean flour for best nutritional outcomes.